Some very interesting and worthwhile reflections by Don Gillmor on his brother’s suicide. I was struck, in particular, by his opening paragraph:
I often wonder what my brother David was thinking at the moment he stepped into the river. Perhaps he was at a point, that December day in 2005, where the psychic pain was like the sound of a waterfall, a roar that eclipsed all rational thought. And it’s the idea of that despair that remains so troubling.
It is easy enough to try to empathize with psychic pain by way of analogy to physical pain, which makes its presence known loudly and with such pomp that it is difficult to ignore, and with such force that the world is drowned out and replaced by the pain of physical suffering, but in my experience it doesn’t work that way. “Rational thought” is not drowned out by a loud noise, by an overpowering tumult of “irrationality” because mental illness supplements or superimposes one “rationality” onto another. The world stays where it is, it just looks different. In the first place, we must risk the possibility that suicidal thoughts are rational thoughts par excellence. It is a frightening suggestion, to be sure, because it places suicide prevention/intervention elsewhere than as an attempt to “reason” with the suicidal individual, which also implies (although I doubt that Mr. Gillmor meant to imply this, but he does so nevertheless) that the problem lies solely with the individual, who cannot ‘adapt’ to the conditions of her (or his) existence.
When Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams at the end of 1899 after a long period of reflection and self-analysis, one of the aims was to situation dream-life into the normal chain of psychic life, a proposition hitherto barely considered. His point was that dreams are rational processes that follow a different logic and that by studying them through his method — which he calls interpretation, but which bares no resemblance to a popular way of understanding interpretation, such as determining by means of an artifice such as a dictionary the meaning of a symbol — one catches a glimpse of normal psychic functioning. Exaggerated as it is in the state of dream, it thereby makes this functioning more visible.
On the other hand, in Freud and Breuer’s early work with Hysterics, they discovered that hysterical symptoms were an expression of conflict. It was no coincidence at this time that hysteria was predominantly associated with women (although there were certainly exceptions, as there continues to be now): women were particularly susceptible to hysteria precisely because of the conditions under which they were born into it, a condition we would call “patriarchy” these days, but which, in the mid to late 19th century was merely the “way things are”. Hysteria was a revolt against these conditions — and I would argue, if I were forced to put it in such rigid terms, a perfectly rational or reasonable revolt — expressed, nay, written on the body, the very surface that patriarchy obsesses so much about. The “irrational” response was here on the side of the state, the accepted medical practices of the time, which prudently locked hysterics up or submitted them to electric shock “therapy” or lobotomized them. Really, this is “irrational” only depending on one’s perspective, but since I don’t lend any validity to a thought-process that advocates destroying the very thing that threatens the status quo in order to maintain the status quo, in order to protect it any any cost, I think “irrational” is perfectly acceptable here.
In my experience, one feels fundamentally and completely alone; but it is a wimpering feeling, not an irrational flood or a torrent. It is a silence, a deep and affecting silence, an insidious silence that you cannot escape, that resonates, among other places, in the voices of those talking to you when they don’t seem to understand what you’re saying — like some kind of supplement to reality that suddenly makes you feel that reality isn’t what it purports to be, like the difference between dream and wakefulness. It is the death of desire. It is not necessarily an inner feeling of worthlessness, but the feeling that the world reflects back to you an image of your being worthless in what you think wouldn’t be so bad if only you could express yourself better. It’s the feeling that other people think you’re worthless because you are not doing a good enough job explaining yourself. It’s not “you”, that supposed “inner” you, no, you’re fine, but your fucking brain isn’t working. It’s probably defective, you probably have brain damage which nobody noticed, so you won’t ever be able to really live up to your potential. You’ll just be trapped in this fucking body, with this fucking broken brain, like you’re suffering from locked-in syndrome.
It’s not surprising, really, that Bell’s new pet project (1 part good intentions; 9 parts marketing?) to raise awareness for mental illness is called “let’s talk”. I don’t have much faith in the intentions of those who prefer to talk when they should be listening. But alas, listening requires attention, charity, a willingness, a responsibility, an openness. It prevents us from a kind of authentic encounter with otherness, much like the simple gesture of sending a text message to fund god-knows-what research into mental health, required for understanding anything at all.
#Phenomenology of Depression
Posted 1 month ago