When the devil comes blowing through your door

19 10 2008

It needs to be said: Beth Orton did not save my life. And it’s always dicey to attribute too much personal meaning to someone else’s words. Nonetheless, I took her devil as my own, as this song accompanied me on the way out of a decades-long tunnel.

Did I save myself? Hmmmmmm. I guess. I decided to live; is that saving myself? I hesitate to say yes for two reasons: One, I question whether one can save oneself, i.e., what is saving, anyway? Two, and more concretely, I question whether I did, in fact, decide to live.

Yeah, I’m alive, and that works for me. But at that crucial moment, my toes stretched across that thin thread, I didn’t so much decide as happen to lean this way rather than that. To illustrate this point, I sometimes put my hands together and let one fall back: ‘it could just as easily have gone the other way’, I say. Why live? Why die? I had no answer.

Hm. I wonder if that wasn’t the crucial question, Why die? I never asked that question (though others, of course, did); the default was death. But at that moment, sitting in my apartment with my palms over my eyes, I allowed myself the question: What am I to do? For the first time in over twenty years, I didn’t know. That un-knowing, which I mentioned in my last post, gave me that chance to fall this way rather than that.

What I did decide was to go with that chance. I fell into the net, and decided not to cut through it. Very well. My life is in my hands. I will take it.

How did I get to that night, that chance? I don’t know. It’s entirely possible that I had neared such moments previously, but couldn’t recognize them; certainly, I didn’t ask, before then, why I should die. Perhaps it was the work done prior to that night which cracked me open enough to allow that question through. Lucretia puts it quite nicely:

That I managed to get through that has a lot to do with learning to live with pain, and that was a redemptive experience. It’s like a zen trick; it’s not that “suffering ennobles” or some bullshit like that. But, by accepting that the pain was there whether I wanted it or not, and there was nothing I could do about it and nothing redemptive about it, that’s how I set my feet back on the path to redemption.

Yes, exactly. The pain would always already be there, as it is for every other human being on the planet, and that there was nothing either romantic or shameful about it. And despite all of my anti-romantic protestations, I did hold it rather close, as if it were something I was in danger of losing. I wrote about this years ago, some months before my turnaround:

[Kay Redfield] Jamison notes [in an Unquiet Mind] that in coming down from a manic high, “I had a horrible sense of loss for who I had been and where I had been.” This loss was magnified—rationalized, certainly, but also magnified—as she settled into her lithium routine. She was not just missing the swooning highs, but a self which, terrifically flawed, was nonetheless valued. To get better is, in a fundamental sense, to lose oneself.
To repeat: to get better is to lose onself. The idea behind treatment is that one gains a more complete self, that whatever loss occurs is mitigated by the wholeness of who one becomes. Nice idea, and I believe it insofar as I take part in treatment, but I also don’t believe it. As much as I try to make sense of my troubles, I also resist making sense of some its aspects: loss is loss, period.
Actually, if I understand therapy as leading to a more complete me, I can sign on, but if you tell me it will make me “better,” I want to bolt. Better?! Better, how?! More
normal? is that what you mean? To fit in, to be like everyone else, to conform?  To not be me, that’s what you mean. Why not just stick an icepick in my brain and get it over with.
I’m a little sensitive on this issue.
But even as I recognize overreaction, I still hold to the notion that there is something in this withered and distorted life which is meaningful. Not good, necessarily, but not everything which is meaningful is good.  I can see things, living as I do, off to the side and peering at the rest of you in some bewilderment. There are things you take for granted as good or normal that I just think, Huh. . . .
[So I worry] that I will lose this sight of the unsightly. . . . More primordially, I grasp at this sight as something which is
mine, which I have earned in years of living perched in the branches of a barren tree.  God. Dammit. I’ve survived out here, and now you’re telling me, Forget it? None of it matters?  . . .
My life yields strange and bitter fruits, but there is fruit and it is mine.

I protected that pain, that depression, out of sense that it was all that I had. Oh, I knew that other people felt bad, that I could not (even if I wanted to) monopolize suffering, but, somehow, I thought that my troubles with life gave me some kind of special sight into life itself. Yes, these troubles would kill me, but in the meantime. . . .

Hah. Who knows, maybe I did see something most others did not. So what. Every other person, by virtue of being every other person, will see something most others did not. This is the most basic condition of existence—that we are separate beings, with experiences we may only uncertainly communicate to others—and one which I missed, so frantic was I to take myself out of existence.

So much I missed. So much I don’t even know to look for.

Still, I am, finally, looking.