One of the most amazing of the TED Talks was that of neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor who described having a stroke, of how different parts of her brain coming in and out of focus, of how she struggled to get help:
I knew of the two sides of the brain working differently, but I had no idea they were states of mood as well. She talks of the creative right side being the peace and love, connecting with everybody in the universe part of us. The left side, which I understood was the more logical side, is the bill paying, no nonsense side. The grumpy parent to the free spirited child.
This got me thinking, especially in terms of the horrific problems I have had coping with the past year’s stress. One of the things people find impossible to understand is how I can be planning to kill myself at the same time as planning my next book, or to do a masters degree. They seem to think this means I am undecided, or not really clear in what I want. But I am absolutely clear, and that is the real problem, both in explaining what is going on and being taken seriously, because it is not just that I have problems, I have a problem dealing with the relations between the problems.
Most of my problems come from outside circumstances, and as a person used to solving problems for myself, it makes perfect sense to have several options, depending on how things pan out. If things work out well, if I had somewhere quiet to work, then I would do some writing; if the hellish situation continued, I was determined to kill myself. Simple
There is no contradiction. This is being human, this is thinking on my feet. This is about survival, even when it involves self destruction. I am used to having some control over my life. That is how I deal with my arthritis, working around the pain, dealing with the various tasks involved in being self employed. But losing my freedom, losing my home, that was – and is – totally beyond my comprehension, my ability to deal with.
The bouts of depression caused by this overload can be utterly paralysing. I cannot sleep, cannot think, can’t do anything. People think because I seem to be getting on with my life, that I am getting better, I’ m looking a lot better, but I am not. The depression is just turning chronic. It is not a passing phase, it is now part of what I am. So any attempt to deal with it is a lot more complicated, it is more like a cancer than a curable infection. Bruce Springsteen’s (yes, him again) song ‘Philadelphia’ he has a line, ’don’t take away my pain, cause pain is all I have.’
The depression is like a battering ram. It comes out of nowhere and just whacks you. Sometimes I can stand up to it, sometimes I can deal with it, but there’s always a danger there. If I’m in a safe place I can ride it out, but if I‘m on a busy street, or near a bridge, I sometimes get to thinking….
Keeping busy helps, but the depression sometimes stops me doing that. The hell I’ve been through also makes me feel like I don’t matter. That I don’t count, that I am being punished, though as in Kafka, I have no idea why. When I tried to set fire to myself, I believed I should be punished in the most painful way possible. It was the only thing that made sense. I was so ill that sense made no sense.
I seem to be coping by putting all the stuff that has happened, that makes no sense, into a sealed off place that I don’t go near. If I leave it alone, maybe one day it will either go away or I will get strong enough to deal with it. Meantime, I seem to be more creative than ever, at times writing better and faster and more varied than ever. This blog.. I have no idea where all the stuff is coming from. It’s like a dam bursting. all the stuff I’ve been reading and working on for years has finally found an outlet.
It comes back to the split brain. By leaving the left part alone, by refusing to deal with the problems, the injuries can sort themselves out. At the same time, the creative side is being left to run wild without the sensible stuff getting in the way, so, again, it all makes sense.
Which of course brings me back to cave art. Being out in freezing conditions is very stressful, very left brain stuff. What if the art was their way of escaping the stress, of switching off to the dangers and just being creative, just haing fun?
Our bodies are not just amazing machines, they are incredibly good at fixing themselves. Mostly without us ever noticing.