Thursday, February 21, 2008

How To Drown

"Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"" (Mt. 14:30-31)

There was a Simpsons episode ("Bart Gets an Elephant," 1F15) when Homer was sinking in a tar pit. When Bart and Lisa yell out to him, he says (very logically) "It's okay, I'm pretty sure I can struggle my way out. First, I'll reach in and pull my legs out. Now I'll pull my arms out with my face." Of course he begins to sink and it's Stampy, Bart's elephant, that pulls him up.

Lately I've been feeling like Homer, trying to pull my arms out with my face. Being able to work from home for most of the week is both a blessing and a curse. I'm content to be inside most of the time, but after months of feeling sequestered by the weather, I'm starting to go a little stir-crazy. My friends know that I have more of a tendency to hunker down up in Roxborough during the winter (sub-freezing days without a car doesn't make jaunts to Center City for a beer as casual an act as I would like it to be); nonetheless, the feeling of being isolated in this way can cause a kind of "NO BEER AND NO TV MAKE HOMER GO SOMETHING SOMETHING" "Misery" effect.

I always found it interesting that historical accounts of insanity were always described as a kind of 'descent into madness.' Loosing your mental grounding is not like having the floor drop out from under you; it is a gradual decline, like Alzheimer's, or any other kind of degenerative disease. One couldn't tell you the moment they 'lost it,' because there is no 'moment.' Loss of faith, like loss of sanity, is an erosion, not a destruction.

I have been off of lithium for about a month now. I find myself feeling less tired and taking less naps, and having more motivation and energy. It's certainly not over the top, but I have pulled a few of those 'all nighters' when you hand the mind the reigns and try to keep up and wonder how much control you really have. Mania begins in relatively predictable ways: concentration becomes harder and harder to keep aligned; excessive spending also occurs; speech becomes sped up and feelings of euphoria begin to seep into everyday experiences. A gluttonous 'more, more, MORE!' desire for what feels good can lead to unchecked excess.

I wonder if this move--going off lithium--is like giving a prisoner a plastic knife and fork to eat with--it's more human than having them eat with their hands, but you also know how creative their destructive ingenuity can be. You wonder 'how could someone possibly escape from this place with a plastic fork?' But it has been known to happen, as anyone who's seen 'Silence of the Lambs' or 'The Shawshank Redemption' can tell you.

I don't think a breakout is occurring under my nose, but I do know that there are days where I feel loony at home, pacing around unable to rest and shut my mind off from its attempts to escape the present and procrastinate from what needs to be done. I try to get myself out of it but end up sinking more, loosing more sleep, becoming entrenched in more projects, not knowing how to get back to start, or even if I have the willpower to do so. My trail of bread crumbs has been eaten up by birds, the ribbons tied around trees undone by squirrels. The act of sitting peacefully in contemplation seems like a pleasant fantasy, a life from another time. My prayers have become desperate cries; my face is not doing a great job of pulling my face out from the mud.

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