Sunday, 30 December 2012
Velocity vs. Viscosity
Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast.
I'm not talking about the onset or duration. I mean the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts.
There are lots of names: depression, catatonia, mania, anxiety, agitation. They don't tell you much.
The predominant quality of the slow form is viscosity.
Experience is thick. Perceptions are thickened and dulled. Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception. The body temperature is low. The pulse is sluggish. The immune system is half-asleep. The organism is torpid and brackish. Even the reflexes are diminished, as if the lower leg couldn't be bothered to jerk itself out of its stupor when the knee is tapped.
Viscosity and Velocity are opposites, yet they can look the same. Viscosity causes the stillness of disinclination; velocity causes the stillness of fascination. An observer can't tell if a person is silent and still because inner life has stalled or because inner life is transfixingly busy.
Something common to both is repetitive thought. Experiences seem prerecorded, stylised. Particular patterns of thought get attached to particular movements or activities, and before you know it, it's impossible to approach that movement or activity without dislodging an avalanche of prethought thoughts.
A lethargic avalanche of synthetic thought can take days to fall. Part of the mute paralysis of viscosity comes from knowing every detail of what's ahead and having to wait for its arrival. Here comes the I'm-no-good thought. That takes care of today. All the day the insistent dripping of I'm no good. The next thought, the next day, is I'm the Angel of Death. This thought has a glittering expanse of panic behind it, which is unreachable. Viscosity flattens the effervescence of panic.
These thoughts have no meaning. They are idiotic mantras that exist in a prearranged cycle: I'm no good, I'm the Angel of Death, I'm stupid, I can't do anything. Thinking the first thought triggers the whole circuit. It's like the flu: first a sore throat, then, inevitably, a stuffy nose and cough.
Once, these thoughts must have had a meaning. They must have meant what they said. But repetition has blunted them. They have become background music, a Muzak medley of self-hatred themes.
Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted.
She can speak for me sometimes, but only sometimes. Here I think she makes a good point. Depression does slow time down, it slows down everything. Sometimes perception becomes too much, though. You listen to a piece of music and you think it's going too fast, or too loud, and you have to switch it off, turn out the lights, and lay face down on your bed in silence and darkness, then you fall asleep. You are presented with questions upon waking, do you get up? No, there's no point in getting up; all right, go back to sleep and miss work. Yes, all right, get up. What now? Do I have a bath? Well, I'm too warm in my pyjamas, and your bathing routine takes ages, and even lathering shampoo into your hair is too much of an effort, not to mention the shock of getting out of the water. Yes, you have a bath, ok, but do I shave afterwards? Well, again, the shaving routine takes ages and you only work for a cheap company anyway, what difference does it make whether you turn up looking rough or not? So you don't. Do I wash and prepare my face according to my accustomed routines? No, it takes ages. You put on an unironed shirt and trousers - you picked them up off the washing pile because you answered ''no'' to ''do I do the washing?'' yesterday. You look out the window; it's raining. Do I take an umbrella or not? You answer no, it's only rain water. You get to work looking rough and you answer with a grunt to people who ask ''what's happened to you?'' You switch on the lights to the office and sit down at your computer, and look around. You notice that some of the equipment you need to do your job is missing. You have found recently that your ability to cope with the smallest things has been slipping away, so you just sit there for ten minutes before your line manager walks in. You decide not to work that day as work is difficult and hopeless, and you go around and around in circles anyway, getting nowhere. You go home, toss the uniform onto the washing pile (which once again won't be done) and lay down to sleep. You have only worked a five hour day but even walking is exhausting, from the rising of one foot to the setting down of the other and years of time pass by and you're unconscious to it, conscious only to the effort of even standing up and trying to cope with a host of people talking to you all at once. Sleep gives you some release but you never seem to get enough of it.
Kaysen mentions panic and anxiety in Girl, Interrupted, but she has Borderline Personality Disorder as well, which influences emotion in a terrifying way. I don't panic and I am not anxious. I am too disinclined to feel either. If the worst comes, it comes; it can hardly be any different to that which is here now. I would say that my depression is characterised most by personal neglect, disinclination, tiredness, lots of staring and lots of sighing. I don't really have feelings of self-hatred (conscious ones anyway), and my enormous sense of entitlement and superiority hasn't completely vanished. But the answers to the questions I am faced with everyday, every hour, are invariably in the negative: do I wash today? No; do I go out today? No; do I get dressed today? No; do I do the washing up? No.
She is right, of course. The questions, the answers, the thoughts have no meaning. When you ask them everyday they are bound to loose meaning. Repetition just leaves you with a longing for nothing, for darkness, for release from the labour of living. Sunlight is painful, too bright; waking is exhausting; maybe eventually even breathing will become too much...
Art: J.R.R Tolkien. It's the tree from Leaf by Niggle, a melancholic story I haven't read for years.