Just because you sometimes fall, doesn’t mean you can’t run.
And I can still run, if I want. And walk and saunter and stand, and sit and talk and watch the wild world go by. But there’s a break in my soul which imperfectly healed. It’s this spot – this spot right here – and if it gets knocked or pulled, or sometimes I guess just when the weather is wrong, the break opens up to a gash, to a wound, to a mouth twisted and contorted and I fall in and fall and am swallowed.
It’s just a break, imperfectly healed. I can still run, if I want.
Recovery for me has meant an expansion of the world – inner and outer. While I’m episodic the world is extremes; pointless, despairing and hateful. My life is ruined, I am broken, a failure, useless. Eventually there is only this one cruel nameless, formless thing, incalculably huge and incoherent, and inside it I thrash and howl and claw – or exhausted simply lie, and stare, and breathe ghostly shallow breaths.
But the world isn’t this one thing; the world is countless fleeting forms, blossoming and burning and falling to ash. In its entirety it beats and breathes and pulses and sleeps, and roars, and weeps. Now, the regrets I hold are held gently in my heart; along with compassion, gratitude, sorrow and hope and grief and love and all the other colours of the soul. This is recovery for me – this being able to feel the bruises inside me without being brought down by the pain, being able to reach out and touch the world and hold its countless imperfections and understand that this is enough.
The scar is still there – the monster, the devil of depression, the endless empty space inside into which I still can fall. And though it’s only a sliver of space inside my soul, when I’m in there it’s once again this huge wordless thing, impossible and furious, and I’m lost for moments, for days, for my own forever.
But it is only a sliver of space inside my soul, an imperfectly healed break. Around it there’s a vastness matched only by the wide wild world outside. Some days, I fall; but I can now run, out into that vastness. This for me is recovery. This for me is health.
I think there’s three potential reasons, and they probably all interlock a little.
The first is that I’d been more or less ill a long time, and had got very ill through a series of stumbling steps into the dark. While I knew I was ill, I didn’t know quite how seriously ill I was (a lot of psychiatric patients have the same problem). It’s one thing to know you’re lost, it’s a very different thing to know exactly how lost you are. However, I had been blundering around in the psychic dark for a long time and there’s a chance I was making some kind of stumbling progress on my own, back toward the entrance of the cave; the crack in my world where the light still came in.
The second, obviously, is the psychedelics. Although I started ‘seriously toying’ with them in late 2015 and have taken three large doses, it was only in the latest dose that I had ironed out all the environmental quirks which distracted me from becoming truly absorbed in the state. That was the dose I took in November 2017.
Psychedelics literally break open the brain’s habitual activation patterns – patterns which in depression have become so powerful and consuming they prevent the exploration of new possibilities. This creative chaos floods the mind and restructures the internal landscape so that hitherto unseen emotional, behavioural and cognitive vistas open up.
The third is Buddhism – which I started working with a lot more after the November 2017 trip. When people talk about Buddhism in a therapeutic context it’s often with a nod to mindfulness, and while mindfulness is a very important foundation (for reasons I might go into in a later post), the most surprisingly important aspect – for me – has been the emphasis on wise speech. This includes a warning against cruel speech, an emphasis on compassionate speech and – crucially – a commitment to accuracy.
That latter might sound irrelevant but it’s not; in working toward it I’ve noticed it actually gels with parts of CBT (the therapy kind, not the Vauxhall kind [NSFW link]). I caught myself saying I hate living in Sheffield. I have to move in two years or I’ll go completely fucking mad. Which is just… not true. Living here isn’t ideal, and wouldn’t be my first choice. But there’s some real benefits to it as well as the real pains. The world isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t ghastly. Catching my catastrophic framing of it and working it into a more nuanced perspective has been important in stretching my horizons, opening up calmer spaces inside.
I’ll fall again, probably. I’m currently unemployed and skint, and scared for my future; it’s a tough course, right now. When I fall it will feel – to me – that I’ve never been able to run, that I’ve always been in the dark; it will be dangerous, and I will need to be kept safe from harm.
But I genuinely don’t think I’m ‘ill’ right now. I think falling is just what happens sometimes to people like me, us with imperfectly healed breaks. Just like sometimes you stop and gasp, caught on the memory of someone loved and long gone, and sob, and sob. Life hurts sometimes. That doesn’t means it’s not also still beautiful.
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