‘lexa

This last episode was horrible.

I mean they all are, obviously. I wonder if they’re getting worse or I just forget, each time, how brutal and cold they are.

Anyway.

I thought I’d share a memory from it.

It’s not a happy memory, which you could probably have assumed given I was suicidally depressed at the time. But it’s a memory which plays on me still, and it’s typical experience that anyone who has been through severe depression will probably relate to.

I thought I’d share it. As catharsis, maybe? For education? Because misery loves company?

I dunno.

It haunts me, this memory. This memory is grey, and cruel. It makes me feel cold, shameful, angry.

Just like depression.

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Gorgeous

I remember walking on the beach, me and mum always fell behind dad. Hands never big enough, pockets never deep enough. We’d tell ourselves we had to be strict and only get the best, but there are so many of the best that you end up with armfulls.

Dad wasn’t really any better. He was just more discerning, but then again you’d expect that of a geologist. The hint of a fossil hidden inside, really good, interesting quartz streaking against the rock, or just something weird and metamorphic.

And shells. Shells!

Shells on the shore are always beautiful, and water makes everything glisten; makes the world shine. So the three of us would walk along the beach, absurdly, picking up rocks and shells, return to the car overladen with worthless treasure.
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Nothing wants to be perfect

You fall out of love, sometimes, with life. Or at least I do. You need love to keep you going. Not romantic love or lustful love or hallmark love, but fierce love, primal, furious. Blood-bound love.

Maybe you don’t know or maybe you don’t believe me – fish rarely think about air, after all. But when that love drains away, when you forget how it feels… eventually you forget you were ever in love with the world at all.


 

rain

So it’s been raining all day today, siling and dripping and spitting. Cooped up in the house, sitting, lying, sitting some more. Sitting will kill me one of these days, if boredom doesn’t get me first.

So it’s been raining all through today and eventually you just have to accept that it’s going to carry on raining. Not that I mind and not that I can complain, but even though I like the rain I’d rather not get wet. But I can’t stay in all day, that’s no good for my no good head, so eventually I set out. Out of the house and along the Thames, rain on river; water, water everywhere.

Rain. The sky grey and the Thames brown, churning. Glistening pavements and puddles, no petrichor – the day has washed it away. The Thames water rushing in, filling the banks up from low tide.

Mud.


When I first moved to London, there was this story in the press. Two guys had been walking along the banks of the Thames, pissed after a post work drink. Now when mudlarkers used to walk the banks they knew to check the ground before them, stabbing down with a stick. Checking for quickmud.

These drunk guys didn’t know that; you don’t sink in quickmud, but you do get stuck. So they both got stuck, trapped at low tide.

They were rescued. The LFB fireboat pulled them out as the tide was coming in, saved them, saved them from drowning.


Anyway.

It’s been raining all today, and the Thames is rushing in. The smell of mud rises in the rain. And I remember.

I remember the seaside, with dad. Not sandcastles and ice creams and vinegar, but waves smashing; us clambering over boulders, us slipping. Seaweed. Cold bruised fingers and muddy clothes and a chisel and geological hammer.

I’ve not done it for years – for decades – but you get an eye for it: Fossil hunting. I might not be able to ride a bike but I bet you I can still pick the right rock, pick the right place to hit the rock. You never forget.

We found a belemnite, embedded in a boulder, perfect. Belemnites were basically ancient squid things, the way ammonites were ancient nautilus things. And this one – a slender, sleek cone. You don’t get them so close to perfect very often.

We started to chip. Or maybe dad started to chip and I watched, or maybe I started to chip and dad watched. But we started to chip. Careful, slow. Cold and wet and salty, waves smashing, mud and seaweed. Trying to lift the stone from the stone.

But stone is brittle and nothing wants to be perfect; the fossil broke, and broke, and broke again.

I want to say that I displayed a wisdom beyond my years and accepted it, but I remember being upset and dad having to comfort me and I remember being comforted. We carried on together. We could stick it back together once we got home, and broken things can still, in their way, be close to perfect.

Mum and dad still have it at home, among all the other fossils and shells and interesting rocks. I think it sits on the kitchen windowsill, next to an amazing nautilus fossil we found in Wales.


Rain.

It’s been raining all through today, either pouring or drizzle. I’m not one to complain, really I like the rain. I just don’t want to get wet. But cooped up inside is no good for my no good head, and eventually you have to accept it’s going to keep on raining. I’ve got this waterproof jacket with a hood, hardly the height of fashion but who cares? I put it on, and do it up, and go for a walk by the Thames. Feel the rain. Smell the mud.

And I remember.

Pequeña estrella

“You… you worry me. You’ve thought about this. It’s measured. Beyond the depression, you’ve considered it. Almost calculating, weighing everything up. With you, this is existential”

And I have. When suicide first popped realistically into my head, in 2008, it was chilling. I was held transfixed, terrified. Even in 2012, I was frantic, scared, gripping friends and desperate. “I’m going to do it, I’m so scared, I’m going to do it”.

Eventually the fear fades. You’re left weighing your heart against a feather, seeing where on the scales you lie. Worthy or not. Life worth it, or not.

I’m now out of an immediate crisis point, out of what I now recognise was a dangerous ‘mixed’ episode. Both depressed and alert; despondent and electric. Still. I’m unconvinced. Unconvinced it’s worth it, unconvinced it’s worth it’s weight in effort and grit and grief. I’m holding off ultimate judgment. For now.


“It’s only in Spanish”

“That’s OK”. I sit next to my Carolina, my four year old niece. She holds the iPad, gazing transfixed. Singing in whispers to the video. I hold her, gazing, transfixed.

“Brilla, brilla, pequeña estrella
me pregunto como estas…”

And I hold her, gazing, transfixed.

And I know, like mountains know stone, that it’s all worth it. It’s worth the effort and the grit and the grief, all the grief. It’s worth sandpaper and ash and the daily grind. I hold her, gazing transfixed.

“en lo alto sobre el mundo
como un diamante en el cielo…”

Hold the feeling, gentle, close. Hold the feeling before it goes.

“Brilla, brilla, pequeña estrella
me pregunto como estas”

Before it’s gone.

 

Hiding behind the sofa

Sack person from Little Big PlanetMy little niece has just started playing Little Big Planet on the PS3, I’m told she runs for cover when any lava comes on screen. It’s cute.

And it’s strange, isn’t it?

Maybe you don’t think it’s strange, maybe you’re so used to kids hiding behind the sofa that you think it the most pedestrian thing in the world.

I think it’s strange.

And then I think of watching a film though fingers, or turning away during the gruesome bits; it hits me, and I think ‘that’s strange, too’.

Because there is nothing to be frightened of. And we know there is nothing to be frightened of. We experience, again and again, complete safety when we watch these things, when we play these games. We look at toddlers and smile that they’re so scared of the in-game hot lava that they’ll drop the controller and run for safety. At kids who run from the monsters in Doctor Who, as if – we tell ourselves – as if they think the monsters might come out of the TV and get them for real.

As if!

But we know better, we know where the real monsters lie in wait, and we know they’re not in the TV. But still we watch, sometimes, through fingers.

Isn’t it strange?

Why do we do it? Why do they do it? You’ve got to be so careful interpreting what children say – or maybe just as careful as you are with adults, but in a different way; do children understand what you’re asking when you ask if they’re scared of the lava on the screen? Do they understand what they’re saying, when they say ‘yes’? Because of course they are, otherwise they wouldn’t hide! (What peculiar questions these grown ups ask!).

Do you get more specific, and ask them if they’re scared of the lava coming out of the TV and hurting them?

(When I was a kid, I used to be frightened of being upstairs in our house on my own. One of my elder brothers once asked, mockingly, ‘What are you so afraid of? That your toys will come to life and come to get you?!’.

And I thought, ‘well I am now!’).Phrenology head and almonds

Inside your brain you’ve got two ovoid structures called the amygdalae; they’ve got close connection with your two hippocampi, structures which we know are vital for ‘memory’, as we commonly understand the word. The amygdala seems to get especially excited when we’re in danger, or if we perceive a threat. Its close connections with the hippocampus act as a kind of ‘notice this!’ signal, ensuring you remember situations when bad things happened and thus allowing you to avoid them in future.

Undergrad textbooks sometimes take this and conclude that you need the amygdala for fear processing; that the visceral, panic sensation of fear somehow is part of the amygdala’s functioning. Myself, I keep thinking also of the remark in ‘Into the Silent Land‘ that the amygdala is possibly more involved in contextualising fear; thinking of the woman who, deprived of its processing, would stand passive and smiling through a mugging but could also be pinned to the armchair in fear’s grip while watching TV.

(As an aside, the word ‘amygdala’ comes from ancient greek and means ‘almond’, and the amygdala looks like an almond; ‘hippocampus’ comes from the ancient greek ‘hippokampos’, which means sea-horse, and the hippocampus looks nothing like a sea-horse, not even like the crazy-ass sea-horses the Greeks imagined. So long as you remember that anatomical terms either do make sense or do not make sense, you’ll have no problem remembering them)

Often we talk about ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ brain functions; the amygdalae sit at the lower end, apparently driving primal emotional responses which are then modified, modulated and given texture and nuance by the ‘higher’ centres, up and out in the wrinkly cortex. It’s tempting to say that as children we have less control over these ‘lower’ centres – certainly the circuitry of the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped compared to an adults, and these areas do send many projections deep into the lower processing centres. It’s nice and neat to say that without enough control, or with too much stimulation, or both, our rational selves are displaced, leaving us frightened even when we know we’ve nothing to be scared of.

I’m lured by this explanation, but I’m wary; I’m wary of the Cartesian confusion we can slip into when talking about competing drives and desires inside a single soul; I’m wary of this ‘higher v lower’ dichotomy, which carries so much historical, moralistic baggage. Plato and Freud both thought we had three parts to our selves, which to me seems at least two too many. Besides, as any of my ex’s will attest, I am not good with nice and neat. I don’t trust it; I’ve been let down too many times in the past. Brains are complicated and people even, even more so. Our desires and knowledge and behaviours bleed into one another, from it all we emerge, often unsure of ourselves and our reasons why. We find ourselves on a diet, scooping ice cream into our mouths; promising never to drink again, again; find ourselves watching, frightened and delighted, through tight fingers.

Strange, isn’t it?