Altered Pates

Photo montage: Mycological MysteriesMycological Mysteries & Mishaps

A mushroom-hunter in the woods

has grasped the essence of the goods:

Ingesting whilst she picks and roams,

she damages her chromosomes;

Yet, happy, hopping, fails to know

she killed those brain cells long ago,

And thus can skip through vale and copse

quite blithely, nibbling mushroom-tops—

For nothing is so esoteric

as munching on a Fly Agaric,

But she knows not she shouldn’t eat a

bit of tasty Amanita

Thus goes the world, and with it, sense,

when fungus fans face recompense.

Suicide without a Corpse

digital illustrationMichelle, a writer I greatly admire, just offered a post on her blog, wherein she details some of the characteristics of her daily experiences in life as a person with depression. As always, she makes me think. It’s not simply that I, too, am such a person—albeit one whose version of depression is as unique, individual as hers and everyone else’s—but that there are a few aspects of depression that, if not exactly universal, are amazingly common. First of these is that being sad is not depression. Sadness is to depression about like a paper cut is to getting an ice pick stuck in your eye.

I will not belittle the paper cut, real or metaphorical. Pain of the physical and the psychic sorts will always be relative to our own experiences and our own moments, and pain of any kind is inherently unpleasant and undesirable. That, I think, would be hard to argue.

But I might also say that it’s less accurate to equate sadness with depression than to call being sad, however jokingly, being “differently happy”. Sadness is a passing, ephemeral experience of the sort where the last scoop of one’s favorite ice cream flavor has been dished up and handed to the person just before her in the queue. Depression is when she has the dish of that flavor sitting right in front of her and not only doesn’t have the strength to reach over and take a spoonful of it to eat, she thinks she isn’t a good enough person to do so, if she can form such a solid thought at all, and if there were a super-powered sleeping pill that could put her peacefully to sleep forever sitting right next to the ice cream and she longed beyond words to die, she mightn’t have enough strength to reach over and take the pill either.

Suicide is a hideous thing, if you ask me. It’s tough enough that anyone would hate or fear her life and self to the degree that she sees no alternative but to end it, but of course she either knowingly accepts whatever horrible consequences her death will have on the entire rest of the universe, starting with the people who love her or she is no longer capable of recognizing that there are such people or consequences or caring about them. Beyond that, it inevitably is simply messy in the practical and logistical and legal senses. Someone will have to clean up after the fact, and the suicide doesn’t or can’t care that this will require others to deal with her corporeal remains, the legal messes she’s left behind, the tasks unfinished, and most of all, with the incurable suffering that follows when survivors realize that they couldn’t save her, might indeed have been utterly forgotten by her in the abysmal darkness of her depression.

Every individual’s best response to depression is as different as his or her version of the ailment. I am one of those whose unique combination of depression and other physical and emotional characteristics and components resisted all non-medical interventions until despite my vigorous resistance to the idea of chemical treatment I learned that that was the only useful method for me. Rather than diminishing my sense of self, it allowed me for the very first time in my four-plus decades to experience what I now believe is (and yes, probably always was) my true self. It still required being dedicated to a variety of other forms of non-chemical rehabilitation and therapy; talk therapy, meditation, and my practice of various arts and exercises mentally and physically that please and heal me all contribute to my wellness along with my meds.

I was fortunate in a way that many clinically depressed people are not: I never seriously contemplated committing suicide. I would go so far as to say that I considered it as a rather detached philosophical argument, inwardly, but I never reached the point where I so lost my will to oppose the idea of killing myself that I could let go of all the external reasons not to do so, those messy consequences others would have to undo or survive. If I valued myself so little as to want to be dead, I suppose it could be said that at least this made me think it would be that much worse of me to impose so terribly on those around me for something that wasn’t directly their problem. This sort of tautology clearly says to me that I wasn’t in imminent danger; I was busy arguing myself out of something that I didn’t really have the strength to do anyhow.

What I didn’t recognize in the midst of all of this soliloquizing was that I was committing a form of suicide, if an invisible one. True, there would be no stinking remains turning into human soap and sliming the rubber gloves of some poor janitor, no internecine paperwork to be sorted by attorneys and opportunists. But the burden on the world around me would have been just as heavy, the struggle of my loved ones just as inexorable, if I hadn’t rather literally stumbled into the intervening care that brought me to this lovely resolution where I find myself dwelling so comfortably today. Because, in my depressive brain fog and fear and self-loathing and ennui, I was rapidly forgetting how to be alive. It’s quite possible, I discovered, to die without stopping breathing, without even losing all conscious thought. A walking coma, an animate death is entirely possible in the midst of true depression.

And for that reason, I am all the more grateful that by virtue of being surrounded by people who helped to guide me in that direction, combined with being blessed, lucky, fortunate, or whatever combination thereof you prefer to name it, after my years in the dark I fell into the combination of elements that conferred a kind of wellness on me that I’d never known before. I am among you today not just as a happy and contented person, full of gratitude and amazement at what a good life I have, but also as a testament to the unfathomable differences and distances between existing and living, between something indescribably yet terribly akin to sleepwalking through life and waking up every day a little bit more…alive.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm (But Don’t Waste Your Pity on the Late Bird)

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You mockin’ at ME?

That old saying has transcended life-directional, generational and international boundaries so widely and deeply that it’s practically accepted as the absolute Truth. Don’t get me wrong, for many it is indeed an operational reality. But as someone who not only loves to sleep in but craves, nay, needs large quantities of sleep regularly if not constantly, well, I have come to accept my own version of this truth, or one I think is a more completely accurate version.

Yes, the early bird gets that proverbial worm more often than not.

But every birdie that gets out there, raring to go, in the earlier hours of any given day is not inherently smarter or a better hunter or more wonderful than the one still tucked neatly into the nest, storing up strength for her own burst of action, no matter what either’s pace or style or M.O. happens to be. For one little thing, the Law of Unintended Consequences can indeed be a nasty spank on the flank to anyone not paying proper attention, but in other senses, it can also lend a lovely surprise ending, a positive twist unforeseen: the worm that the aforementioned early bird unceremoniously cheated out of another day’s orchard-munching left an untouched, pristine apple hanging there. This glorious apple would otherwise have been unavailable to Miss Sleepy-Cheepy, who has finally arisen, seen the sweet orb of the fruit eclipsing a late-morning sun and surrounded by its celestial aura with a sense of angel choirs bursting into cinematic soundtrack song, and eaten her fill of juicy, energy-producing (and doctor-evading, if we are to believe all old sayings while we’re in this groove) goodness. Hopefully, thanking in her heart her early rising cousin for rescuing a tidbit that she secretly prefers to eating boring old worms anyway.

This, of course, is one microscopic scenario in the universe of possibilities. Many of those alternate realities are terrible, many grand, and many, just as on the millions of days before them, unremarkable. Except as they are experienced by us quirky, crazy, individual beings. We have our own filters and will always know life’s ups and downs through those; even though our filters must change as we change-or-die in life, we will never cease to experience a filtered life as long as we do live. We find our own realities. We shape them and understand them as best we can, and we let our own compulsions and desires and beliefs keep pulling us into the new world of tomorrow, whether we get up at the blink of its dawn or lie somnolent well into the middle of the day.

I am no bird. But I can fly, too, despite my urge to sleep a very long time while nestled in my safe places, and despite my natural resistance to learning new and seemingly impossible things. And it doesn’t have to be before a certain hour of the clock for me to stretch my wings. Maybe I’m a bat. If so, that makes me the early one, I guess.

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Me, ‘flying’. Thanks to the filtered reality of a 777 flight simulator plus an *actual* pilot brother-in-law doing the real guidance while I attempt a second landing of it in ‘Memphis’. I didn’t crash it, but I do apologize about those blown tires; guess that’s just a consequence of my being such a latecomer to the whole flying thing. But it felt real, in its own way, and gave me a sense of both exhilarating and terrifying freedom and an even deeper appreciation for the people who make Flying Humans a reality in such amazing ways. Whoa, there! Gotta go lie down now.