The past few weeks have been characterised by feeling as though I were sitting under a dark cloud. K brought home some variety of virus shortly after the start of the new term that promptly hit David, Freda and I. He and Freda had the more flu-like symptoms, whereas I had the cold from hell that promptly went down to my chest. The GP told David that this particular virus seems to linger for a good 2-3 weeks, and that seems to have been the case; that would be annoying enough to begin with, but it seems to have affected my mood which has been steadily going downhill. I’m not sure how much has been due to the virus itself, and how much is due to how the housework and everything else had to go hang whilst I wasn’t able to deal with it – either way, the end result has been the same; my mood nosedived. It’s no doubt been exacerbated by the lack of sunlight and fresh air.
Reading back through old diary entries didn’t help much, although it did serve as an interesting comparison of how I coped back then compared to how I manage now. I’m decidedly a more functional depressive these days, thankfully. The therapy sessions haven’t been as useful as I’d hoped, unfortunately – it was supposed to be CBT, but the first 4 sessions were almost entirely covering background history, and the last two sessions were mostly building on that and analysing how that background governs my reactions – looking at them from another angle, and actually trying to put emotions into words, which has been taking me out of my comfort zone. I can describe my past in a fairly dispassionate and neutral, almost light-hearted way, but it’s much harder for me to talk about how those events actually made me feel. It’s as though the events of my past are items in a box which I pull out on occasion to show to someone else then put away again, instead of letting them be a part of me and letting them affect me in the here-and-now. Things hidden away in dark places have a tendancy to fester unhealthily unseen, and sooner or later you have to deal with them. In part this involves acknowledging they exist and affect you, which in turn involves being able to actually articulate and describe them in the first place. Of course, in doing so the problems, emotions and feelings become less vague and in turn less unmanageable.
A number of things have led to introspection and thought on this subject; a couple of blog posts from friends, a couple of posts on a forum, and my last therapy session which acted as a sort of springboard, I guess. I’ve tended to think of being bipolar as being akin to lycanthropy for many years without necessarily putting into precise terms just why this feels like the most appropriate metaphor for me until asked directly; the answer was as elucidating to me as it was to the questioner:
When down, it’s less like being followed by a black dog, and more like I become it – or rather, a black wolf. I just want to curl up in my den, and be left alone. Often the depression is accompanied by an undefined anger in which I just want to snap and snarl at people.
A fellow bipolar disorder sufferer who also uses the lycanthropy metaphor said this about it:
Something is wrong with my chemistry. I have a spectacularly shitty attention span and a terrible temper. Despite the copious amounts of not much I do, I still feel the urge to swipe at myself and flail at the air and bite anything that comes near me and snarl “Get off me! Let me out of here! Leave me alone!” at random intervals. Being asked to do anything is stressful and infuriating.
Like lycanthropy, bipolar disorder can be unpredictable. You never know when you’re going to undergo the transformation from normal human being to a creature that may look human on the outside but feels very alienated and raw on the inside. Taking medication drugs the beast into submission, mostly, but sometimes it still rears its head; sometimes it rises high enough to take me off on a wild rollercoaster ride of emotion to dizzying heights that are truly terrifying before it is sedated back under control again.
And I’ve always had an affinity with wolves. The werewolf metaphor resonates with me. It’s a skin I feel more comfortable wearing. It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it does for me.
Like an injured or sick wolf, depression causes me to pull into myself; to withdraw, to want to hide away in my den and sleep. It’s a form of self-defense. Eventually the wolf wakes up enough to poke her nose out of the den, sniff around, take stock of the situation before emerging into the daylight, giving herself a shake and blinking at the daylight.
The metaphor has crossed over into my spiritual life as well; I frequently feel like a feral wolf who is mesmerised by the humans’ fire and comes creeping close at night to sit for a while at the edge of the firelight – close enough to be warmed by it but not close enough to be touched – before creeping away once more; not entirely a creature of the wild like the other wolves, but not a tame pet either – neither wholely in one world or the other, but somewhere in between. A spiritual limbo. Finding myself still torn between my leanings towards Christianity and my inner Pagan is another ongoing contributer to my depression, but it’s not something I find I am comfortable discussing with my therapist – and I’m not sure it’s really an area he would have the experience to advise me in anyway. It’s not even something I can comfortably discuss with David; he’s a cheerful atheist, and whilst he respects my personal need for belief, I don’t think he fully understands it. He jokes that I need to start my own cult, but that’s missing the point entirely.
At the moment I seem to be sitting in some sort of grey limbo straddling both Christianity and Paganism. I seem to have fallen into being something I have always derided and despised; a Christo-pagan. Which is fine from the pagan point of view, where one can comfortably follow more than one path at once (what I’ve often derided as “pick ‘n’ mix paganism”) – but decidedly not from the Christian side. Coming to this realisation has been very uncomfortable and hasn’t helped my self-esteem any. Increasingly I’m hearing this quiet little voice inside my head suggesting maybe this is all there really is, maybe there is no god, no goddess, nothing at all except just this: we are born, live and die without ever finding out what it’s all about – because it’s not about anything; it’s meaningless and we have no real purpose in life any more than any other animal.
Which in itself is a pretty depressing thought. *sigh*