Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Mental Illness: You Or The Universe?

I've been pretty ill this past week. It wasn't an easy time, I was in a lot of pain, but I did what I could -- I sought medical help, took what was prescribed to me, let people know what was going on, accepted support and sympathy where they were offered, didn't blame myself, and took the time needed to heal. It was a tough thing to go through, but I faced it the right way, and it turned out to not be so bad.

I'm talking here about getting shingles, but I could just as easily be referring to a bout of depression. And yet, if my illness had been mental rather than physical, the likelihood is that I would have dealt with it in a very different way.

I tend to isolate myself when I am depressed. I work extra hard to pretend everything is fine. I suffer in silence. I don't ask for help. But, most of all, I really struggle with blame.

Either I blame myself, for being weak, for being pathetic, for being a coward, and suffer the pains of guilt and shame and embarrassment, or else I blame the universe for foisting this misery upon me, and I drown in self-pity.

I doubt these feelings are unique to me. There is still such a taboo against mental illness in our culture, especially among men, emotionally cut-off as we often are, dealing with outmoded concepts of masculinity -- having to be the strong one, the breadwinner, the head of the household -- as we often are.

We're terrified of something unseen affecting our will, our resolve, our sense of self. We feel if something goes wrong with our ability to want, to care, to hope, then something horrendous has gone wrong with us, in a way that we don't when we have a problem with our leg, say, or our liver, or, as is the case with shingles, our skin and nerves.

The thing is, despite decades of knowledge garnered from neuroscience, psychotherapy, quantum mechanics, philosophy, countless other varied disciplines, our common understanding of the relationship between our mind and our body, between our body and the universe, between self and other, is pretty much stuck in the Dark Ages.

Here is my bold statement for this post: There is no point blaming either yourself or the universe for your depression, because in truth you are the universe, and the universe is you.

I'm going to get a bit trippy here, but let's go for it...

Everything in the universe, right, is made of the same stuff. This stuff cannot be seen, or known, because it has no opposite. There is nothing that isn't it with which it can be contrasted. It is all that there is.

Everything that we think of as individual things, including you and me, is simply this universal stuff arranged into different structures.

Bear with me here. Let's say you made, I don't know, a child's fort out of chairs in your dining room. The fort itself wouldn't be an intrinsic thing, it wouldn't be made of "fort", it would simply be an arrangement, a structure, of chairs.

And yet a chair is not an intrinsic thing, either. It is an arrangement, a structure, of smaller things, known as atoms. And atoms are not intrinsic things -- though we thought they were when we discovered them, hence the name, which is Greek for "unable to cut". But atoms are not atomic, they are simply structures of smaller things, of electrons and protons and neutrons. And electrons and protons and neutrons are not things themselves, but structures of quarks and leptons and gluons and the like. And these fizzly bitty little things may have been named "fundamental particles" (rather quixotically, I feel), but what can we expect to find, if we are ever able to peer down inside them, other than more arrangements, more structures?

There is an emptiness going all the way down. In place of substance, of matter, of stuff, we find instead shapes, patterns, space. Relationship. A dance of order and chaos. All of it joined with all of the rest of it.

Or, OK, try this: At the moment of the Big Bang everything occupied the same point in space. All of space, in fact, occupied the same point in space. And then it exploded. Simple structures were formed, and began themselves to form into more complex structures. Atoms arranged themselves into the lightest elements, hydrogen and helium and such.

As these arrangements cooled they formed together into stars. And the immense pressures at the centres of these stars pushed the structures of atoms together with such force that some of the structures were broken or fused together into new patterns. Yet more patterns were created in the supernovae of dying stars. And, in such ways, every single element that makes up our world was created. Carbon, oxygen, magnesium... byzantium... rope... jam. The whole periodic table. There is no difference between any element in existence save the way its electrons, protons, and neutrons are structured -- like different forts all made from the same chairs.

Anyway, some of these structures of atoms, after taking their bloody time about it, eventually arranged themselves together into our Earth. And some of our Earth's structure eventually arranged itself together into a type of energy transfer we call life. Some forms of life evolved structures called brains. Many didn't, such as fungi and jellyfish, and these lifeforms seemed fairly content to be brainless, and survived well. But among the lifeforms that did evolve brains, a tiny minority eventually developed their brains to a level where they could invent chess, and the Sistine Chapel, and poetry, and the Beatles, and cheese on toast, and this was all rather nice.

But every power contains within it its own flaw. To be able to fly, you must run the risk of falling. To be able to float, sometimes you must sink. And for the human brain to be able to care, to dream, to hope, it must run the risk of this hope faltering. To love, it must risk depression.

So this is what I say to you: When you get depressed, you can blame the fucking stars, if you wish -- although remember that the stars are you, are burning outwards through your very eyes. Or you can blame yourself, if you wish -- although remember that you are but a permutation, a unique expression, of the whole vast interconnected universe.

Or, alternatively, you can drop the blame game altogether. Stop beating yourself up for being depressed. Stop beating the universe up for making you depressed. Recognise that depression is just an unfortunate thing that happens, like a breaking a leg, or catching a cold, or getting shingles. It is an obstacle before you, one that you would never have wished for, but one that is here -- and you can face it in a way that helps, or a way that does not help.

Be brave. Reach out. Accept support. I can tell you honestly that there will be people out there who will be there for you, if you look for them. I am there for you. We are all in this together. We all are this together.

Keep going. You are incredible. You can do this.

[A final, brief note: I am aware of a couple of scientific inaccuracies in this piece that I couldn't be bothered to write out. Electrons are not, in fact, of the same order as protons and neutrons, i.e., comprised of quarks held together by gluons, but rather fundamental particles in their own right, of the family of leptons. Also, technically not *all* of the elements of the periodic table were formed in the ways I stated; 26 "man-made" elements were created in nuclear power plants and inside particle accelerators. But as my main thrust is that man him-or-her-self is in fact a function of nature, I didn't figure this required time wasting upon it. But just in case you were worried that I didn't know, I did. Any other errors, however, I have made because I am a nincompoop, and if you find them you can go "nurr-nurr" at me.]

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant posting Rob! All of matter salutes you 😍