Monday, March 13, 2017

Grapplings with Nihilism

I have a recurring dream.

In my dream, I am blind. Not so blind that everything is black, but enough that the sight I have left seems to be a cruel joke meant to taunt me. I can see just enough to know what direction to go in, maybe.

And then something else happens. That barely perceptible goal in mind, I reach. I run. I exert all my energy, but I cannot move of my own free will. My movements seem to be controlled by some outer force- like someone is watching me struggle and gleaning enjoyment from the experience, lowering the resistance at times for just a moment to increase their own amusement when I struggle harder.

Everything is faded. Everything is still, but me. My mind is working triple time, as if to compensate for the uncontrollable slothfulness of my body. I panic. I plead. Whatever I am searching for drifts farther away, and I am left to drown. I am all alone.

And then I wake up. Shiver, and pray. Move on with my life, until the next time.

I don't know exactly what this means. I'm aware that eventual blindness is a legitimate possibility, but I can never decide if this dream feels literal or existential in nature. Deciding which often seems important, which of course does not translate into doable.

Besides this recurring dream, I have also sometimes dreamed of things before they happen. More specifically, people. I dreamed of Emma before I knew she was coming. When Bekah was pregnant, I dreamed of a little boy and knew that he would be alright. I dreamed that something terribly wrong was happening with my best friend, and found out later that this was, in fact, the case. Sometimes this has been a comfort, and sometimes it frightens me a bit. These dreams feel different than the ordinary ones, more real.

This is what the blindness dream feels like. Literal or existential, I don't know, but real.

New story.

When I was in High School, the Drama Club had season tickets to Pioneer Theater. Every other month, I would sit on the front row with my friends, enthralled at the artistry occurring in front of my eyes. Each season they would premier a show never before produced, often directed by the writer. One such show was titled Touch(ed). This play explores themes of traditional madness and how insanity is influenced by human connection.

The story focuses on two sisters, one ultra focused, responsible, a bit high-strung, etc. Not a relaxed individual, but clearly what we would call "sane." This sister is the caretaker for the other, a woman who is schizophrenic and has spent much of her life in and out of various treatment programs following suicide attempts. During this story, the schizophrenic sister (who is a little "touched' as they say) moves in with her sister and the sister's boyfriend. While the sane one is out of town, the schizophrenic one, with the boyfriend's support, begins a regimen of healthy eating, exercise, and stops taking every single one of her medications. When her sister comes back, she finds a healthy, high-functioning, lucid person in place of the crazy one she left behind.

Though she is skeptical of this new undertaking, she is persuaded by her sister's success and seeming happiness, which seems legitimate for a long enough period of time that they begin to hope it may be permanent. The neurotic, uptight, responsible sister stops worrying and calms down enough to get happy and engaged. While she and the fiance are out celebrating, the schizophrenic sister is at home, sitting in silence. The lights go down, the door opens, and we see the silhouette of a man, large and imposing, enter the room. He stands behind her and waits. She curls into a smaller ball of weathered resignation, and without looking up, says this:

"I've been waiting for you."

When the couple returns, they find the house burned down, and the sister dead inside it.

Now, listen.

The threatening, aggressive figure taking over is so unexpected that it kind of shocked the audience into silence. Everyone seemed to hold their breath at once. I remember feeling like I had had the wind knocked out of me. The usual swirling eddy of my thoughts abruptly ceased, and I remember one feeling, insisting to be heard; this was shocking not because of the contrast, but because it felt so familiar.

I am not schizophrenic. This is an extreme comparison, I know But in a much smaller way than a woman with schizophrenia suddenly succumbing to suicidal tendencies despite all healthy prior indications....that man, threatening and aggressive, who functions as a symbol for mental illness, is a figure I know well.

This part right here, this is the healthiest I've ever been in ten years. All that time, depression and I gnawing away at each other, has been filled with various victories and defeats. That constant struggle has been ugly and often unexplainable. No matter how hard I worked or how much I won, I always ended up in a puddle on the bathroom floor in the middle of night again.

So, I pull myself off the bathroom floor and get back to work on this thing called happiness. And when this goes well, I do fabulously. I have all the good advice. I've done the therapy. I have answers, but answers and execution are different things. When things are going well, it still takes constant effort, and I always have this nagging question at the back of my mind. How long can I keep this up?

Sooner or later, to some degree, the silhouetted man comes back. He seems to have a key for all the locks. He stands near the windows to block out the light. Without looking up, I hear myself say, "I've been waiting for you."

Of course that response has other layers. Sometimes, that weathered resignation wins out, and I decide that as long as he's blocking the light, I'll just rest for a bit- no need to hurry back to daylight. Other times, I stand up and scream. "I told you not to come back here. Get out!" With the darkest anger I've ever experienced, I tell him I've been trying so long to kill him. I'm generally against violence, but he is an exception I feel good about. Other times, I ignore him, step gingerly around him to throw the curtains open wider and pretend he isn't following me. I continue on. His stamina is impressive. He never speaks, but he doesn't need to. If he spoke, I could argue; I'm extremely articulate and I have an excellent shouting voice. His silent looming is more frightening than an active assailant. A fight I can handle, but he doesn't fight back. He simply is.

So here's the thing. What does that all mean?

I know for a certain fact that fighting depression, clawing to shove him out the door, buying more deadbolts, is basically struggling for survival. It's fighting to feel something. I also know that this struggle is a big part of who I am. I am different in a lot of good ways because of all that crap. And the pure "good ideas" part of me says of course fighting back is the correct response. I should do the things I can to be a healthy happy person. But always, there's that knowledge that whatever I am doing to cope is not going to last forever. No lock ever does. This is always going to be a part of my life.

Thanks to the antidepressant that miraculously works better than any other I've taken in my life, I can fall off the wagon of unsustainable healthy habits every so often without being a volatile freaking mess like I used to be. In the past couple of years, I have discovered that there can be a middle ground between happy and a happiness sucking black hole. I never really experienced that before. And sometimes I rest from all the unsustainable healthy habit work because it is nice to know that I can do that without falling off a cliff.

But then I feel guilty.

I was talking with Bekah about this the other day, and she said, "You need to give yourself a break, kiddo."

Do I? Or is that getting too comfortable with the guy blocking the windows?

Back to the dream. This has a point, I promise.

So that dream, the real one. I have been experiencing this dream with dread for quite some time, and it always makes me afraid. As Emily says, "Today is bearable, but to always be afraid of tomorrrow!" I'm always a little bit afraid of the tomorrows, because of the drowning dream.

But a couple of things occurred to me recently.

 If that dream is not literal, if I'm not going to go blind and get MS all at once, what does it mean? I think that dream is how depression feels. Maybe I haven't been dreaming prophetically, and that dream was just a response to how I was actually experiencing life. ( I do sometimes dream in poetry. I guess this could just be metaphor dreaming?) Maybe it isn't something to be dreaded because it's something I already lived. Something I will keep on living to some extent for all my life, but nevertheless something I know I can survive.

Have you guys read The Hiding Place? In this book, Corrie Ten Boom has a vision of herself and her family and some of their friends being arrested by the Nazis and taken away from their home. This dream is frightening, of course, and she takes the matter to her father to discuss it. She, also, is afraid of what may happen. Her father asks her what the purpose of the dream might be. What he told her made me gasp out loud in a room full of people.

If this is a dream of things to come, then maybe the point is for you to know that God knows. Because He has planned it, there is no need to fear.

This does not, of course, mean that the experience couldn't be in some way horrific. Nazi imprisonment was no less real to her because she had some inkling it might happen beforehand. But what a comfort to know that a horrifying and difficult experience is not the product of pointless chaos. This dream is frightening to me. It is deeply uncomfortable. It feels like something I have worked so hard to overcome that will just keep coming back like the silhouetted man. But it is also not for nothing. There is a point, and God knows it. He is not unaware of the silhouetted man who stalks me. In fact, they might know each other.

Because God created the waster to destroy, I can dream of blindness and drowning alone that feels very real, but wake up, shiver and pray, and move on without the fear of tomorrow hanging over my head. God created the waster to destroy- he lets me suffer from depression for a reason, but He also gave me a Savior who is far more persistent than any shadowy figure can be. He gave me a Savior who won't simply lock the door, because that isn't the point. Instead, He will stay inside with me and make me strong enough to fight back.  Maybe that point when I fall off the wagon for a bit is a tool to help me know that there is a middle ground that is solid enough to rest on. And when I get back up to grapple with that dark figure -who will keep coming back because he's really only a part of me- I'll be able to do it because the Savior will be there, asking to be a part of me, too.

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thank you for validating my existence, you lovely person!