Impenetrable Loneliness

I had a realization the other day while sitting outside. It was a cold day for a late March evening, but I certainly didn’t mind it. I sat there, listening to wind rustling through the leaves of the trees around me, the birds pursuing the interests necessary to maintaining their ephemeral lives. As I reflected upon the fact that I almost missed the white, snow-silenced world this place had been just months ago, I was trying to think of a word that summed up being outside in the winter months. And I found it. Lonely. Loneliness, I realized, is my element.

I have been lonely for so long it is the state of being I am most comfortable with.

That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt. It does.

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I have immense difficulty trusting people. My biological father was abusive to me and my mother, with his fists and his words. People don’t realize the damage words can do. They are shocked and horrified by violence, which I have been through quite a lot of. I can honestly say that, whether intentionally or not, he very nearly killed me once, when he shoved me from a staircase. I landed in a bloody heap at the bottom of the stairs, and lay there for a minute, before I surprised both of us by pulling myself up and limping to the bathroom to clean the blood from my face. That night I suffered from what I have since realized was likely head trauma, and I woke up to find my body shaking uncontrollably and my mother crying beside my bed. But I digress. I only meant to offer an example of his physical abuse. People can see the damage that those injuries caused me (blood, head trauma, a broken rib that never healed back right) but they can’t so easily see the damage that his words caused me. But I am sure that he is at very least partly the reason why I have such low confidence, and such difficulty connecting to people.

That, and the fact that I moved so very frequently (less than twenty times already in my short life). I think always leaving people behind shortly after I met them hindered my ability to form relationships. At several points, I stopped even bothering to associate with people. I knew I’d be leaving them behind anyway, and I was tired of facing that pain. My predictions were always correct.

When I am around people, even those I call friends, I feel like I am faking every emotional response, every word I say. And I always feel the intense desire to get away, to retreat from the social situation and go be alone somewhere. This is an urge I know I must not give in to, but it is such a strong urge that I once wondered if I schizoid disorder. (I came to the conclusion that A) Loneliness causes me too much pain for me to be schizoid, and B) I shouldn’t be diagnosing myself).

But my loneliness extends to intimate relationships as well. In my entire life I’ve been asked out all of two, maybe three times, and not one of those was in high school. I realize I’m not drop-dead gorgeous, but take my word for it–I’m not ugly, I’m really not. I don’t understand what I lack. And, well, being so lonely affects a person. Whenever my close friends enter a new relationship I always display the right reactions–and let me make this clear, when it comes to close friends, I am not feigning happiness. If they are happy, I truly feel happy for them. But all the while there is an underlying feeling gnawing at my heart, and whispering in my ears, “Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I be happy?”

So, as always, I end up retreating into my mind, and retreating physically to somewhere quiet, like the place I mentioned earlier with the rustling leaves and birdcalls. Left alone, as ever. Left alone to wonder, why?

 

Requiem for a Jimmy

Well, my companion of a few years has left me, for good. Little Jimmy is dead. I’ve known it was coming–he stopped eating last week, and began to move slower and slower until he wouldn’t move from his place unless nudged–but that doesn’t make it any less sad. The males have a lifespan of five years, and the females have one of over thirty, but I got him when he was already fairly old.

He was a Chilean rose hair, which is a pretty name, I think, and pretty accurate as well. He was brown overall, but his hairs did have a pink tint to them. Chilean rose hairs are known for being either very tame or very moody, and Little Jimmy was somewhere in-between. Sometimes, he would walk right onto my hand, but other times he would run into a corner of his cage to get away. I can honestly say that never once did he ever try to attack me, never once did he go into his intimidating stance (which involves standing up and baring fangs, and is actually pretty intimidating) and never once did he bite me. I am yet to be bitten by a spider of any sort, but given how much I like to observe them, it’s bound to happen someday.

Reflecting on Little Jimmy makes me reflect on why I chose a spider as a pet in the first place. Firstly, I’m going to be honest, many tarantulas are very, very easy to take care of. So that was a factor. But I’ve always wanted a pet spider, because I’ve always been fascinated by them. They are very misunderstood, just like me. They are very quiet, just like me. They are also, believe it or not, very intelligent, just like me. For those who don’t believe the last statement, I challenge you to look it up, or just look back at my previous post on spiders. They are known to play dead, they modify their webs during rainstorms–hell, even the whole web thing is ingenious. How many other animals use a contraption that clever to obtain food? I’ll venture to say none.

So I’ve always identified with spiders. My ancestors on my mother’s side (I am very strongly part Cherokee, and could live on the reservation like my mother did at one time if I wanted to, though I do not intend to do so) believed in spirit animals, which are basically animals that represent people and their certain traits. My mother’s is a deer, for example. I have never been given mine (I don’t even know how that works) but I strongly believe mine is a spider. I’m not superstitious about it, or anything. I just think that the animal that inspires me and that I best identify with is the spider.

Well, here I go, about to head out with a shovel, to dig a (small) hole in the backyard. I don’t care if people think it’s ridiculous to bury a spider. It’s no more ridiculous than burying a dog or cat, in my opinion. But here I go, to bury Little Jimmy.

Empathy

I find empathy to be a very interesting concept. Empathy is what makes us human, as reflected upon by Philip K. Dick’s ever-fascinating novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the basis for the film Blade Runner and one of my favorite books, hands-down. Predator species appear to lack empathy. Antisocial personality disorder sufferers (those popularly known as psychopaths) lack empathy. And sometimes, it feels like I lack empathy.

In some ways my mental illness has made me more empathetic than I believe most people are. I can relate to those who suffer, as I have known true pain that comes from an abusive childhood. I feel for those who hurt. I am determined to help others who suffer from mental illness once I have obtained my Ph.D. And in a broader way, I want to help others who suffer, by making the world better, but I am cynical enough to believe this desire is impossible to achieve. Empathy may be part of human nature, but so is the desire to harm, and terrible things will happen to the world as long as it is populated by humans.

But sometimes my empathetic sense fails me, nearly altogether. When my depression ebbs away and leaves behind irrational anger, hatred, then I lose my empathy. It disappears like the tide on a beach before a great storm. And a great storm follows, indeed–I gain the desire to harm others, sometimes physically (though this last part I rarely act on). I become completely unmanageable, and my thoughts race so fast even I cannot get a hold on them.

I like to think that most of the time I am not like this, however. I do not know who the real me is–whether it is the depressed me, the angry me, or the neutral and subdued-due-to-antipsychotics me. But I like to think that whoever I am, empathy is an essential part of my character. It is part of my drive, part of what makes me do the things I do. It is one of my better traits, I think.

The Great Black Bird

I go through life with a constant companion. It is a great black bird, which can always be found perched on my shoulder. It is far from tame; sometimes it attacks me viciously, sometimes it is silent. But always, it is there.

I prefer to think of it as a jackdaw, the old harbinger of doom and misery, but the type of bird doesn’t matter, really. It is irrelevant. What matters is that it is always there. Like in my favorite old legend, in which a great black dog followed Doctor Faust and turned out to be a demon in disguise to which Faust sold his soul, my great black bird is a demon in disguise. It seems to have great sway over my soul, too, though if it owns it, it was a deal that I never had a say in.

The great black bird’s influence infects my mind, makes me think things that are not of myself. Sometimes my actions can be better attributed to the great black bird than to myself.

Recently the great black bird had flown away for a while, but I knew I was not free of it. This has happened before, many times. In fact, it is an endless cycle. And when the great black bird returns, as it has today, it sinks its talons ever deeper into my shoulder in a painful grip from which I cannot be freed.

I must learn how to cope with this bird. Maybe someday I will. But at times like this, with it sitting on my shoulder even now, it is difficult to imagine that. I worry that it will influence me to do something terrible, something I will deeply regret. Or, perhaps, something that I will be unable to regret but might, if I were still around.

I hate the black bird, but at the same time, it makes no more sense to hate the great black bird than it does to hate a force of nature.

After all, the bird is an aspect of myself. Powerful medications may make it more passive, but it cannot be killed. It will die when I do.

Right now, I am struggling with the bird. But this is my fate: to be locked in a silent war with my constant companion for as long as I live.

Maybe someday I’ll emerge victorious.

But until then, even as I write this, the great black bird watches quietly.

So Freaking Tired

And I mean tired literally. I’ve known for a while that despite how much sleep I get it seems like I could always use some more, but today I managed to not only sleep in several hours, but take a three-hour-long nap. And I didn’t even stay up that late last night, just until about 10:40.

It’s driving me crazy! No one can function as well when they’re tired all the time, I don’t care what my sleep-deprived, five-in-the-morning-paper-writing friends say. And it certainly feels like I’m slightly tired all the time when I’m depressed.

And it’s not just physical tiredness, either. I often feel what I can only describe as mentally tired–like my mind’s just completely worn-out. And the only way I know how to treat it is, of course, get even more sleep.

I don’t really know what to do with this tiredness. My classes demand too much of me to be able to get adequate sleep all the time, and I need more than adequate sleep.

I’ll just keep putting up with being so freaking tired, I guess.

Spring

Well, spring has sprung or whatever they say. And I know many people–most, probably–are excited about it, as evidenced by the number of students who sit outside on the lawn at school these days. I can’t say I’m terribly happy about it, myself.

I mean, I HATE hot weather. I’d much rather be cold than hot. And, really, it makes sense. You can always bundle up, but how many layers of clothing can you take off? I know that some people get depressed in winter: the cold, the silent snow, the overcast skies, but it just makes me relaxed. I’ve always liked rainy days over sunny days, and they don’t make me depressed, either, just another quirk of mine.

In other news, I’m coming out of a depressed trough in my moods (if that isn’t already obvious by the biggest thing on my mind being the weather). I can tell because I’m happier, and my thoughts are picking up speed. They haven’t reached the too-rapid, disjointed, psychotic stage, which is good, but I’m still keeping an eye on it.

So to everyone who enjoys a spring evening: go outside, and have fun.

Me, I’ll just stay in the shade and read.

Mental Health Advocacy

I had a discussion with my therapist the other day about mental health advocacy which concluded with her telling me I would make a good advocate for the mentally ill and for mental health issues, because I have–I think she put it this way–had moments where I was not myself. My mood swings and little breaks from reality really help me to understand others with mental health issues, and I think this will be an asset to me when I am a psychologist myself.

But I’ve realized I also have a good understanding of why the stigma persists. People fear what they don’t understand, as the old adage goes. And most people certainly don’t understand mental illness–there’s plenty even our best scientists don’t understand yet. So that’s one reason.

The other is that the way the mentally ill are traditionally perceived, that is to say, the way the mentally ill are perceived as incredibly dangerous, has not changed for centuries. Sure, care for the mentally ill in most developed nations has significantly improved–people don’t chain us up in basements, for example, and the care provided by institutions has markedly changed for the better–but, let’s face it, people still don’t see us like they see patients with more physical ailments. There are still those who even still stubbornly cling to the idea that mental illness doesn’t exist, and the severely mentally ill are just faking it or–yes, I have heard this before–demon-possessed. This is the twenty-first century. Those ideas should not even exist.

And yet, people still cling to the idea that the mentally ill are all dangerous. In fact, the mentally ill are several times more likely to be attacked than to attack, a fact confirmed by even the surgeon general. The media certainly doesn’t help. As I have mentioned in a different post, the media disproportionately displays the dangerous side of mental illness through movies (it is inevitably a schizophrenic or bipolar wielding the murder weapon in all the horror films). And news stories are always quick to point out with killers that they were mentally ill.

I’m not saying that these movies should not exist. I personally enjoy the Hannibal Lecter movies, and the old Psycho. I just think that there should be more films out there that show the more human side of mental illness, films like A Beautiful Mind. That way the media would not be so disproportionate in the way they portray the mentally ill.

And then maybe, just maybe, others would come to see us as people, not a threat.

I’m Commander Shepard And…

…this is my favorite post on the citadel.

Okay, memes aside, I thought I would take a break from posting about mental health issues and make a post about my favorite game trilogy instead, the third installment of which comes out tomorrow.

Mass Effect was recommended to me by a friend. He told me he thought I would really like it, especially being the sci-fi nerd I am. I sort of said “Yeah, okay,” and made a mental note to check it out sometime. When I got a copy, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the cover, despite all the praise on the game’s case from critics. Then I played it.

I was blown away.

The basic plot of the trilogy is that you (the player) control a character named Commander Shepard, and you are trying to stop an invasion of ancient machine-beings known as Reapers from destroying all life in the universe. The character Commander Shepard is whoever you want him/her to be–you choose the character’s gender, appearance, and most importantly, Shepard’s every decision and action. This is essential, because the crux of the game is how you make your decisions. Unlike most games, every decision you make has repercussions, from choosing to be a Paragon or a Renegade to choosing whether or not to trust the Illusive Man and aid him.

Your decisions directly affect the game’s storyline, and you can choose to import your previous saves to the sequels, so that the game you play, even when just starting the second or third, is the game you created.

Mass Effect and its sequel are easily the most immersive games I have ever played, and I am an avid gamer. The attention to detail is beyond impressive. The creators of the game really made an effort to create an in-depth, plausible universe, and it paid off. There was information on how everything in the game worked (including the namesake mass effect utilized by the spaceships), and there was in fact so much in-game background information that I read only a portion of it.The characters, too, have depth; they are not your typical flat, stereotypical game characters.

The game’s visuals are incredible. There are many places (especially in the first game) that you are by no means required to go to, or even find–the game’s map is extensive–and even these places have gorgeous scenery and atmosphere. The soundscape, too, in very impressive and really helps the player get into the game. In the third and final installment, renowned composer Clint Mansell is helping with the soundtrack, something I’m really excited about, because even if you’ve never heard his name, you’ve likely heard at some point his most famous piece, the epic (and I mean epic in the original sense of the term) song “Lux Aeterna.”

So that, in 500 words or less, is why the Mass Effect trilogy is my absolute favorite game series. I intend to get my copy of the last installment this Thursday, and I can’t remember the last time I anticipated a game this much.