Archive for the 'unhappy' Category

Just because it’s awesome (Portishead)

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I rarely listen to iTunes on shuffle but today on a whim was listening to some random stuff and was reminded how gorgeous Portishead’s “Roads” is. It’s layered, simple and achingly sad:

I remember in 2008 when Third came out being absolutely mesmerized by “Machine Gun”. I must have listened to it 20 times in a row on the day I first heard it. It makes my heart race slightly andI find it both disturbing and beautiful which is kind of a rare thing in music.

Also worth checking out is “Chase the tear” which they did for Amnesty International.

update 6 March 2010

Yves brought up another fantastic Portishead song and video: We Carry On. He very correctly described the song as hypnotic, loud and sad. The video is uniquely beautiful and almost distressingly dark.

something of the sadness of Sundays

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

These pictures look like so many towns near where I grew up – grey and a bit grimy. Always feeling like Sunday afternoon, slightly sad.

These reminded me of a post by Levi Stahl on Sundays from Victorian times to his own youth (which correlates quite closely to my own).

One great quote:

The afternoons hung heavy. It seemed to be always 3 o’clock.
– Molly Hughes, A London Child of the 1870s

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Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

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Sunday afternoon melancholy

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

The feeling of Sunday is the same everywhere, heavy, melancholy, standing still. Like when they say, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
– Jean Rhys


Monday, October 13th, 2008

I’ve been feeling by turns edgy, angry and down lately. I went through a very low time a few weeks ago and I hate feeling out of sorts again so soon.

One of the almost existential problems of depression for me, at least, is the gradual distrust I’ve come to have of my own impressions of what is real. I ask myself how I can be sure what is real or not when the world seems so different during the depression than during the times I’m not depressed. I also start to question which is the real me, the me who is sad, upset and down or the one who is buoyed temporarily by the right, if fleeting, combination of brain chemicals? I know in some ways that my bouts of depression can be thought to be from a bad mix of chemicals and I described it to someone once as my brain dripping poison. Maybe a better metaphor is an extended emotional eclipse. I suppose both are the real me, the happy and the sad and that the poison is mine as much as the lack of it, the light and the darkness.

I wish I could look forward to things more; wish I could picture the good more than what might be difficult or tiring or uncomfortable; wish I wasn’t so swamped with anxiety or sadness or just the desire to hide out. I know I’ll likely bounce back, feel better, see things more clearly and smile in a few days or weeks, but I know I’ll likely feel like this again too.

David Foster Wallace – experience, consciousness, freedom

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

I was very sad to read of David Foster Wallace’s suicide last week. I’d enjoyed A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again and the more I read about him afterwards, the more I was moved and awed by the intelligence, consideration, sensitivity of his thinking and writing.

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term…

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
David Foster Wallace on Life and Work

Reading the detectives (The Black Tower – PD James)

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I recently re-read P.D. James’ The Black Tower and remembered again how much I like her work. Her stories are literature not the lurid voyeurism sometimes found in mystery novels. She has said: “The classical detective story is rather like the modern morality play… The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe.” I think this is part of the great appeal of this genre (any airport book shop will show the popularity of the type).

Her work is emotionally cool, a bit distant, intelligent but never clinical; she is careful and respectful of the characters she creates. James doesn’t write mystery thrillers as much as mystery contemplatives. I like the complexity of the emotions of her characters and especially the introverted, perceptive and emotionally distant Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. Dalgliesh is intelligent, sensitive, cultured and if not exactly snobbish, rather easily repulsed – not by violence or gore but by ugliness (of buildings, clothing, sounds, or sometimes, emotion). His saving grace, what makes him fascinating and an identifiable protagonist, is the window we get behind his forbidding and distant exterior to his thoughts and the almost obsessive cataloguing of his ideas, associations and feelings. He is also, almost certainly, a depressive. He is perceptive enough to recognize his own rather cold detachment from most situations and people. He is well aware of his own short-comings and he is morally and mentally strong enough not to excuse them in himself but rather holds himself to a greater internal standard than he expects from the outer world.

In the very beginning of the book, after an illness which the doctors had mis-diagnosed as fatal, Dalgliesh thought:

…It was embarrassing now to recall with what little regret he had let slip his pleasures and preoccupations, the imminence of loss revealing them for what they were, at best only a solace, at worst a trivial squandering of time and energy. Now he had to lay hold of them again and believe that they were important, at least to himself. He doubted whether he would ever again believe them important to other people.

On his way to visit an old family friend he stops and is taken by surprising joy:

Before he turned again the to the car his eye was caught by a small clump of unknown flowers. The pale pinkish white heads rose from a mossy pad on top of the wall and trembled delicately in the light breeze. Dalgliesh walked over and stood stock still, regarding in silence their unpretentious beauty. He smelt for the first time the clean half-illusory salt tang of the sea. The air moved warm and gentle against his skin. He was suddenly suffused with happiness and, as always in these rare transitory moments, intrigued by the pure physical nature of his joy. It moved along his veins, a gentle effervescence. Even to analyse its nature was to lose hold of it. But he recognized it for what it was, the first clear intimation since his illness that life could be good.

Just a few lines later, after having been confronted with a rather ill-designed building and pausing to decide which direction to take, he has a kind of bleak foreboding. I think in some ways this functions both as a plot foreshadowing and, in Dalgliesh’s inevitable swing back from simple joy to a kind of despair, a deeper exploration of his sensitivity and psychology.

He had briefly turned off his car engine while deciding what next to do and for the first time, he heard the sea, that gentle continuous rhythmic grunt which is one of the most nostalgic and evocative of sounds. There was still no sign that his approach was observed; the headland was silent, birdless. He sensed something strange and almost sinister in its emptiness and loneliness which even the mellow afternoon light could not dispel.

Architecture of happy-enough-ness

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I love the building where I work. Even after almost four years I’m still routinely struck by the little details which make it so interesting and beautiful.

In The Architecture of Happiness Alain de Botton notes:

Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better and for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be…

However, architecture is perplexing in how inconsistent is its capacity to generate the happiness on which its claim to our attention is founded. While an attractive building may on occasion flatter an ascending mood, there will be times when the most congenial of locations will be unable to dislodge our sadness or misanthropy.

We can feel anxious and envious even though the floor we’re standing on has been imported from a remote quarry, and finely sculpted window frames have been painted a soothing grey. Our inner metronome can be unimpressed by the efforts of workmen to create a fountain or nurture a symmetrical line of oak trees. We can fall into a petty argument which ends in threats of divorce in a building by Geoffrey Bawa or Louis Kahn. Houses can invite us to join them in a mood which we find ourselves incapable of summoning. The noblest architecture can sometimes do less for us than a siesta or an aspirin…

Beautiful architecture has none of the unambiguous advantages of a vaccine or a bowl of rice. Its construction will hence never be raised to a dominant political priority, for even if the whole of the man-made world could, through relentless effort and sacrifice, be modelled to rival Saint Mark’s Square, even if we could spend the rest of our lives in the Villa Rotonda or the Glass House, we would still often be in a bad mood.

As ever, de Botton explores the sublime potentials and bleak pragmatics of his subject thoroughly. I’m sure I don’t do credit to this beautiful building by the moods, depressions, tempers, silliness or pettinesses I indulge in here but just now at least I found simply walking around it enough of a distraction to make me grateful for it.

hello kitty stress test

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

My results for the Hello Kitty stress test:

I better enjoy the green and the wood.

on depression

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

depressed brain and non depressed brain

Yesterday someone I like and admire very much asked me about depression. I had just admitted to him directly, I think for the first time, that I’m a depressive. He’s seen me sad before and he asked me how bad it gets and I said: “very bad”. We talked a bit but I don’t know that I described things well. I’ve recently read people talking very movingly about their own experiences. Since it’s such a big part of my life I’ve thought for a while about how I might speak about it, and if I did, what I might say. Below is a start.

I probably tend not to speak about it much at all if I’m depressed. It’s like a secret about which I’m rather ashamed (though I doubt it’s actually much of a secret to those around me), a recurring reminder to myself that there is something very wrong with me and the way my brain chemistry or synapses work or whatever destructive, insidious little poison periodically gets released in my head. I think it’s part of who I am and looking back I can see clearly that I was depressed at times throughout my life and even as a kid.

I can be ok for weeks or months but always I know that at any time there’s a possibility that depression will come again, surround me like a black cloud, suffocate me, bring me low. Counted cumulatively, I’ve lost years of my life to depression. Part of what makes things difficult when I am depressed is the feeling that no one would really want to deal with me when I’m down, that I don’t want to bother others, that I don’t want to speak about it to others, that I don’t want to speak at all. So I shut myself off, hide away, stop returning phone calls, don’t reply to mail. I batten down the hatches and just try to weather the storm. If you’re a friend of mine and I have done that to you before or am doing it now – I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can. I remember a close, caring friend who does understand depression once saying that anyone who gets close to me knows that I’m sad (as part of a conversation she and I were having about letting people see who I really am, good and bad, happy and sad and hoping that I’m accepted for it, which unfortunately isn’t always the case).

Often when in a conversation about what depression is with people who haven’t gone through it, I seem to end up speaking about what it’s not. It’s not being down based necessarily on something that has happened, something situational (though sometimes situational things can spark it). It’s not feeling sad (nor is it melancholy). It is different than grief. It’s life stripped of all color and, for me at least, all sensation except for a sort of nausea and a nagging, aching pain. It’s a kind of inability to connect, to relate, to find joy in things one might normally like. At its worst, it’s a complete, crushing lack of hope. I’ve thought that depression feels like being at the bottom of the ocean, crushed by the water, barely able to move, surrounded by silence and darkness, looking up to the surface and feeling very far away. I think most people who aren’t depressive just don’t understand it and well, good for you! if so. What I don’t like hearing from people who haven’t gone through it is that I should try to be stronger (like them, I guess), that I should just “cheer up” or “get over it”, that I think too much, that I should just focus on the positive, that I should try harder, etc.

Fortunately, I guess, I’ve been through depressions enough times to see that one can get through them, that there are things I can do to lessen the impact, that they do end – the trick is to hold on (sometimes just barely, but to hold on) and to just do the best one can. The right medication can help, exercise can help, cognitive therapy can help. Other people can be supportive, (the man I mentioned in the first sentence above can always seem to make me smile even in a bad depression, other friends can make me laugh with a little gallows humor), but I don’t think anyone else can really help you when you’re very far down. It’s occurred to me in the past that if the me now could go back and talk to the younger me going through whatever problems, griefs, mistakes, depressions, etc were happening, the one bit of advice I’d give is just: “It will be ok. It will all be ok.”

What I’m saying to myself now is: it will be ok.

Add on:
I felt kind of stupid and did delete the entry for a bit. Ashamed, I guess, as I mentioned above. Not ok, maybe. Then later, I figured, who is going to read it really? It’s pretty much just me talking to myself here and what does it matter? Maybe it’s good sometimes to fess up, to admit being a complete mess. Plus, I like the picture – it helps me understand in a different way. As to what I wrote, well, it’s crap, yes, but maybe later it would be good for me to come back and read at another time, to see if I see things any differently when a bit more above the surface of the water. Anyway, it’s back.