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The Touch That Topples Man and Rock

March 16, 2012

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Happiness consumes itself like a flame. It cannot burn for ever, it must go out, and the presentiment of its end destroys it at its very peak.

August Strindberg, A Dream Play

Yet with petty misery
At heart, a petty misery,

Ever the prelude to your end,
The touch that topples man and rock.

Wallace Stevens, The Man With The Blue Guitar (1937)

I’m exceedingly fond of all of you and I felt that I need to explain my lack of engagement and communication. I feel that I owe it to you for all that you’ve given me over the last few years.

This is, I cannot deny, an almost insurmountably difficult post for me to write. I’ve always been of a melancholy disposition: the product, I suppose of education, experience, life and natural inclination.

But it was never a ‘problem’. I recognised it and fought it with humour and an understanding of life’s inherent absurdity.

Over the last year, however, I have been subjected to something that I find almost impossible to describe: if you’ve never been there, then you can never know it.

I’ve been having prolonged periods of what doctors call ‘clinical depression’. The whys and hows of it don’t signify: all that matters is the terror it induces.

When Inez came downstairs at 3 AM to find me sobbing uncontrollably and incapable of explaining why, she insisted I see a doctor.

It is almost impossible for me to describe the sensation; not mere ‘futility’ or ‘hopelessness'; these are commonplace.

What this is is a negation of life: a feeling that life is not simply ‘futile’ or ‘pointless’, but inimical; bleakly and malignantly hostile.

I now understand something that I never had before; why people kill themselves for no discernible reason.

I’m on medication that the doctors, with their touching faith, have prescribed. It allows me to function; it keeps the horror at bay.

But it makes me less than what I was. I feel dull, moving through a fog; listless and incapable of interesting myself in anything. The ability to enthuse is absent.

The doctors believe that my system will rebalance itself, after a long spell of self-abuse. I have to believe this. There was never a man with less reason to be unhappy.

I just wanted you, my friends (albeit digital) to understand why I’ve been so unengaged and uncommunicative.

I know you’ll wish me well and I’m determined to get through this and return to myself. I will or die trying.

Love, Mishari

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26 Comments
  1. hic8ubique permalink
    March 16, 2012 4:40 PM

    Oh, Dear one. I have been in dread for you, and yet not wanted to intrude. I’ve seen terrible images in my meditations and dreams this week and feared for you. Deepest thanks for telling us, it must have taken full measure of your powerful resources of will.

    We will see you through this despair, Mishari. Your online friends are indeed real friends too, and through the jests, I see everyday the genuine love everyone here feels for you. You are on your way to getting better, and there’s every reason to expect you will attain a full recovery, and we will be with you along the way, I feel sure I can speak for everyone in that.

    I’m sending you an email, because I wrote to you concerning depression some time ago, and I’m afraid it just went into your spam filter. Please look for it and send me a note that you have received it.
    With a full heart ~~
    Your loving and constant friend,
    Kirsten
    xxO

  2. Des permalink
    March 16, 2012 6:36 PM

    Thanks very much Mish, for giving me a window to write on when the grundia bastrads were dleting me on sight. This place made me feel far less hard done to during the free for all days. You have alywas struck me as a bloke who can handle himself in most arenas, and so here’s wishing you well.

    Love

    Des

  3. Des permalink
    March 16, 2012 6:41 PM

    This is what the mods deleted last night from PCampbell; a response to ellymiranda.

    Thanks ellymiranda, you shouldn’t be so hard on the place. It can only be, after all, whatever you make of it.

    One question I would like to ask you though, is when did you find this forum fascinating and delightful, please? What was it that made it so interesting for you, please?

    I think you are being too sensitive. You should try not to let what’s written on other blogs by those who post here, affect your conversational equilibrium. I think you are misreading the facts, confused perhaps, reading too much into something that doesn’t really exist in the extreme form you articulate in your response.

    Irish poet Paula Meehan has a tale that illustrates what I think you are (mis)expressing here. She says that when she began writing poetry she had a ‘them and us’ mentality, where ‘they’ were published poets of varying ability and critical renown, who she lumped all together as a likeminded and smug membership of some chummy club housed in a citadel of literature from which she was, naturally, excluded, and which was purposely conspiring against and ignoring her.

    She projected all sorts of defects and deficiencies onto them, and to outwit them and gain admittance to the literary fortress her mind had decided it was barred entry from, she engaged in and deployed all manner of subterfuge and strategem. She tried going over the walls, under the walls and through them, attempting every exercise she could think of to gain entry, until, after a long hard slog she finally admitted defeat and faced up to the fact they had won and she had failed, because of them.

    Just as she was about to walk away however, it occured to her that the one mode of entry she had not attempted, was the most straightforward and simple option, of trying the front door, which, when she pushed on it, discovered had been open all the time, and far from being excluded by a crowd she had thought were conspiring against her, it was her own paranoia keeping her out.

    I say this because I think you exaggerate the notion of a small yet powerful cabal of contributors campaigning for exclusions on the blog you refer to. As far as I can judge it, there are only three or four, from the very many here, writing on that blog, at least one of whom receives far more deletions here than yourself.

  4. Edward Taylor permalink
    March 16, 2012 7:12 PM

    Mishari I’m so sorry to hear of your troubles.

    Melancholy and bleak fatalism are two things I can completely empathise with. At the moment I can balance the life is shit feeling with the the life is beautiful feeling but it’s not always so easy.

    Here’s hoping you can find distractions that are rewarding rather than swuperficial.

  5. March 16, 2012 7:50 PM

    Thanks for the kind responses, all. The trouble is that this something is so alien and inexplicable to me, just trying to explain it seems inadequate. I’m considering setting up another blog, just to try and chronicle and understand what’s been happening to me
    Frankly, it’s so terrifying that I’m even reluctant to try.

    How do you explain the feeling that you and your life are being sucked into a black hole of….what? Malignant anti-life? That’s what it feels like.

  6. Des permalink
    March 16, 2012 8:30 PM

    What’s the timeline on it Mish?

    I ask because we know you had a very serious accident, but I haven’t read too much on how the recovery is going. I know you might have posted something on this that I haven’t read, but from your recent comments, maybe it’s a side-effect of that? If you are regularly ingesting any kind of (prescription) drugs they too affect you.

    I have felt low a lot, and for the last two years have been feeling more and more lethargic and generally lacklustre, that I put down to the ciggies. I was always boozing, lurching from week to week getting hammered at least once, and every few weeks a spectacular two day bender that would swear me of the fags for a short while. I could see no further than week to week, and, to be honest, the entire time was swallowed up in continual panick and paranoia. I never used to drink whiskey but over the last two years it has slowly crept into my booxing schedule, and I ended up four weeks ago getting through two bottles and a day in the pub, and of the 72 hours most of them were blackout. I was upright and mobile, just not having a clue where I was or, worse, what I was doing and saying.

    I came to at the computer about 8 am and felt the worset I had for a long time, and it scared me off any more. And it is only now I am seeing how it wasn’t the fags fucking me up but the booze.

    This weekend will be a tester, and I have come within an inch of boozing in the last few days, but the head is a lot clearer now there’s been no mad drug fucking it up.

    Anyway, just thought I’d ‘share’ as we alchoholics say..

  7. March 17, 2012 10:02 AM

    MIshari,

    I had wondered, but still stunned. I’m so sorry to hear your news, and I think it’s courageous that you’ve shared this – one of the terrible tricks depression plays is convincing us that we’re alone or have reason to be ashamed. That sense of an inexplicable ‘negation of life’ is as good a description as I’ve ever heard. I’ve been in a similar case the last couple of years, one reason for my regular absences from PolHom.

    Regular therapy and the support of my beloved and friends gets me through, and after a lot of work the sudden plunges are now less frequent and (fingers crossed) less deep, but it’s a fucking grind.

    It’s tempting to want to give advice, to want to help and blunder about trying to fix things when a friend is in pain, but I’ll keep my well-intended interference to myself! It sounds like you’re being wise, and safe. It does get better. Much love to you.

  8. March 17, 2012 2:08 PM

    Thanks, XB. I know you understand how hard it is to describe what it is that one’s going through. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to a personal experience of ‘evil’.

    I’ll work it out or I’ll die (which we all do anyway, so….)

    But the kindness and concern expressed by you and others helps….a lot.

    Love, Mishari.

  9. March 17, 2012 2:22 PM

    Des, I appreciate your thoughts on this, but we’re talking about two very different things: hell, I was a full-on junkie/thief for 10 years, stealing £500 worth of stuff a day (credit and cheque-card fraud, mostly) to support a £100 a day habit.

    Sticking a needle into my arm was a natural as lying, stealing and ducking and diving. There’s not much anyone can teach me about degradation.

    I know you think I’ve always been a pampered prick with no clue what life’s like for most people; but it’s not true: for over 20 years, I was just another clueless, shifty, amoral chancer.

    This is something other; something ‘alien’. That’s what makes it so terrifying..

  10. hic8ubique permalink
    March 17, 2012 7:14 PM

    It is significant, I feel, that Mishari’s chosen image for this post is not irredeemably a depiction of the hells, but that there is a light, and a brilliant light plainly present. A powerfully hopeful indication.

  11. hic8ubique permalink
    March 18, 2012 12:02 AM

    I recall reading (probably in Jean Liedloff) that even when pain and suffering are unrelenting, it changes the experience, it is in some way worthwhile to the sufferer to know: that someone is trying to help.
    It comes to me as the difference between a child screaming with colic pains alone in its cot, and the same pains whilst held in a compassionate embrace.
    We will see you through this withdrawal, Mishari, and beyond it. We will be with you, and read here or wherever you choose to write, when you are able to do so. I’d surmise that everyone here has faced some degree of the dark night of the soul. You will not be left alone in this anguish, and a new day will dawn.

  12. March 18, 2012 12:58 AM

    Thank you, my dear. I’ve just replied to your deeply touching email, by the way. It’s good (good in the sense of kind, tolerant, generous and patient) people who’ll save me, not doctors, well-meaning as they may well be.

    San Juan de la Cruz says, in La noche oscura del alma (The Dark Night of The Soul):

    “How, although this night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so in order to illumine it and give it light.”

    Perhaps so….

  13. March 18, 2012 1:58 AM

    As an exercise (therapy, if you like), I thought I’d translate San Juan’s poem into English:


    La Noche Oscura Del Alma

    San Juan De La Cruz

    Cançiones del alma que se goça d’auer llegado al alto estado de la perfecçion, que es la union con Dios, por el camino de la negaçion espiritual

    En una noche obscura,
    con ansias en amores imflamada,
    ¡oh dichosa uentura!
    sali sin ser notada,
    estando ya mi casa sosegada.

    A escuras y segura,
    por la secreta escala disfraçada,
    ¡oh dichosa uentura!
    a escuras y ençelada,
    estando ya mi casa sosegada.

    En la noche dichosa,
    en secreto, que nadie me ueya,
    ni yo miraua cosa,
    sin otra luz ni guia
    sino la que en el coraçon ardia.

    Aquesta me guiaua
    mas cierto que la luz del mediodia,
    adonde me esperaua
    quien yo bien me sabia,
    en parte donde nadie parecia.

    ¡Oh noche que me guiaste!
    ¡oh noche amable mas que el aluorada!,
    ¡oh noche que juntaste
    amado con amada,
    amada en el amado transformada!

    Y en mi pecho florido,
    que entero para el solo se guardaua,
    alli quedo dormido,
    y yo le regalaua,
    y el ventalle de cedros ayre daua.

    El ayre de la almena,
    cuando ya sus cabellos esparzia,
    con su mano serena
    en mi cuello heria,
    y todos mis sentidos suspendia.

    Quedeme y oluideme,
    el rostro recline sobre el amado,
    ceso todo, y dexeme,
    dexando mi cuidado
    entre las açucenas olvidado.

    The Dark Night Of The Soul

    By Saint John of the Cross

    Songs of the soul rejoicing at having achieved the high state of perfection, the Union with God, by way of spiritual negation.

    Once in dreaded dark of night,
    All aflame with love and need,
    I rose (0, come now, come, carnal delight!)
    And went where all of those who know
    To where hot desire of flesh must go.

    In that dark, I stumbled not
    An obscure way to fleshly pot
    (O coming of joy!)
    And in the darkness, as it must;
    Naught within but the sleep of the just.

    And given night-time’s happy fate
    In places that the just would hate
    I sought desire as one who’s blind
    With no light before and none behind
    but for bright lust aflame in mind.

    It lit the way and guided me
    More certain than the sun could be
    To lead me to the one I crave
    Whom none could see, except the brave.
    In deepest places, home to knave.

    O darkness surer than the light!
    O darkness, sweeter than the dawn!
    O darkness sweet, that shall unite
    A lover and a much loved one,
    And lovers moved in unison.

    And within my blooming chest
    Which I had kept for him alone
    He slept unmoved as I caressed
    And loved him for my very own,
    Air I breathed from cedars blown.

    The wind came from the castle wall
    And down to winnow through his hair
    Bidding that his fingers fall,
    And burning dry my throat with air
    My senses all suspended there.

    And to forget, I did stay on.
    With my lover, face to face
    All then ended, naught went on
    And all my woes became displaced
    By love that flowered on his face.

  14. Captain Ned permalink
    March 18, 2012 3:22 AM

    The internet is full of people wallowing in their personal problems, dwelling on every detail in the belief that their troubles are of inexhaustible fascination to others. What’s characteristic of your admission, Mishari, is its rejection of self-pity and sentimentality, its clear-sightedness. I hope that such qualities help in seeing you through the worst. You’re also lucky to have in Inez someone to insist that you seek assistance. I’ve had to intervene in this way with a couple of friends who were going through rough patches in their mental health; I know that such efforts aren’t always welcomed, but the old truism that the first step to recovery is recognition is no less true for being constantly repeated.

    I’m lucky enough never to have been truly depressed, though there have been times when I’ve felt perilously close; I suppose most people have felt close at times. I guess I’m the melancholy type, too, so I’ve long felt that depression is a danger requiring constant vigilance on my part, but vigilance doesn’t always suffice. Sometimes there is no defence. One book I found illuminating on this subject is Darkness Visible by William Styron, a memoir of depression. It’s one of the most famous works of its kind, so you may well have read it, but if not, I recommend it. It’s brief, unsparing and powerful.

    Not long before I read your post, I was watching a documentary about William Golding, a writer I admire enormously, and who suffered from depression for much of his life. A particularly severe and prolonged bout came in the sixties and seventies, when he found himself unable to write. He seems to have been denied the neat resolution of a complete recovery (perhaps, as with cancer or alcoholism, such a possibility doesn’t exist for depression, in that there’s always the risk of relapse), but he recovered enough to be able to write again (the first novel of this late period also being called Darkness Visible), and to write splendidly. I hope that you go on to do many splendid things.

  15. Sheff Pixie permalink
    March 18, 2012 12:58 PM

    Mishari

    I have pottered over here from time to time but never posted. I find this place is a bit of a haven from the web racket. But hearing that you’re in such an utterly bleak place has prompted me to dig this out for you:

    Fellah

    A peasant…
    the son of a peasant:
    there lies within me
    a mother’s sincerity
    and a fishmonger’s guile.
    I will not stop
    grinding
    so long as in
    my handbill’s throat
    a pinch of grain remains –
    and I’ll plough on
    while the sack still holds
    seeds my hand might sow.

    Taha Muhammed Ali
    Trans by Peter Cole

    All the very best to you….you have more friends than you know

  16. March 18, 2012 1:38 PM

    Thank you, Sheff. I appreciate your (and everyone’s kindness in this) more than you can know.

    Ned, thanks for the encouraging words; I did read Styron’s book many years ago. A very fine writer, I imagine he came as close as it’s possible to come to explaining this ‘thing’ that happens; or, rather, explaining the effect it can have on the victim and those around him.

    He came through it intact and I’m determined to do the same. It’s a struggle, but when was anything worthwhile not?

  17. Sheff Pixie permalink
    March 18, 2012 2:25 PM

    My pleasure Mishari – and am glad there’s the tiniest pinprick of light still glimmering. Hang on to that and the knowledge people are rooting for you.

  18. Edward Taylor permalink
    March 18, 2012 2:29 PM

    I’m sure you know this poem but I’m posting it because the beauty of its ordinariness is quite startling.

    It reminds me of the boost that spring ( happily lurking just round the corner ) always gives in ways that always surprise. Let’s hope it lifts you again.

    The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop.

    For Grace Bulmer Bowers

    From narrow provinces
    of fish and bread and tea,
    home of the long tides
    where the bay leaves the sea
    twice a day and takes
    the herrings long rides,

    where if the river
    enters or retreats
    in a wall of brown foam
    depends on if it meets
    the bay coming in,
    the bay not at home;

    where, silted red,
    sometimes the sun sets
    facing a red sea,
    and others, veins the flats’
    lavender, rich mud
    in burning rivulets;

    on red, gravelly roads,
    down rows of sugar maples,
    past clapboard farmhouses
    and neat, clapboard churches,
    bleached, ridged as clamshells,
    past twin silver birches,

    through late afternoon
    a bus journeys west,
    the windshield flashing pink,
    pink glancing off of metal,
    brushing the dented flank
    of blue, beat-up enamel;

    down hollows, up rises,
    and waits, patient, while
    a lone traveller gives
    kisses and embraces
    to seven relatives
    and a collie supervises.

    Goodbye to the elms,
    to the farm, to the dog.
    The bus starts. The light
    grows richer; the fog,
    shifting, salty, thin,
    comes closing in.

    Its cold, round crystals
    form and slide and settle
    in the white hens’ feathers,
    in gray glazed cabbages,
    on the cabbage roses
    and lupins like apostles;

    the sweet peas cling
    to their wet white string
    on the whitewashed fences;
    bumblebees creep
    inside the foxgloves,
    and evening commences.

    One stop at Bass River.
    Then the Economies
    Lower, Middle, Upper;
    Five Islands, Five Houses,
    where a woman shakes a tablecloth
    out after supper.

    A pale flickering. Gone.
    The Tantramar marshes
    and the smell of salt hay.
    An iron bridge trembles
    and a loose plank rattles
    but doesn’t give way.

    On the left, a red light
    swims through the dark:
    a ship’s port lantern.
    Two rubber boots show,
    illuminated, solemn.
    A dog gives one bark.

    A woman climbs in
    with two market bags,
    brisk, freckled, elderly.
    “A grand night. Yes, sir,
    all the way to Boston.”
    She regards us amicably.

    Moonlight as we enter
    the New Brunswick woods,
    hairy, scratchy, splintery;
    moonlight and mist
    caught in them like lamb’s wool
    on bushes in a pasture.

    The passengers lie back.
    Snores. Some long sighs.
    A dreamy divagation
    begins in the night,
    a gentle, auditory,
    slow hallucination….

    In the creakings and noises,
    an old conversation
    –not concerning us,
    but recognizable, somewhere,
    back in the bus:
    Grandparents’ voices

    uninterruptedly
    talking, in Eternity:
    names being mentioned,
    things cleared up finally;
    what he said, what she said,
    who got pensioned;

    deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
    the year he remarried;
    the year (something) happened.
    She died in childbirth.
    That was the son lost
    when the schooner foundered.

    He took to drink. Yes.
    She went to the bad.
    When Amos began to pray
    even in the store and
    finally the family had
    to put him away.

    “Yes…” that peculiar
    affirmative. “Yes…”
    A sharp, indrawn breath,
    half groan, half acceptance,
    that means “Life’s like that.
    We know it (also death).”

    Talking the way they talked
    in the old featherbed,
    peacefully, on and on,
    dim lamplight in the hall,
    down in the kitchen, the dog
    tucked in her shawl.

    Now, it’s all right now
    even to fall asleep
    just as on all those nights.
    –Suddenly the bus driver
    stops with a jolt,
    turns off his lights.

    A moose has come out of
    the impenetrable wood
    and stands there, looms, rather,
    in the middle of the road.
    It approaches; it sniffs at
    the bus’s hot hood.

    Towering, antlerless,
    high as a church,
    homely as a house
    (or, safe as houses).
    A man’s voice assures us
    “Perfectly harmless….”

    Some of the passengers
    exclaim in whispers,
    childishly, softly,
    “Sure are big creatures.”
    “It’s awful plain.”
    “Look! It’s a she!”

    Taking her time,
    she looks the bus over,
    grand, otherworldly.
    Why, why do we feel
    (we all feel) this sweet
    sensation of joy?

    “Curious creatures,”
    says our quiet driver,
    rolling his r’s.
    “Look at that, would you.”
    Then he shifts gears.
    For a moment longer,

    by craning backward,
    the moose can be seen
    on the moonlit macadam;
    then there’s a dim
    smell of moose, an acrid
    smell of gasoline.

  19. hic8ubique permalink
    March 18, 2012 5:57 PM

    Welcome, SheffP, that is a lovely post; I hope we’ll hear more from you.

    EdT~~ ‘The Moose’ is splendid.

    Especially delightfully apt:

    ‘…and a collie supervises.’ The herding dogs are just like that.

  20. March 18, 2012 6:24 PM

    hic, Sheff was always one of the best commenters at Comment is Free (sic).

    However, I stopped reading CiF long ago, when posters like Sheff were being deleted and disrespected by the ‘mods’ (i.e. friends and family of ‘Pooter’ Rusbridger and his band of reactionary dullards).

    It’s lovely to see her here and we will be lucky to see more of her. A lovely poem from her and a cracker from one of my all-time favourites, Elizabeth Bishop.

    An inspired choice, Ed. Bishop, too, suffered in much the same way. Of course, with her excess of poetic talent, it proved to be of far more worth. I’ll be lucky to get a limerick out of it all…

    • hic8ubique permalink
      March 18, 2012 7:13 PM

      Mmm, you’d have to scroll a long way back to find me obliviously dipping a toe in the roiling waters of CiF.

      But, I’m not letting you get away with that remark, M. Every time you disparage one of
      my favourite poets of all time, ie: Mishari Al-Adwani, you impugn my excellent and discerning taste…
      Your writing is and will be of course infused with and informed, perhaps even transmuted by, this experience. People who live in tight little safe little dry conventional ranges of emotional experience don’t write interesting poems.
      Furthermore, you are uniquely bursting at the seams with linguistic capabilities.
      So, I tell you bluntly: You are mistaken in this habitual self-effacement. Please don’t let it staunch the flow of expression.

      Your St John of the Cross translation was an inspiration.

  21. March 18, 2012 8:34 PM

    I know that The Grauniad is a mother-lode of the glaringly obvious, but this headline in today’s paper seems to be going for the crown:

    Facebook’s ‘dark side': study finds link to socially aggressive narcissism

    Psychology paper finds Facebook and other social media offer platform for obsessions with self-image and shallow friendships

    Yeah…thanks for the newsflash; any news on what bears get up to in the woods?

  22. Reine permalink
    March 19, 2012 8:07 PM

    Mish, I am just home after a long weekend away so only reading your post now. My heart goes out to you; you have I don’t doubt seen all of us through dark days whether you realised it or not and I hope we can in some way return the favour now even if it is only to exasperate you. Thinking of you, wishing you well and slobbering big virtual kisses all over your beautiful face (sorry Inez, sorry Hic). x

  23. March 19, 2012 9:20 PM

    Thanks, sweetie. Just up after a long nap (I seem to be taking lot of those since I started the medication) so I’m feeling a little fuzzy (he said,as he poured cups of strong coffee into his face).

    But there was never any fuzziness in my mind about your big, generous nature and kind heart. And as I told the equally sweet hic, one day soon, I’m going to repay all the kindnesses in a more material fashion.

    And now for more coffee and fags and a go at a Verlaine translation….

  24. InvisibleJack permalink
    March 21, 2012 12:34 PM

    Just found this post, Mish. As one who has struggled in the mind all this life, I understand where you are. Have faith and keep to your course and you’ll get through this and find a way to negotiate it long-term. You’ve hit the age in life where our strengths weaken (despite the invulnerabilities we’ve been fooled into thinking ourselves owners of) and we just begin to buckle a bit. Keep faith in yourself, my friend.

    My Poet’s Blessing on you always,

    Jack Brae

  25. March 21, 2012 1:35 PM

    Thanks for the wise words, Jack. I take them to heart. One day, in the not-too-distant future, you and all of my generous-natured PH comrades will get together in the flesh and paint the town every shade of red imaginable. Until then, be well, friend….

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