A mate of mine changed from his rather prosaic, biblical first name that even in the late 20th century sounded pretty old-fashioned to his middle name, exotic, windswept and interesting. He ceased to be Peter and became Damon. Of course, this was possible only because his new university mates had no idea that he was previously known as Peter, and therefore we couldn't challenge him on it until much later, by which the name he had chosen had stuck. He is as little Peter to us as he is Damon to his family. It doesn't always run thus: another newcomer to the university restyled herself as Sky, only to find that some of her mates from school had also turned up at the same place and insisted on remembering that she had been called Helen up to that point. At some level, kindness prevailed among these young adults, because her choice was in fact respected.
Well, this is a bit different. I am in the process of choosing, not what other people call me, but which version of me I want to be. I have been a sort of calm, dull version of myself for a year or so. This version of me I have chosen to take over affairs when the other version of me starts to break down and fail to function, by the relatively simple expedient of a little tablet a day. It's not - as I was expecting the first time I started taking them - a little tablet on the lines of the Mother's Little Helper of Rolling Stones fame, which dulls the edges as you take it. It's one that needs a while to get going, and one that - it turns out - takes a while to stop having an effect, even though the effect it is currently having is unpredictable at best, and certainly not the dulling of everything that I had chosen. Why choose that version of myself if I am so averse to it, if I can write about him in such disparaging terms? Well, he is calmer. He is more peaceful. He doesn't struggle to do anything useful for a day when he is forced to think about or talk about suicide (as I wrote in February this year):
Like wading through treacle...
Not reading the books I've written already, I hope. No, creating the fourth one under the influence of the dulling (numbing?) effect of the otherwise excellent, perhaps even life-saving citalopram hydrobromide. I'll be honest: the same bit of my mind that does the creative stuff when writing, be it music or fiction or this very blog, well, that's the same bit of my mind that does all the damaging bad stuff. And when it's in the wrong sort of mood, if you will, it is capable of being very destructive indeed. Is the sacrifice worth it? I don't know in the sense that I do put quite a bit of energy into creative stuff, and so when it's not happening that can in itself be very distressing. But I do know the damage caused by not having the armour, if indeed that is the right word, to get through to the end of a day (or more often for me to get through a night) is truly irreparable.
Even a cursory check through the blog archives - this version of it, that begins June 2018 - suggests that my mental health has swung fairly wildly from robust enough to be helping others with theirs to bad enough to require the artificial armour that is the anti-depressants. I was looking for the post, though, where I describe Edward Strelley as having passed through a period where ending his own life was a real possibility, and that at the moment of writing that post, I no longer feared that as a possible outcome for him. It will presumably come as no great surprise that a lot of Edward Strelley's experiences mirror my own. He might be described as a 'romantic' by some, definitely not the ideal Homeric hero who does his duty. And yet he does - like pius Aeneas - say goodbye to the woman he loves and turn away from her, more than once as we shall see. For his own immediate protection, yes, but he wrestles endlessly with the thought that his choices might cause her harm, and what he should do. He writes - as I do - in a way that does not expect anyone to read what he has written. But that in a sense makes what he writes that much more significant. It is true in a way that perhaps anything written in the knowledge that lots of people - even one person - would read it cannot quite manage to be so. Strelley does not get to choose who he is by using evidence-based medicine, although there are moments when he tries what he can (drinking and smoking).
So what am I choosing? Presumably that's obvious. The version of me who lives just a little bit of Edward Strelley, and Elizabeth, and Longshawe and de Winter and Pike and all the others. The version of me which can write a conversation between a fictional character and a fictionalised historical character and weep for an hour afterwards. The version of me that cries at adverts. I've kept that blog post. Actually, I've kept the whole blog from the 'before' blog, but this bit is worth sharing now:
In an apparent attempt to make me cry in assembly this morning, the kids who were responsible for it put the following set of videos on. I may have missed some, I may have blocked some out, but you can imagine, if you dare to watch them, what I was like during and after.
Mog’s Christmas Calamity | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2015
Christmas Truce of 1914, World War I - Christmas is for Sharing
BBC One Christmas 2017 | The Supporting Act
Hopeless. Except not, because of course the whole point of all of them is hope. The utter heartbreak of the 1914 Christmas Truce one is that the hope embodied in the Christmas message was more or less taken away in its entirety from those young men (and women, presumably) who were involved in the war. I did think that one might have been a step too far, but there you go.
I also gave some books away today. I wonder sometimes what, if any, effect this has, but I can only hope that it gives someone some enlightenment of some sort. Perhaps it was motivated by some sort of sense of having far too many damned books in the house. We certainly have that.
So there you go, that was me a year or so after last giving up on citalopram. I seem to be choosing to feel, whatever that means. That old blog makes me cry. I shouldn't read it, although the bit of me that wants to feel recognises that crying isn't a bad thing in and of itself. Dwelling probably is, and I sometimes find it hard to recognise the difference between dwelling on something lost and celebrating something that was - is - worth celebrating. The specifics? It might not mean anything to anyone reading this, but it was my own mention of Canon Tony's voice - and how Cranmer speaks with it - that set me off. This is the passage I quoted:Cranmer looks at him, steady and calm. “You consider that God is not there at all?”
“I have always found that thought, somewhere in my mind, sometimes hidden beneath some other notion. At times it has eclipsed all my other thoughts. And then, her. I have never been at peace but that I have been with her.”
“So you know no peace now.”
“That is it. And I cannot conceive of feeling that peace again.”
Why choose this version of me? Because this is the version of me writes books, sings songs, falls in love, swears inappropriately, makes rash but affirming choices, cries at Disney films (and adverts!), lives. Because I could exist for another 40 years on the anti-depressants and I'm not convinced I would live more than the odd day.
Pray for me. Whether you believe in God or not.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought