Dakin: The more you read, though, the more you'll see that literature is actually about losers.
Dakin: It's consolation. All literature is consolation.
Perhaps that's why I write. To console myself. There are many things in my existence to be thankful for, and sometimes I am guilty of failing to notice those things, while my sometimes quite focused (for which, read 'one-track' or perhaps even 'monomaniacal') mind attends only to the negatives. And the negatives are often tiny, minor frustrations, characterised by being a bit annoying rather than life-altering or defining terrible things. Sometimes, a bit of perspective is worthwhile. A step back, an instant spent reflecting rather than in the red mist of momentary anger, is actually quite powerful, capable certainly of drawing the sting of some of those angry moments. I am hardly a master of my own thoughts, or of anger when it comes, but I do know what I am aiming it, even if I'm not very good at achieving it.
It was World Mental Health Day on Thursday. It did not go unnoticed, although I did not find the time to write about it on here. I spent some of it sitting outside a rather beautiful building that catches the midday sun even now in autumn when the days are shorter than the nights. That was a pleasant experience, but the reflections that I carried with me about my own fluctuating mental health were not pleasant. It was a sort of fight between the inherently happy-inducing setting and the deliberate focusing on mental (ill-) health that is, for me at least, sometimes the enemy of good mental health. That's the strategy I was taught: to allow your thoughts to pass without engaging with them, to recognise the negative ones as such, but not to dwell on them. Choosing to go somewhere, even if I did not then speak about my previous illness, but choosing to go somewhere that says 'look, I have experienced this, I know why it matters' is a bit of a poke at the wasps' nest of that exact illness. I get something on my Facebook feed from a mental health charity or a related organisation at least once a day, and even seeing those is gives me a missed-heartbeat moment sometimes.
That's my real, central negative. The things I moan about in person are usually trivial. The things I write about, whether on here in discussion or flash fiction, or when writing something more expansive (These Matters!) seem to be the ones that are about what it's really like to be me. My writing gives a clearer indication of the reality of my life, perhaps, than what I say in person. So why the title? Well, it's a reflection on the need to carry on with existence, to keep doing even when the doing seems not to bring any pleasure, immediate or saved for the future. Time itself doesn't heal wounds, I don't think, and the reality is that some wounds are not going to heal in the way we might like to think, where they do not show up, where the feelings associated with them are gone entirely. Aeneas is called away from Dido by his duty, not by choice. Her reaction (suicide; the prevention of suicide was the theme of this year's World Mental Health Day) is immediate, angry, utterly pointless. Suicide in anger, in the moment of loss of control, is hard to prevent by any means, because it is exactly the loss of control that means any sensible precaution is doomed. But that other kind, where the person has quietly and calmly reflected, weighed up, measured, and finds that dying is less of an evil than living... That can be addressed. Because the quiet and calm reflections, the measuring, the weighing up, they are all wrong if that is where they lead. That's the point, I suppose. Mental illness is illness precisely because it leads to such wrong and wrong-headed conclusions, even if they feel as though they are reached rationally. That's the rationale behind all the 'ask twice' things. It might be possible to convince yourself that you are thinking straight when you are not, but it is rarely possible to convince others of it.
Three-and-a-half years ago, I sought desperately for a formula, a mantra that would protect me against the worst of my negative thoughts. My therapist - with admirable dismissiveness - told me that 'some people have a thing that they say, but the point is that you shouldn't need a thing to say if it's working.' And in a sense she was right, the formula phrase does nothing in the moment. But it sometimes needs to feed in to those supposedly rational, calm reflections (the ones which really aren't). So I have settled on mine. If you read this blog regularly, you already know what it is. It is 'wait and hope'. Two words which capture the possibility of the future. It might not be as you wish it to be, it might not bring those things that you desperately wanted and still want. But it will bring something to smile about, even if that smile is just for a memory of something that was good. Memory can be a powerful tool in brightening as well as darkening: I can think of a moment, or a series of moments, a person, a smile, a feeling, and that can alter the flow of thoughts from essentially bad to essentially good. The darkness is still there, but it goes when that light shines into it. Sometimes the light is distant, dim, pointing in another direction altogether. But it still casts its light, and knowing that it can shine again, drive away the darkness again, is enough even in the dark.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought