So, it’s finally dawned on me that, for mental health, you need to be aware not only of the phenomenological world itself, but also the process of your brain goes through in addressing those phenomena; not only your thoughts, but how your mind goes about thinks those thoughts.
All my post-pubescent life, I’ve been psychologically malnourished. It wasn’t just the drinking and the smoking and the late nights and the petty arguments and the lack of care for others, it was the silly way I thought about myself, about the world. Well, I didn’t think, not clearly, not to reach any helpful conclusions.
I believed that only the most explicit and verbal constructions could be defined as mental activity. Vague and visceral tensions; apparently unfounded apprehensions or aversions: they didn’t count. It didn’t matter how obviously mind-forged they were, or how much they messed up your life, if they couldn’t be immediately and consciously accessed and explained, they didn’t really exist.
My mind seemed completely empty, most of the time, until I found myself doing or saying something awful and wondered what had possessed me. I didn’t acknowledge or articulate many of the thoughts that floated through. They were half-thought or even un-thought thoughts. Alarming things erupted out of a fog of thoughtless emotion and I fought them off in a reactive fury of self-justification. I lacked any perspective, any wisdom. It was all hand-to-hand combat: close-quarters stuff.
Even now, it’s easy for my subconscious to resist investigation. It does so with such practiced skill that only recently have I admitted to myself that there was anything else going on. It’s kind of a relief, because it suggests that I’m less of an empty-headed fuck-wit than I thought I was. All those years when the only thing inside my skull was the Muppets’ “Manna Manna” song on endless repetition? Actually, my brain was industriously fucking me up behind the scenes. What a clever, hard-working brain!
I think my relationship with Jo finally gave me enough stability for my issues to catch up and confront me (not the other way around. I don’t have that sort of courage.) I could no longer ignore all the tics and all the ominous rattling and clunking noises, or attribute them to the usual facile and superficial causes of being badly treated by girlfriends, the editors of poetry magazines, life itself, existential angst. It wasn’t where I was going; it wasn’t the rockiness of the road (going nowhere means not going anywhere unpleasant). I’d been hurtling down precipitous hillsides, through terrible storms, for years, and it was only when the ground levelled out that I realised what a graceless hash I’d made of the simple task of living. Not only were the hillsides and storms completely self-generated (making heavy weather of it), I’d also totally fucked up the whole engine.
As the tempests blew themselves out, I didn’t exactly question who I was, or the meaning of life, but I realised I lacked the certainty of purpose, identity and community that normally pegs a person in place. By not showing enough care or concern for the communities that had attempted to sustain me, by not attending enough to the interiority or the emotional needs of those who had offered me friendship, I had betrayed and lost both. I was far from home and flapping about like an unmoored tent in those last strong gusts.
Anorexia is more a way of managing a nervous breakdown than the breakdown itself. It offers structure and control and a way to occupy the mind. It was a relief to occupy myself with scavenging little scraps of food. How satisfying, and thus absorbing, it can be, seeking out the deliciousness in the scrapings of porridge from somebody’s porridge pot. Your focus is on manageable close-ups. When you are well, tastes become bland – overly smooth and unsatisfying, monochrome. Eating becomes virtually pointless. You are forced to look up, shift your focus to the universe, admit its utter vastness and thus your true insignificance; the briefness and swiftness of your life; the insignificance of human endeavour: no triumph or failure, no betrayal or suffering, has any meaning, when you’re living so close to oblivion. Ceasing to exist would be of no consequence at all
As you can imagine, neither the anorexia or the pre- and post-anorexia blues nourished my relationships very well. I was taking my family for granted while I attended to the absorbing drama of my own fucked-upness. In fact, I was press-ganging them into those dramas.