A few weeks ago I came out of the cave. Struggling to stay productive as my elaborate and expansive fantasy world beckoned, desperate for inspiration, I began to write about my writer’s ‘block’. It’s more of a cave sealed by a great iron door than a block. When I’m teetering on the edge of a serious depression as I do almost annually, I retreat behind the door. The world behind it is richer and provides a sustaining refuge when anxiety and despair grow, inflaming one another and consuming me. But, the escape is never without a cost, as my sister recently reminded me.
Fantasy is my mentally-induced coma. When I’m diving into it, I still function, holding up my end of the household. For most of my fantasy visit, the only lifeline out of that very deep and seductive pit is the knowledge that several someone else’s completely depend on my not letting go. But, even though I’ve never completely lost my grip on that line, I know that living at the back of my mind means I’m not fully living with the people I love.
There are pharmaceutical ‘cures’ and therapies for depression, but they, too, come with costs. Some – physical side effects, sluggishness, even increased risk of suicide – are printed on the label. But others are not so apparent.
The back of my cave is dark, but sometimes I think it also provides me with tremendous depth of field when I do look back out at the ‘real world’. It doesn’t allow for any filter all the events of the day and their implications intrude on my consciousness as soon as I venture outside my fantasy realm, and they are in sharp focus at every distance. Where my mania lets the popular media burn out disturbing details through overexposure, my depression cancels out the glare.
With tack-sharp clarity and all at once I can see a life that is finally unfolding as I always wanted – people to love, work to sustain us, and a physical refuge from the rest of the world – and the things that can undo it. I pass a rusting upturned oil drum on the banks of the Battenkill and wonder how much ooze still covers the rocks at the bottom of that river. How many parts per million now float in that water where my children cavort in the summer? How much of it seeps into our ground water? Our well must be safe. How much of our cleaning products get into our well? Are they really going to start fracking across the state line? Can we protect our own water? Do we have any say in it? How do people find the courage to take these on? I should be trying to write the next Silent Spring, and all I can come up with is posts about laundry. And that’s before I even turn on the news.
There have been times when my worries have taken me to a dangerous precipice, and after many years of walking to the edge and staring into the delicious dark, I learned from an observant aunt that there were alternatives to this routine. I began to explore Prozac, which was popular at the time, and for a short time, it worked. And then it didn’t. I tried others. And, while sometimes they could contain the chain reactions of my worries, they created a new nagging fear.
The new worry had nothing to do with the chest palpitations they produced but with the foggy filter they fit over my lens on the world. I began to sense the problems of the world less, but in the back of my mind, I knew they were still there. The fog didn’t help to resolve them anymore than the fear did, and I often wondered if its true function was to obscure my own cowardice when considering how to help solve those problems.
I’m working to barricade the door to my fantasy realm now. It stands in the way of my present and future. But it is only just behind me, and now as I wait for my mania to shine its white hot, distorting light on the world, its problems are still in sharp focus. I know I don’t have the wherewithal or courage to be an agent of change, but as much as that clarity can be a curse, I’m still not sure the filter is a blessing either.