31 August 2009


I'm at my parents' now and spent yesterday assembling and doing the wiring for their new stereo. (I am blessed with the shelf hanging, fixing of minor plumbing problems, wiring, picture hanging kinds of abilities). They have a new blue-ray disc player (my father gets very excited over these things - it didn't rub off on my sister nor I - we both keep our very small analogue televisions in our closets - they come out during election seasons and similar). The abbreviation for blue-ray disc players used in all the manuals and on the remotes is BD. Every time I look at it, I involuntarily read it as body dysmorphia.

30 August 2009

It's a bit boring to say but I'm afraid that I am just plain slipping. Lots of disorganised thinking, the parapetetics, avoiding and avoiding and avoiding. I am tempted to just put on my sturdiest pair of shoes and walk out into the woods with a shawl over my head, and keep walking until the shoes wear out and then be a decalcite friar, but female. Then if I'm going to be a mad person, I will at least be a religious mad person in the woods. Much more interesting than a mad person hiding from her parents because she feels like an unexploded land mine and makes only brief sorties when she feels able to prop up a rational facade or needs food.

Oh, the egotism.

I have been complete rubbish at replying to comments and I apologise. I will do better tomorrow.

26 August 2009

Life Right Now is Bland, Tasteless and Rather Squishy

After two days spent not changing out of my pajamas and/or leaving the house I have had to admit to myself that I am just plain depressed. I don't seem to have any motivation to do anything besides read and knit and I can't seem to make myself stay on top of all the fun governmental paperwork I'm trying to do.

It's hard to tell whether this is 'real' depression in the DSM sense. After all, that's supposed to go on for at least two weeks (yes) with a marked change in appetite (no) and change in sleep patterns (hard to say). The main criterion, in my mind, is whether or not it interferes with your daily life (I can't tell).

I can't tell because I don't have much of a daily life at the moment, not because I'm avoiding people or too panicky to go anywhere, but because all I have to do at the moment is move and work on my visa application. I don't have to be anywhere. There is no particular reason for me to get up at any specific time, nor to get dressed and it's hard for a schedule like that to be interfered with by anything. I do feel melancholy but I think that's more to do with breaking up my home than anything else.

Everything is flat right now and that is the case for me when I'm depressed; that complete lack of desire that makes it almost impossible to choose one thing over another even when there are no particular consequences (such as picking out a book to read).

Another possibility is that I am extremely bored. I rather hope that that's it. Usually, when the semester is over and I have sixteen weeks ahead of me with no requirement to do anything, go anywhere or see anyone, I feel a huge sense of relief. This year, I woke up on that first Monday morning and thought, dammit, I have nowhere to go and no one to see: I took that to indicate that I wasn't depressed.

Right now, I feel like I have some sort of interior dimming, a grey-out of desire and interest. I have plenty of time to do some work (e.g., write a post that has actual content instead of navel-gazing) but I don't seem to be able to summon the concentration or will to do so. And time keeps folding up in strange ways so that some days feel like weeks and some weeks feel like days and two hours will pass agonisingly slowly until I look at the clock and notice that it's three hours later than I thought.

I do hope it's just boredom. I suppose I'll find out soon, when term starts.

24 August 2009

In the Papers...

I was giving the headlines a once over this morning and this story about new job support for MH people in the UK caught my eye. I was left wondering exactly what they plan to put in place and wondering, thought not through the insufficiency of detail in the article itself, whether this is a genuine or a cosmetic effort. Has anybody heard anything more substantive about this?

The Other Side of Envy

I did tell myself in my strictest tone that I was to go to bed at 10.00, no arguments. It worked last night. Here I am, however, at 1.24am. I finally got really excited about going to London. I've spent a great deal of time with boxes and back pain this week. It's about forty minutes of packing, ten of whinging followed by three hours of sitting on the couch with the hot water bottle.

I have an ink stain on my couch, annoyingly: this is the price I pay for building nest on the couch out of blankets, pillows, my journal, several pens because I can never seem to find the same one twice, books of various kinds, both reference and fiction, my knitting and one or more shawls. I think I shall be quite content to be 65 and eccentric, once I get there. There used to be a cat and a pack of biscuits in there too but those have disappeared (and no, the disappearance of the biscuits was not an easy thing for me either). Somehow, the cap seems to have come off the pen - I only use ink pens for proper writing on paper - and somehow re-attached itself in the night for when I picked it up this morning, the cap was on but the pen was entirely empty and there was this big black mark. Time to get out the rubbing alcohol and old paper and rags. This has nothing to do with anything in particular so I shall return to the subject at hand...

...renewed enthusiasm. During all this knitting, pen covered, hot water bottle couch sitting, I have been watching movies set in London. I didn't start off doing that on purpose: I just picked one and then another one. Now I'm excited and my accent is doing that shifting thing that it does. We have an Oxbridgian Classics professor at the university and whenever I talk to her I get accent shift and then turn tongue-tied because I'm worried she'll think I'm making fun of her.

It's an odd, rather moth-eaten accent that I get living in England. It sounds British to Americans and American to Brits, although I do get the occasional confused inquiry as to whether I hail from Ireland or New Zealand. That mostly happens when I'm drunk. But it shifted enough today that when my sister called, she teased me about it.

She also told me she envied me a little. She hasn't been the only one to say that recently and it feels strange to me. Many of these statements come from people whom I envy. I tend to be envious of their ability to graduate from university in a normal amount of time and to hold down jobs and to settle down and get married and, in spots, enter into the property market. This has something to do with my impending 29th birthday, I'm quite sure, but a few (well, only one out of that list, to be quite honest - going to grad school has put paid to my worry over my ability to graduate with my BA, hold down a job, since I have a good reason not to for a whole year and I have no overwhelming desire to entangle myself with real estate for the time being) still hold. I only have intermittent envy over their mental boringness since I can see two sides to being mentally interesting.

I have spent the vast part of this summer longing for that one thing, as though I were a transplant from the earlier part of the 20th century. I would rather have that than an MSc, at the moment. I've had to sit myself down and, again in my sternest tones, tell myself that if I can't have it, at least a year in London and a good degree is an excellent consolation prize; and really, it is. Still, it's funny to see that while they have what I want, I have something that they want. Even my sister, whose life to me seems so well-run and complete and perfect of its kind and whom I would envy with an ill grace if she weren't such a lovely person and good, beloved sister to me.

I miss my cat. All this taking myself aside and giving my self stern talkings-to is a bit more to the side of madness than it was when he could be involved. Then it was more like being Alice through the looking glass. She had three: a cat and two kittens. Of course, things turned out rather more oddly for her than they have for me.

I find I'm on the other side and it's a strange place to be: it is strange to have something that can be envied, especially something for which I have had an incomplete desire all this unending summer. I don't know what to do with it, nor to think of it. The world has switched sides while I was otherwise occupied and I'm disoriented. That has happened fearfully often this summer but to elaborate would need another post.

Speaking of posts, this is no way to end one but I have been on an anaxiolytic-induced shambly rambling tropos all evening so I shall just give in. Did you know that in both Latin and Greek, fearfulness is such an important and prominent emotion that there are 'fear clauses' in the grammar? They are usually followed by the subjunctive, occasionally the optative in Greek (if I remember rightly - the optative is a verb mood so alien to English that I have always had a great deal of trouble distinguishing it from the subjunctive, not least because the conjugated verbs are spelt nearly exactly the same way) and even, in Greek, make use of a different negation word than most sentences. Now whenever I use 'fear' or 'fearfully' my subconscious shouts 'fear clause!' at me. I wonder whether, by virtue of lacking a formal fear clause, English is braver or just less realistic about human nature.

21 August 2009

Final Run-in With State Run Mental Health Services in North Carolina

For those of you who live in more civilised countries, let me first explain that in the US, state run mental health services are only for the uninsured and poor. In my home state, they were disastrously privatised in 2003 with more or less exactly the results one would expect.

I have been lucky that by pitching battle with them I have managed to stay under the care of a single psychiatrist for about a year and a half. He turned out to be a good one, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues and co-workers. You can read, if you like, about one specific case worker I had who was worse than useless and more generally about the difficulties of engaging with these people. All of my readers in the UK may feel free to laugh at me but I am really looking forward to having access to the NHS next year. However bad it might be, and it doesn't sound idyllic, I have often found myself agog with envy at various descriptions even of being in hospital (they're allowed outside? they are allowed to go to the shops? they have crisis intervention teams? they have the option to see a therapist, even with a long waiting list?)

That short list of my own incredulity should give you some idea of what it's like here. Am I now a potential target for BNP anti-immigrant attacks for expressing an interest in the NHS? Or will they hold off because I'm white and English-speaking? Oh dear. I can't imagine, though, that anyone would wonder at it if they had to deal with the state of things in this country - or maybe I don't need to imagine it, just read the papers and see what the Republicans have been up to lately. It does seem to me that as I grow saner, the world has gone a bit farther off its rocker.

Anyhow, all I need do now is swing by there to pick up a copy of my chart (that will be interesting to see) to take with me and I'll be done! No more worrying that they will drop low need patients such as myself, no more worrying that the agency I'm currently enrolled with will go bankrupt (as happened last December - it took me six weeks and repeated phone calls that I would not have been able to make had I not been more or less well to get into a new one), no more worrying that I'll get a job only to have to pay for all this myself since most health insurance policies in the US don't cover mental health at all, or, if they do, have a lifetime limit that I would get through in about six months, a year at the outside.

I'm not going to miss this part of life in the US.

17 August 2009

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project is something I have had in mind for a while. At the moment of starting, I am stuck in omphaloskepsitis (navel-gazing-itis) and I am glad to have thought of something to offer up that's more in tune with the original purpose of this blog.

I am asking all of you who read to save up and share any and all references you come across in literature, journalism, blogs, television, magazines, movies, day to day conversation, scholarly articles, academically dubious articles and sources: in short, anything that reflects a popular conception of the nature of mental illness and especially the perceived nature or character of those who are mentally interesting, negative or positive. I would also welcome more selective contributions from older (pre-1970) psychiatric and psychological texts.

My aim is to build up a database of popular references to mental illness so that, in true pragmatist philosophy mode, I can gain a fuller idea of what exists in the minds of the living, the influences that shapes these perceptions and the historical discursive context of current understandings of mental illness in the popular social dialectic. With this understanding, I hope to be better able to address mentalisms philosophically in a more relevant way.

If you're not sure whether a reference you have come across is relevant to this project, just go ahead and stick it up anyway. I need your help and I welcome and appreciate any and all contributions.

When posting a reference, please try to give sufficient citation in whatever form. Sufficient citation for anything in print would consist of the date of publication, author, publisher, page number and title. For blogs, as much as can be gathered of the publication citation plus a link would be great. For conversational references, date, time, local and a brief description of the relationship between the participants (e.g. psychiatrist to patient, parent to child who is mentally interesting) would be appreciated. Names and personal details are not requested or necessary. If you do not have all of the information requested, don't worry, just give as much as you are able.

I am particularly interested in anything that strikes you as a recurring conception and particularly interested in anything that strikes you as unusual.

With your help, I hope to make a useful contribution to political philosophy and, eventually, public policy for the greater good of the mentally interesting and the benefit of greater understanding to the non-mentally interesting. Thank you in advance and know that I will faithfully give due credit to any aid you can afford me in this project.

16 August 2009

Maria Assumpta Est In Coelum, Angeli Gaudent

I said goodbye to my church today. It was our patronal feast day and we started down on the street corner and carried St. Mary on her litter under the canopy back into the church. For the anthem we had Arcadelt's Ave Maria and then some of my favorite hymns, including 278 (Sing we of the joys of Mary). Our last choir director wrote a descant for it specially for our choir that is very fun to sing; lots of high notes.

During announcements, our rector made me come downstairs to be bid farewell and gave me a blessing for my studies next year, which was nice but embarrassing. On top of that, our choir director asked me to sing the prayers, which is also nice and embarrassing; I sing just fine to be a choir member but my voice isn't really strong enough for me to sing by myself, at least, not in front of people. I can never quite make it, breathwise, to the end of 'Father we pray for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world'. The other versicles are easier because they are shorter.

Anyhow, it is strange to be leaving Our Lady of the Holy Smokes, as it is nicknamed. I was confirmed there and have been going to church there for five and a half years - I've been there longer than the current rector, I've been a choir member longer than anyone else who is currently in the choir, longer than our current choir director and organist, longer than any of the other 'young people'. We broke ground today for the new parish hall - I'm glad I was there to see it - but I'm sorry that I won't be around to see what happens next.

When I first started going to Our Lady of the Holy Smokes, there were five people under the age of forty, an interim priest who was doing things he ought not to have been doing*, no children and a rather paltry community life. As of today, our congregation has increased from around 100 active members to 150, we have enough children of varying ages that we have child altar servers, around twenty young people, gay, straight, single and married, and the median age of the parish has dropped from 54 to 39.

All of this is nice and it has been wonderful to participate in the growth of the parish but I'm going to miss my church most because it is where I discovered the mystery that is Christianity. When my then roommate and good friend dragged me off to church with her one Sunday morning, I was entirely unprepared by my lukewarm Presbyterian upbringing for the beauty and holiness of the liturgy. I spent the entire service in anxiety; on the one hand, I was enchanted by everything that was going on, on the other hand, I didn't know what to make of the statues and procession and the singing of the Regina Caeli at the end of the service. It seemed to be a good that I was going to church but was I not then guilty of idolatry? Church attendance felt like an occasion of sin. But I couldn't keep myself away the next Sunday, nor the Sunday after that, despite my initial quandary.

Confirmation didn't make the impression on me that I had hoped for - it seems to have been one of those rituals of life that comes here too early, there too late, as Forster puts it - but I will never forget the awe of God's presence that overcame me the first time I went to Benediction, nor the solemnity of my first Holy Week (Presbyterians don't really do Holy Week, at least not in my experience).

A building does not make a church, but those four walls are especially dear to me for having housed so much revelation and love. I'm heartsore at leaving my congregation and all the friends I have therein. And the choir! Will I ever again have the chance to sing Palestrina and Arcadelt and Tallis and Clemens non Papa and de Victoria again? (I do suspect myself of making a false idol of the music sometimes, hopefully not being in choir will help me get past it although I doubt I would ever be able to make my peace with a guitar led mass).

More than anything else that has happened so far this summer, leaving my church is the one thing that has made me feel, rather than know, that this part of my life is over, whether I want it to be or not. I'm scared, both of what might happen and what I might miss. When I was still studying ballet very seriously, it was a comfort to me that wherever I went, ballet class would always follow the same structure and that no matter what country I was in, I would be able to follow what was going on. Now, the structure of the mass gives me the same comfort. Even when I have been to mass in a country whose language I do not speak, I have been able to follow (excepting the sermon, of course) and say the prayers and creed and sanctus and so on quietly in English or in Latin. That will always be there, both in a church and in my heart, and ever my strength and shield.

Okay. My prose is getting a little out of control, so I should probably stop.

Everything here is over now.


* He was trying to switch the church from being part of the Episcopal church to being part of the Anglican Church in America - much more conservative and against the wishes of most of the congregation but not necessarily those of the vestry, two of whom were very wealthy and tried to throw their influence around that way and who scared off all of the candidates for the new rector by pretending that their viewpoint was the majority viewpoint over a two year period before the bishop intervened, dissolved the search committee, froze the vestry and more or less appointed our current rector - happily, I had no idea this was going on at the time or I wouldn't still be there - for something that almost split the congregation and did drive many people away, there was very little gossip.


I keep trying to write a new post but I think I am too mired in quotidianity to write anything sensible. My critical faculties seem to have departed and so I cannot see anything about which to write. There is a distinct lack of significant form. Everything is a sort of mush. A greyish mush.

I'm back in urban Appalachia at the moment, trying to finish the packing. I have hurt my back, however, and have been lying on the couch with the hot water bottle all afternoon instead of getting anything done. I'm finding it very hard to keep still; there are too many anxiety provoking things to think about.

One thing that causes me great difficulty when I'm depressed is not being able to look forward to anything. I should be looking forward to grad school: it's something I have wanted and planned to do for almost five years. I don't seem to be able to muster much enthusiasm for it, nor for any other plan. This has bothered me not a little.

Then, last Sunday, I talked to my sister on the phone. She had just been to the beach, some friends of mine have just been to the beach, others have just gone camping. I have not had what I would consider a proper holiday in many years and I was shot through with discontent and envy on hearing that my sister had been out to the beach. I haven't done anything like that because I haven't been able to afford it or I couldn't get anyone to go with me or there wasn't time or I was too depressed or there was school; or, or, or.

However, I am now in a different position. I have a little money from graduation gifts, I have some time and I'm not depressed. After I get to London, I will have two weeks before term starts and I am going to take myself out to St. Ive's for a few days. I have found a B&B for L30 a night, the train ticket won't be too much if I book it in advance and it doesn't cost much to feed me. I'm going to have three days of walking and thinking and reading and looking at art and just being somewhere that isn't full of associations and sorrow where I won't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to. Three days of time entirely for myself.

This, I cannot wait to do. Of course, to do it, I will have to pack up my belongings, arrange my visa, move and so on. I am very glad to have found something to pin my thoughts on! Now if I could just get my back to stop hurting...

09 August 2009

Greetings From Our Nation's Capital

I am up in DC where it will be around 37C tomorrow (100ish F) and humid as only a city built on a drained swamp can be. What can they have been thinking? Philadelphia (the original capital) has much nicer weather, if you ask me.

So far, I have not done much but drag myself out on walks in the heat, ducked into the National Gallery for the sculpture garden, gotten gravel in my shoes and blisters marching around the National Mall and made thick clouds of smoke in the guest room where I sit and worry for most of the day. The pleasant side effect of all this worrying is that it has driven me to reading novels with a speed and concentration I thought I had lost years ago. I'm glad to find I can still read like that, with total absorption.

So far I have made it through 'Mariana' (Monica Dickens), 'Someone At a Distance' (Dorothy Whipple), 'No Fond Return of Love' (Barbara Pym), something else too light for me to name without embarrassment - snobby of me, I acknowledge - and most of 'Persuasion' (Jane Austen). Next in the pile is 'Cheerful Weather for the Wedding', which I bought on the strength of the fact that Virginia Woolf compared the author, Julia Strachey, to Katherine Mansfield.

I have been here four days.

Unfortunately, spending time with the parents has made me more muddled than less about what I ought to do with myself. They are very sweetly concerned about my health but with the result that I am more confused about what course I should follow in the immediate future. Between that and the long wait to hear about what funding I will have for next year, my anxiety, never very well moderated, is assuming operatic proportions. I wish, in my cowardice, that someone more competent could take over my life for the next few weeks, sort everything out and then hand it back over. However, I must do as E.M. Forster has recommended and face both the external and the internal situation bravely. I aim to do better than Lucy Honeychurch; I should like to do as well as Margaret Schlegel.

Tomorrow is church, which always makes me feel better. Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I do wish, though, that my mother's church's new organist would not play everything so slowly. I don't have the breath control to make whole notes (semibreves) last that long. 'Joy to the World' sounded like a dirge at Christmas midnight mass this last year and became slower and more grandiose with each verse. I was gasping by the end of it.

I never meant for this blog to become so personal but I cannot get my mind un-mired from from the Slough of Despond that has made up so much of this summer. We are past Midsummer Night now and it is a relief to think how soon it will be autumn, my favorite season, full of the smell of rotting leaves and gloomy skies.

02 August 2009

Logically, I Know That The Packing Fairy Will Arrive Because I Have To Get Out of Here Somehow

I'm waiting for the packing and moving fairy to show up. I said this to a friend of mine who, to his infinite credit, did not skip a beat in replying that as far as he knew, all the fairies were on strike. Apparently the laundry fairy had failed to show up at his house; I know that the paper writing fairy never left any pleasant surprises on my desktop at the end of the last semester (or any other semester, alas...) and another friend has told me that the lesson-planning and paper-grading fairies are long-term no-shows at her house. If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

I'm really having one of those can't cope/won't cope kinds of months.

Just to point out how weird logic can be, here is a demonstration of modus tollens in action:

1) If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

2) I do not have no idea how I will get out of here.

Therefore, the packing and moving fairy will not come to my aid.

And here is a modus ponens:

1) If the packing and moving fairy doesn't come to my aid, then I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

2) The packing and moving fairy did not come to my aid.

Therefore, I have no idea how I'll get out of here.

If I (a) can figure out how to get out of here, then I can know logically that the packing fairy will not come to my aid. If (b) the packing fairy does not come to my aid, then I will know logically that I will have no idea how to get out of here.

Statements such as these are the reason they invented modal logic.