22nd August 2005
Here is another poem that was posted on the Women Writers list…
Me from Myself — to banish —
Had I Art —
Impregnable my Fortress
Unto All Heart —
But since Myself — assault Me —
How have I peace
Except by subjugating
And since We’re mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication —
Me — of Me?
Unlike the last this is not specifically about depression. Indeed it could be read in many different ways and applied by many people to their own circumstances. But it certainly has a personal meaning and application for me in terms of depression. One of the features of depression, or my experience of depression, are feelings of intense guilt and worthlessness – of self-hatred and self-loathing. Those feelings – in Freudian terms which are the best explanation I have found – come from a distorted, internalised superego running amock and battering the ego into a quivering wreck. It is indeed a case of ‘Myself -assault me’ – and the only way to find peace is, very exactly, by ‘subjugating consciousness’. This takes many forms – for me it often means that my brain shuts down, all intellectual activity ceases, as does all communication. The outward sign of this is a dumbness, an inability to speak, but internally what is striven for is also a cessation of consciousness. There are of course other ways through which this can be achieved; drink and drugs are effective for short periods though their longer-term physiological effects can make the condition worse, not to mention enhancing guilt. And the ultimate way of subjugating consciousness, the ultimate self-abdication, is of course suicide. That is the ultimate guarantee of peace – the peace of the grave. But I can see other courses of action. Certain forms of religion which demand self-abnegation are a powerful answer. When you read something like Augustine’s Confessions it almost seems as though something like this process is at work. It is as though he destroys both ego and id by total surrender to a superego which he calls God. The very depth of his sense of fallen human nature seems to suggest something like this. Although it was really a psychological trick as God does not exist! But I can see the attraction of this sort of subjugation of the individual consciousness. It is one reason why depression is such a horridly insidious illness. It is indeed an attack by me on me. It lowers ones resistance to all kinds of things. Maybe Augustine would have been a wonderful liberal if he hadn’t been depressed – though something makes me doubt it. The poem captures something of this internal civil war – though as I say that may very well be all in my reading.
This entry, or more accurately this poem, elicited a bigger and more heatfelt response than anything else I have ever written about. This alone indicates that Dickinson’s poem reaches out and touches people at a deeply personal level.
I admire the Emily Dickinson poem and agree that it can easily be interpreted as a description of depression: “Except by Abdication/Me of Me” is a state I have inhabited, even if Dickinson is not specifically referring to depression. I also know what you mean about the “shutting down”: during depressions I withdraw completely and unfortunately can barely read any words that might articulate my experience and thus comfort or connect me to the world. My concentration is the first thing to go when I am depressed. But when I begin to recover, I reach immediately for books, which seem to constitute as large a part of the healing as the meds.
2. Willa left…
PAIN has an element of blank;It cannot recollectWhen it began, or if there wereA day when it was not.It has no future but itself,Its infinite realms containIts past, enlightened to perceiveNew periods of pain.
This is an excerpt from another poem by Emily Dickinson.When Depression comes over me, I cannot see a Before or After, as if Depression is all I have ever known; all I will ever know. I think, each time, this cannot be born; this cannot be withstood; this time, there will be no exit.I cannot recall that Depression has come and gone before. For the time being, I have no past, no future. In this blankness, I cannot perceive all that is Bright in me; all that is Good. Depression presents murky images of myself onto the blank screen in my mind, and soon, I seem only to embody Depression itself. The way to vanquish It, then, would seem to vanquish the self.I forget, here and now, that when this Depression lifts, I will come to know and like myself again.
3. Willa left…
Note: The following excerpt of an Emily Dickinson poem is intended to accompany the first. The “Except by Abdication/Me of Me” of the first reminded me of the “element of blank” of the second.
4. Anonymous left…
I thought I’d mention that Dorothy Parker’s poem, “Resume,” never fails to amuse me, though the last time I was hospitalized for major depression I was so distressed that I couldn’t read and was even afraid to eat for nearly 2 weeks (the strawberries in the yogurt reminded me of embryos and don’t ask about the Jell-o.)So here’s to Parker’s black humor!Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)Resumé
- 1Razors pain you;
- 2Rivers are damp;
- 3Acids stain you;
- 4And drugs cause cramp.
- 5Guns aren’t lawful;
- 6Nooses give;
- 7Gas smells awful;
- 8You might as well live.
5. Chava left…
Dear Nick,The way you describe what happens to you during depression is a kind of death. It’s as if you are dying in life. Dickenson’s poem talks about subjugating herself. Her spirit is so strong she has to assault it. She does not tell us why she needs to repress herself but that this is the only way she can find peace. She is not shut down.The other poem is more than half-self mockery and it is not a death in life but takes on the values of society.I don’t see the connections with religion necessarily: after all from the inner light Augustine went on to become the leader of a powerful sect.Rather the parallel is self-suicide. Since you have such a rich inner life and have so much to say that is valuable and understand so much and in your views seem so on top of what is real and true, there is a terrific gap between what you say your depressed state is like and everything else you say. You don’t provide any bridges to understand why you want to wipe yourself out this way.Chava
6. Anonymous left…
Thanks, Nick! Love & Cheers! :)”If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself.” – Rollo May
7. Pip left…
Nick, brilliant analysis!Well now, the medical definition of depression includes: feelings of worthlessness or guilt; inability to think or concentrate; thoughts of death or suicide.No need to explain to me, old horse!”I was conscious of being defiant against somebody. And I knew that the somebody was myself.” (Plum)Pip PipYour Favorite Anglophile (Okay, second fav? Er, third? Oh, blast!) 🙂
🙂 none of my entries so far have attracted any comments so I would first thank everyone for their responses, good wishes and insightful, inspirational comments.These are difficult and deep issues which are a struggle to embody in words; which is why I suppose poetry can be of such help and inspiration. I can only talk to my personal experience even if others are more than capable of expressing my own experiences through the description of their own. Language can be a barrier as well as a salvation in that it leads to misunderstanding and failures in communication.My own understanding of my own condition is helped by metaphor and poetry and language. This may not be true for all.And it is only through analysis over the past four years that I have reached the understanding, partial as that may be, of the psychological roots of my condition – leaving on one side the physiological. My own path has been what my analyst/therapist would probably call neo-Freudian, a path now out of fashion and favour, but of value to me. At the heart of this is a divided, fractured self at war with itself. It is this which leads to the sense of internal war which Dickinson so precisely captures. Anger against the self indeed! But anger by one part of oneself against another.To talk of why this is so would involve both a lengthy personal and childhood history, and also levels of self-revelation which I am quite unable and unwilling at present to countenance. Maybe I never will. Or maybe I will manage in some fictional form at some point to do so. The point is that the ‘self’ which I present to the world is a construct, a fiction, as I believe everyone’s to be. But mine, and I suspect many other depressives is a fragile fiction. In my case it is constantly threatened by a harsh and unforgiving conscience which I both hate and yet am unable to escape, formed in early childhood, an internalised strict and powerful parent capable of inflicting pain with no redeeming love, a Gestapo conscience as my analyst described it, maybe God for some religious people – but a very unforgiving and wrathful Jehovah.
- This superego/conscience is always on the lookout, the watch and when I fail its standards swoops down with a punishing guilt. Sometimes that guilt may be justified. To be consciousless is to be pathological. But often its not. And its revenge is a terrible thing which sweeps aside the fragile fiction of self, of reason. When this happens then one wishes indeed for self-annihilation, for an end to consciousness.
This then, if you like is the bridge between health and illness, between a self in control and a self which despises and hates itself. Becuase after all the internalised conscience is also part of the self.No doubt this will appear as nonsensical even to me when I read it back but I intend to post it without too much thought.I am in any case attempting to do far too much in far too short a space – these are the sort of issues which I hope to pursue as they occur in my reading and life and conversations in the future on this blog.Once again my thanks to everyone who has responded.
9. guile left…
i love this poem.. timeless words from ms dickinson..