The following entry may contain triggering material.
Biology class helped a lot, to prepare me for what was going to happen. At first I was so disappointed when our teacher cancelled the ecosystems unit that had been on the syllabus “because they’re only any fun if you can go on exciting field trips.” She’d gone on to assure us that the nervous system was in fact very interesting, although all I could think of was a rumpled lump of chewing gum topping the purple roots of some tree.
We studied human sensory organs. Iris, retina, optic nerves, shortsightedness, astigmatism, colorblindness, vitreous humor, aqueous humor, and what part of the brain processes sight, then we had a whole class dedicated to trying out different optical illusions; in the same detail, hearing, smell, taste, how complex the skin really is as an organ, how we sense location and balance and time…
(If I overthink the liminal quests too much, wonder why anthropomorphism, how gravity or thermodynamics carry to the otherworld, what is language even what is meaning…it’s a bit because I know that our corporeal experience is such a faulty process. Most of what we physically experience can not be physically true outside of our mind. Find enough people who can’t be arsed to consider that every moment, though, and we’ve got something like a life.)
We got to study the brain: neurons, neurotransmitter molecules, dendrites, electro-chemical signals, and all the structures that have been mapped. Prefrontal cortex for logic. Amygdala for emotions. Hippocampus for memory. Hemispheres. Music does this to the brain. Language does that. Potassium. Magnesium. Iodine. The effect of splitting the corpus callosum with what looked like an ice pick, because this science teacher wanted us to really think about the relationship between science and humanity: stem cell research, eugenics and genetic engineering, evolution, thalidomide, and how wrong it is to treat crazy people like they’re not people and take an icepick to their brain even if dressed in all the authority of a scientific medical doctor. Oh, we can be kind, if we so insist, but science means (or ought to mean) no excuses ever.
I’d had a horror of what fellow Catholic schoolkids call demonic possession. To explain what that is gets pretty deep into mythology that I don’t recognize anymore, but back then it was an almost constant source of anxiety. When I learned how delicately structured the brain was, and how those conveyed corporeal human life experience, I’d begun to consider my body like an elaborate lock. It stood to reason that whatever tried to come in that wasn’t myself would contend with everything stored in my body: my motor skills (or lack thereof), my myopia, that I was a super-taster, my preference for schmaltzy show tunes and the accompanying Pavlovian reaction honed over a lifetime, my predisposition to distress and melancholy…and considering the extremes of that last one, better you than me, demon.
Learning biology helped me claim my body, for better or worse. I’ve been trying to hammer out an entry or two about the facet that’s better, but everything I’ve got drafted about the concept of the Corporeal Fetch has been how I personally hate it for every conceivable reason. This fetch is mine, though, possibly even me and mine.
Eventually, I’d figured that my brain was malfunctioning. Whoever said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem had me at “permanent solution” to pain so intense that no one should have to survive or even encounter it. A few failed attempts at that solution and I thought, fine, try another difficult way. Asking for help at all was really, really, really difficult, more like a meep though I made sure my mother understood it—and she’d sent me to piano classes instead, which were the same price and looked more productive and she’d read somewhere that music cured depression and…she was the mom. The brain fog by then was so bad that I couldn’t read the alphabet, let alone musical notation, but I went because she told me and because nobody noticed my moods had gone from volatile to bleak to catatonic and I didn’t dare ask again for another year. This was after I’d dropped out of mainstream schooling, and she’d enrolled me in a homeschooling course with the expectation that she could leave me alone with the exercise books and I could just blaze on through them. I was so tired and mysteriously pained all the time that I couldn’t even get up to eat, and dropped to 70 pounds at a height of five foot nothing.
I’ve offered that, and my difficulty reading, and scieNCE~! as reasons why my mother ought to have followed through the second time I asked. That wasn’t why she did (ought or ought not), though, and I’m not sure anymore that those are the ought-to anyway. (Depression is bad, I don’t really have more persuasive words; so unless someone’s been there, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any shared understanding or belief. Even then, I’ve gotten handwaved by people who testified to have attempted suicide once or twice a week when they were my age, and that the trick was just not to dwell on the past so much—which I’ve found to be unhelpful and even damaging to put out, duty to speak your truth or not.)
At the therapist’s office, I’d emptied my head out onto a box and a half of facial tissues and filled out a survey, a series of statements I’d rank from one to five. Have I had thoughts of suicide so-and-so number of times per week? Have my sleeping patterns changed drastically? Has my sex drive increased or decreased drastically? Did I often feel “blue”?
I remember anxiously asking my therapist how I was supposed to check that I was a Level 5 Blueman. Knowing people out there who had spent their childhood in sexual slavery, or on the front lines of battle, ought to keep me aware of my place on the bell curve—shouldn’t it? In any case, my therapist graded me with red stars and a referral to a psychiatrist.
My mother resisted and tried to appeal to my spiritual side. Wasn’t Free Will a good concept? I should give it a go even though it was Christian (and because it was Christian—it’d sure helped her through trauma, though apparently not enough to, umm, not perpetrate it.) Or what about meditation! (I’d been doing nothing but over that year as a drop-out shut-in. No, I have not achieved telekinesis.) And if my fasting came out of a determination to be more than my body then couldn’t I understand that I was more than my body? (It was an eating disorder, that I could die from.) Anything but the pills. Anything but.
It was just so unfashionable. There was no way that a chalky little tablet could really have such a dramatic effect on The Human Experience (at least, The Human Experience bits that have got any chance of being understood or accepted.)
The psychiatrist had to get out a plaster model of a neuron and what looked like tiny clear rubber balls without jacks. Depression wasn’t only emotional, of course, it had to do with stress metabolism at a chemical level, and sleep habits, and energy levels—which made it a medical issue. (I’d been saying the same thing, but not with plaster models and pamphlets and the right kind of coat.) She also explained about the genetics, this psychiatrist, and she casually asked my mother whether she’d ever attempted suicide. Once in university, my mother had replied, with some tablet overdose; they’d had to pump her stomach.
You see? The psychiatrist said with a smirk. Genetics!
I’d like to believe that I still had it in me to be dismayed and appalled at them both. My mother knew what it was like to be driven to suicide, and she’d still do the same to her children.