More Notes on Carl Jung’s Active Imagination Method

It is neither necessary nor desirable for everyone […] to reach the depth of connection to the unconscious at which Active Imagination is required. These pages should not be used as a “how-to-do-it” course, for deep involvement with the unconscious requires guidance from an analyst.

From a certain perspective, everything I write here will be completely incorrect. That is because anyone who reads it too rigidly, without taking into account that the opposite of any statement is always also true, will do violence to the individuality of the psyche.

— Janet Dallet, “Active Imagination in Practice” from Jungian Analysis, edited by Murray and Stein (1982)

[Faemon’s Note: the abovequoted paper is “openheaded spiritworker pagan friendly” on the surface, but has a modern sensibility of not bothering with as well as discouraging thoughts about metaphysical work. Contrast that with early Jungians such as Barbara Hannah and Marie Louise von Franz. Respectively, authors of “Encounters with the Soul” and “Shadow and Evil in Fairytales” the former I quote enough to demonstrate the difference, the latter which has nothing to do with Active Imagination but the author keeps bringing it up anyway! So that readers don’t accidentally do witchcraft. Because That Would Be Bad.]

Jungian psychology held that, in many of the emotional and mental disorders that kept a patient from functioning in society or enjoying life, the way to recover from the “soul injury” that caused such trouble was unique to each individual—and both patient and therapist could find it, if they paid attention to the themes and symbols in the patient’s dreams.

Most of us forget our dreams when we wake up, but that same imaginative psychic (as in pertaining to the psyche) stuff can come up in other ways…or so believed Jung and the Jungians, in the infancy of modern Western psychotherapy. Word association tests, for instance, would be used to catch the thought patterns of a patient; or ink blot tests. These relied on the patient declining to think logically and consciously, for an allotted time so that the underlying subconscious patterns could emerge and be interpreted.

But all of these would be obscure or passive (and not used much anymore.) Jung pioneered a method that worked with both the conscious and subconscious state of mind, that I personally still do undertake and have found helpful both psychologically and spiritually.

The rest of this post quotes extensively from“Encounters With the Soul” by Barbara Hannah, to describe this method.

[Carl Jung] discovered a technique called “active imagination,” which is the subject of this book. I say, very carefully, discovered, not invented, for active imagination is a form […] used, at least from the dawn of history, if not earlier, as a way of learning to know […] God or gods. In other words, it is a method for exploring the unknown, whether we think of the unknown as an outside god—as an immeasurable infinite—or whether we know that we can meet it by contemplating our unknown selves in an entirely inner experience.

As Marie-Louise von Franz comments in the foreword of the same book: “This gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we are dealing here not with a weird innovation, but with a human experience which has been lived through before.” The case studies included mention of Alchemy traditions that use imaginatio ver et non phantastica, an ancient Egyptian document known as “the Dispute between a Man and his Ba”, and a text by 12th century Christian monk Hugh de St. Victor’s Der Arrha Animae subtitled “Conversation Concerning the Dowry of the Soul” and “Dialogue Between and Man and His Soul”…all as though there were ever anything necessarily unsatisfying about the weird and innovative.

I disagree this modern way of expressing an experience ever needs the validation of the old, but I agree to my current method of “questing” being a common human experience really. I was doing it before I thoroughly read up on Jung, but from now on I’ll be more inclined to say that anyone who wants to do this thing “my” way…should really just read Jung, instead. (Faemon’s Note: No wait don’t! I tried to read Jung’s writings, as compiled by Joan Chodorow in the book Jung on Active Imagination…umm, Barbara Hannah is a better writer, so I will keep to quoting Hannah.)

Another main point of Hannah’s is how little it matters “whether we think of the unknown as an outside god (…) or whether we know that we can meet it (…) in an entirely inner experience.” I do agree except that Hannah counters this very point by this passage:

When [Carl Jung] first [turned away from the familiar affairs of our conscious world to face this unknown, unconscious/subconscious] he was horrified to note that the visions which he saw and heard were very similar to the fantasies he had seen overcome many of his patients at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital. At first, he feared that they might overcome him also, and he lived for many months with the fear of madness hanging over his head. This was caused by a repeated vision of great portions of Europe being bathed in a sea of blood. It was only in August 1914, on the outbreak of war [which involved all the countries he had seen submerged in blood] that he realized that his visions of 1913 had been a forewarning of the First World War and did not refer to his own psychology. Thus freed from the terrible nightmare of possible madness, he was able to turn quietly and objectively to the contents of his visions.
Carl Jung was relieved that these morbid and violent fantasies weren’t a sign of mental instability, but precognition…as though precognition of whole countries submerged in a deluge of blood is better than one deeply troubled individual kept more or less to a building with other deeply troubled individu—actually, you know what, I take back my snarkiness and fully agree to this too, precognition is the better way to frame it. So, it can matter. By my cosmology, though, it usually doesn’t matter because I’m an incorrigible earthling: shared understanding, culture and communication makes things fuzzy at the edges, but if my mind is the primary medium by which I have these questing experiences, and isn’t shared (or difficult to share without resorting to some other avenue of transmitting information) because of the nature of the mind world as opposed to the nature of the physical world, then I may as well present it to the physical and societal world as something in my mind. Which, oddly enough, it is. If I’m wrong and it’s an entity crossing over from another dimension, with autonomy and interiority and all that, well, the dissociated positioning I experience would be the same (that it’s my mind, but I can’t fully relate to this person in my mind so it isn’t conscious-ego-me but because this is in my mind this person must —theoretically—be me,) as well as the way I treated the incorporeal other because of it: as having an interiority of their own separate from me, because that’s the experience even if it’s not the theory that gels best with everything else I experience and/or have been taught to interpret.

The personal inner work remains key, as this passage before the how-to explains:

…if we are still indulging ourselves with illusions about who and what we are, we have no chance whatsoever of being real enough to see the images of the unconscious or hear its voice. We need a very unbiased mind, which has learned to value the truth above everything, in order to register and value what we see and hear [during Active Imagination.]
And then to the how-to, or:

A Short Description of the Actual Techniques That Can Be Used in Active Imagination

  • The first thing is to be alone, and as free as possible from being disturbed
  • Then one must sit down and concentrate on seeing or hearing (Faemon’s Note: or feeling, or abstractly thinking) whatever comes up from the unconscious.
  • When this is accomplished,  and often it is far from easy, the image must be prevented from sinking back again into the unconscious, by drawing, painting, or writing down whatever has been seen or heard. Sometimes it is possible to express it best by movement or dancing. Some people cannot get into touch with the unconscious directly.

An indirect approach that often reveals the unconscious particularly well, is to write stories, apparently about other people. Such stories invariably reveal the parts of the storyteller’s own psyche of which he or she is completely unconscious. In every case, the goal is to get into touch with the unconscious, and that entails giving it an opportunity to express itself in some way or other. No one who is convinced that the unconscious has no life of its own should even attempt the method.The technique for both the visual and the auditory method consists first of all in being able to let things happen […] But images must not be allowed to change like a kaleidoscope. If the first image is a bird, for instance, left to itself it may turn with lightning rapidity into a lion, a ship on the sea, a scene from a battle, or whatnot. The technique consists of keeping one’s attention on the first image and not letting the bird escape until it has explained why it appeared to us, what message it brings us from the unconscious, or what it wants to know from us.

Even in the very different practical context I do this thing, I can’t lay out the steps in this process much better than that. That said, by Jungian standards I have been awful: letting the these play out however they will. Sometimes I’ll post a record because I could write it out into something that makes sense, but other times I’ll post a record of it precisely because it doesn’t make very much sense at all even to me…and sometimes I don’t catch it on any record because I don’t feel like writing.

So, here too is an important relationship between experiencing the imaginative, and recording or expressing it.

I believe it works the other way around too: many of us may not have encounters with the incorporeal others had a traveler in these “otherworlds” not gotten some idea of them from an artistic work encountered in waking life or the “mundane” life first. I also categorize in this the experience of an incorporeal person interfacing the corporeal world; as opposed to not dreaming so much as feeling or thinking various sorts of…internal voices that feel as though they originate externally, matching concepts or feelings to words and writing those down; and meaningful coincidences or synchronistic events.

These would all be works and experiences of Active Imagination, the case studies of which have been a fascinating read to me (from Hannah’s book.) Apart from an analysis of the historic documents mentioned above, they also include the cases of patients, their family histories where relevant, their disorders, and how they met who in the otherworlds through Active Imagination—and how that brought them better functionality and happiness in life.

Lately I have been getting the sense that mental illness or neurodiversity, and mysticism mixing together are broadly unfashionable (even incendiarily controversial), even among mentally ill or neurodiverse practitioners of liminality such as myself. Personally, though, it’s been in specific exceptional instances that I have felt moved to assert that they are separate and should be kept so very separate (an episode I had as a child with hallucinating cooked shrimp talking to me was probably not demons, more recent online discussions wherein the first suggestion or several lobbed at someone with admitted multiple psychotic mental illnesses is “maybe demons/gods/curse” and ‘but maybe mental—’ is met with hostility, and I ought to rethink my use of coffee as entheogen now that I switched to a brand that I metabolize as abysmally uninsightful liquid terror.) Generally though I default to liminal work being mental, denotatively and connotatively, at first because profoundly numinous and liminal experiences have been so pathologized (in my unfortunate experience), and lately because this old school of psychotherapy I’m really into studying the system of gets really very metaphysical about it.

 

The Rainmaker, by Carl Jung

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I’ve only recently encountered this story that Jung and Jungian protégés made a cornerstone of the philosophy. As I’ve read, no lecture, no compilation of info even, should ever go without this story if it would be Jungian (or, Jungian active imagination, the sources being most insistent on it.)

It also relies on culture clash. While I was celebrating not being fictionkin of an unspecified stereotype of an indigenous American character written by a Scotsman, (inhale) but more likely lived the archetype of this tractably Inuit mythic figure as interpreted by a Latina woman—the telling of Clarissa Pinkola-Estés’ “Skeleton Woman” hadn’t much to ground it (in anywhere but Estés’ voice), and for that, I don’t find an uprooting (insofar as it’s up to me to find or not find.) The shared understanding of culture becomes appropriative with the willfully ignorant misunderstanding/misrepresentation of specific names and symbols in demographic power imbalance. I suspect that every human being has a skeleton, and most have figured out that there’s good eatin’ on a fish.

This, in contrast…

There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result.

Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days.

On the fourth day, clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.

In true European fashion [Wilhelm] said: “They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?”

And the little Chinaman said: “I did not make the snow, I am not responsible.”

“But what have you done these three days?”

“Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came.”

I think it’s a good idea often enacted in bad ways. I grew up having an awful lot of awful events handwaved away as part of some Grand Cosmic Plan that would ultimately show to be Benevolent. It begged a redefinition of benevolence, and in retrospect the result would be the obedience and passivity of whoever was subject to that suggestion. Those who’d held to that because New Thought style philosophy worked so well for them, I couldn’t help but notice often came from wealthy and well-connected families—the results attributed more easily to spirituality than privilege—and at least one I’d met I would describe as very politely transphobic and affably homophobic. Gender binary cis-heteronomativity was a very obviously integral part of the Correct And Proper Order Of The Universe, to them.

So, I find what I call Sidereal workings (in Maven’s Way) almost incompatible with this, Haven’s Way approach in which there’s nothing to work. Coincidental ego-level external benefits come from inner work alone—literally alone, self-locked in a room for three days at least. Obviously I’m not There (Yet), so I’m awfully cynical. Even when I disagree, though, I can’t help incorporating some part of it theoretically. Frances Hodgson Burnett described a similar metaphysical system in A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, which I’d taken interest in examining before. I can’t claim to reject New Thought completely, especially when the gist of it comes at me from so many different sources. At least I can complain whenever it comes up. I’m sick of striving to serenity in what silence and solitude I can manage. That’s only been a trap.

Mixed Metaphors, A Ramble

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Still letting percolate how to shmoosh together Fairy gold (which is traditionally and in my quests A Bad Thing) with Alchemical gold (which is supposed to be the best thing, and in the context I go well okay then.)

Mostly, though, I realized that in all my excitement about Proscenium, and stage magic, and pledge-turn-prestige cycles, and how spatial that poesy is and shmooshes well with Fairy chess…I was developing a new language for the exact same ideas that I ought to have been working on all along: proper Glamour and correct Spelling. Here’s a relevant link to introductory linguistic semiotics. I haven’t read all the way through it; I’ll get to it!

I’d been allocating some one-on-one time with every guiser I’d ever met, or at least to pace and focus my consideration for why we would be (or have been) in one another’s lives.

Cookson from Captain Foxglove’s crew told me that I’m too angry for him (Kelp Cookson) to want me to get to know him better.

So for once, I thought to work on that, because I’m so reluctant to let go of anger that tells me enough is enough after a lifetime of being some weak, kind, doormat of a person…and I still don’t feel that “not being enraged and embittered anymore” is a choice that I consciously made, with step-by-step instructions to repeat next time anger starts giving me acid reflux and a pirate’s vocabulary. But I feel much better now, and I think it’s going to last.

Next on the list to plan some quality time with is Queen Myrtha of the Wilis—who only shows up when my anger has evaporated into this unadulterated, concentrated venom that even I sometimes mistake for calm rationality.

But, the Queen’s been around several literal hells of a lot more often than Kelp “Simmer Down” Cookson…and when it’s mattered, too. But the timing’s wrong, but I should practice making things I think and want to happen actually happen instead of leaving it always up to timing, but I probably should, but I really shouldn’t, but I want to not want to…eh, she showed up in the Otherreal for the first time last December, so maybe she’s a seasonal guiser.

An Expeditious Retreat

Rose ought to have a better introduction than this. I was in my mid-teens, mulling over gritty reboot fairy tale retellings that I could do, and she was one of them. I could have sworn that I’d seen Rose as Chelsea Hobb’s Gerda in The Snow Queen (Hallmark, 2002) but apart from the ringlets she’s given when she’s trapped in springtime, there’s not much resemblance. Which is odd, because her actual face and body keep changing whenever I meet her.

The drawing above is of the youngest-looking version of her I’d encountered, who seemed to wear a specific world all the time.

And during our most recent encounter, I was going to suggest that she leave it.

labyrinth

Tuning in to my surreal fetch sometimes comes with senses, attitudes, or memories that my corporeal and sidereal fetch don’t have. Sometimes it manifests in feeling as though a guiser I’d never seen before is a very old friend. Other times, it manifests in my freezing up in the middle of doing something that I surreal-y know how to do without thinking, because I’m sidereal-y thinking about how I do it (because that part of me had never done it before.)

This time, it was an information dump.

I’d taken it as a given that the center of the red brick labyrinth is a walled garden where Rose would sit with her tea set. And I can never find the door. If she randomly wants me to join her for tea, I am randomly summoned there for tea and randomly banished. We never do anything else.

This time, I managed to walk in uninvited, and give a stern warning about someone else who might walk in uninvited; and this was my own fault, but this was how I could minimize the damage, if she would cooperate by evacuating then she’d be one less possible—

What? My corporeal-sidereal mind pulled away from myself a bit. What did we do this time? What did you do?!? This isn’t happening.

That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t ask. I only felt moderately confused by myself.

“Nobody can find this place,” Rose said, meaning that she wasn’t leaving. I’d pointed out that the labyrinth remained open to the sky, but…she had a point. One entrance, one exit, one winding path, and I’d still manage to take a wrong turn. Rose knew this place better: the place did whatever she wanted to whoever else was unfortunate enough to wander into it. Of course she was safe, here.

Then Captain Foxglove strode in and said, “I’ll escort her.”

I might have gesticulated between us and the walls, bleating, to try to communicate that if I could find the center garden of my own volition for once, and Foxglove could do the same and they hadn’t even met, then the security wasn’t very good anymore.

On the other hand, Foxglove and Rose kept looking at each other with expressions that at least told me that they knew one another very well.

So Rose listened to Foxglove after he’d made the exact same report to her, and suggested the exact same course of action as I had—and without any argument at all Rose wrapped up her own tea set in the tablecloth and looked to the bottom of the stone bird-bath for pearls.

“There are seashells in almost any harbor we stop at,” Foxglove told her, though he’d looked terse, he’d kept his tone encouraging. Rose decided not to waste time on the pearls. She had a flower crown that she’d reached up to put on Foxglove’s head. It got there; they’d both looked so solemn about it.

I could make sense of it. Before, I thought that I’d found Rose by a slightly different form accompanying Captain Marigold, and when I’d looked in that one’s eyes she appeared empty of any mind. I wonder now if this exact moment was always going to happen, so that the shell that followed Marigold around would be ensouled by a real Rose. Maybe the shell was a sort of ghost from the future.

I’d stopped this Rose, right before she left, to look in her eyes. I couldn’t. It was like starting mirror work, and all I could see was a mirror. This Rose wasn’t empty that I could see, but all I could see when I looked at her eyes were…eyes.

Despite being sort-of around for a decade, even despite all the tea parties…this was, really, the first and only conversation-like exchange that Rose and I had ever had. I’d described her before as “too obstinately enigmatic to blog about” and maybe that is the thing: she’ll always have a labyrinth of some kind around her, maybe she is safe and content by nature, inherently inaccessible, and I had made some grave mistake in sending her out into the world. Even if she were going to bring life to Marigold’s pet ghost from the future.

Nah, Foxglove’s made the grave mistake, if that were the case, because he’d said the same thing but she listened to him.

Besides, one of Foxglove’s crew had eyes pop out of sockets at the end of accordion springs when I looked into them. Had they been coil springs, I would have guessed that mechanism were built into such a guiser-body to facilitate expressiveness in the eyes. That they were accordion springs swayed my suspicions more towards that every otherworld I quest in is potentially trolling me.

So they both left. Somehow. I didn’t catch them going over the wall, but the center garden of the red brick labyrinth has no door.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 2/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on the Codex of Poesy :

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

The sort of proto-wishcraft I practiced at that time focused on empirical evidence of psychism, with the idea that the mind was the key. To clear the mind of the usual chatter would invite intuitions, so fellow practitioners claimed. Intuitions could tell us the number or suit of a playing card before we could see, or the thoughts and emotional states of the people around us. Willpower directed forcefully through a clear mind could move physical objects.

I could never manage any particularly consistent outside effect. Sometimes, I’d dabble in guided imagery, which would never yield any insightful result. Those quests would usually go in some nightmarish, unhelpful direction. As for within: I could clear my mind, though. I could notice and simply be with the pain, and my mind would go silent, no images would come to mind…and, it was something like peace.

This did not improve my attention span, when depression began to dull the world. This did not hold my thought process high as the structures crumbled into ruin. This did not improve my memory, in those exercises to clear the mind, I may only be now but everything else carried over pains and troubles of the past.

Myself out of meditation knew that my health was failing and I was losing my mind and I’d never meet my goals, the way everything was going. So, I started on what they gave me.

The next time I tried to sit still and clear my mind, the usual chatter would not stop.

That one thing I could do from years of regular practice, now rendered impossible by a pill the size of a rice grain.

It wasn’t so devastating. Once I decided to act to change everything, my mind, my life, my family’s habit of alternating abuse and comfortable silence, I can hardly complain about the changes.

So, I allowed my mind to create images around the chatter. My mind chatter was like that of a crowded, noisy room…like a restaurant, I thought. I saw the milky sunlight through the windows, the swatches of color of so many people’s clothes, heard the chatter and the clatter of metal utensils against porcelain. I could shift my attention to the tablecloth, and the backrest of the chair, and the noise wouldn’t go away.

I didn’t quest in a way that occupied my Surreal Fetch, back then, I would always be watching my Surreal Fetch from somewhere outside myself—another reason these quests annoyed me. This time I was embodied, I knew, seated and smoothing over cloth.

Then I saw myself approach my table, and draw a chair to sit across from me, and sit and watch me. Ey was ready to listen, and to talk.

Much as I loved biology class and the neuroscience unit, and the security it lent me in that I was doing a factually correct and right thing, it’s not what prepared me for the shift in value priority: Forget empirical evidence of telekinesis. This was our life on the line, so now this was the Work we’d do.

~

The skin over my sternum felt as though someone had rubbed mentholated ointment over it, though I was certain this wasn’t the case. When I’d looked up models of the Fetch in other traditions (Otherreal, or Sidereal) I wondered if this were some vortex of compassion activating. Incidentally, I was beginning to care again, about wilting plants and injured animals and what people anticipated or loathed.

Eating used to be like arm-wrestling with myself, the defending champion you damn well know how your mother resents your eating your life away since you were born and now she knows that job security is a lie she hates still having to feed you because she’ll never have a good life like she did as a rich kid, the challenger of but I’m going to faint and they’ll notice and fuss and blame me (which might not be unwarranted, but certainly doesn’t inspire more positive changes) and I’m shitting bloodclots from the ulcers.

If I could muster up the temerity to request therapy and psychiatric medication, I could eat. The oils around meats tasted awful to me, but fine to everyone else who knew it to be my favorite. Eggs and dairy products took on a cloying texture that I couldn’t bear. Fish was barely tolerable. My psychiatrist told me that she’d never heard of a side-effect like that.

I went vegan, and carried it on for far longer than the aversion and tastebud weirdness alone would have kept me away from real proteins. I considered the lifestyle change a result of some spiritually superior calling, which I’ve got to admit was a huge mistake.

~

I chose life. My birth family really hammered in how badly I should regret it. It surprised me that I could enjoy something at all, so maybe when I would have taken a silent satisfaction in an outfit I liked, I’d smiled. “What happened to my kid?” My mother snarked, “You’re smiling and eating and interested in fashion.”

“It’s a lot sooner than the doc said the meds would work,” my sibling said pointedly. “You’re just looking for attention.” Drama-mongering faker isn’t really sick. After our mother died, she tsked at my continuing to purchase antidepressants, saying, “I’ve spoken to friends of mine who went through depression. You only need to take meds for one year, then you’re fine, and you’ve had your year.” She’d never studied psychiatry. I’d doubted that she’d even taken a proper survey of depressed friends, plural, it was probably just the one whose personal experience she’d consider the most convenient to impose. “I respect what you’ve gone through,” she lied, “But you were a bitch. You’re not allowed to get depressed or eating disordered again. I know I’m not allowed to say this, but your not-eating thing was a choice.”

~

I’d described to my therapist long ago what the mind fog felt like, like white mold growing on the inside of my skull so I could only find the fuzzy outlines of my thoughts. She suggested, knowing what an iron-cast meditative practice I had, visualizing a way to make that mold go away. I’d made a metaphor out of my experience, couldn’t I make an experience out of that same metaphor? No. No, I could not. It was neurological, biochemical, not a matter for the quests. I’ve read that some people find half an hour of meditation effective in doing away with what they describe as brain fog, and I envy them.

I ran away from home to home and to almost homelessness. I had a roof, at least, and walls, but could only afford to eat so little that my fingernails began to splinter as they grew from the quick. The brain fog came back. I could have a whole meal for slightly cheaper than a single antidepressant pill, and ought to have the meal instead, if the brain fog was from malnourishment rather than depression. It was that sort of way of working within financial limitations. The fog felt familiar as depression, so I took the meds on an empty stomach. I needed a clear mind to work.

Besides, a fusion deity of Hela and the Morrigan was wandering around my room, and I was beginning to get the sense of what She really meant. I named her Lady Hawthorne.

Nausea had always been a side effect, but this time it was surprisingly incapacitating. It’s amazing how nauseous a body can get without vomiting even stomach acid, and by “amazing” I mean “torture” and I can’t brag about it as a feat, really, it’s more like a betrayal: How could my corporeal fetch do this to me. Why would my corporeal fetch do this to us. I wanted to die. Once it passed, I decided against taking the other half of the pill when I was supposed to, and I still wanted to die, but at least I wasn’t nauseated.

Before it passed, I sat on the floor and leaned into the corner, trying to breathe as slowly as I could without fainting, because inside movements made the nausea wane, which meant it would wax full right in a trice. I was trying to keep the nausea steady until it flowed away, like trying to find a part of a river that flowed without ripples.

I’d been reading about the Ophelia, a modern god of rivers (of course: the greatest civilizations in human history formed around a river or two), time, death, and depression. Depression had taken on a broader definition to me: the cold and hollow exhaustion of anxiety, the eroding attention and memory, the restless slumbering.

The suicidal ideations, that’s what Lady Hawthorne attended to. The Morrigan aspect of this fusion god represented the battle, the aspect of Hela (from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” … Literally “concealed place” compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”, from Proto-Indo-European *kel- “to cover, conceal”) represents the hidden nature of this particular kind of battle.

When I thought about the Ophelia as a god of depression, this included the recovery, no matter how nauseating. Time and death, too, it occurred to me had life as an integral part, at least the way my nascent headcanon of the Ophelia claimed. Should I die of natural disaster, injury, illness, or age, I expect to glimpse the Ophelia in that last moment. If I kill myself, I’m the Helrrigan’s.

And if I starve to death in self-imposed poverty rather than eating disorder comorbid with obsessive compulsion (or depending on who you ask, choice)…? Eh, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

They were both in my room then, new gods perhaps summoned by new rituals and new ways to travel so far beyond your ken into the realm of horribly wrong. We three got through it all right. We’re still getting through it all right. All three of us, around this.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

The psychiatrist showed me a pill the size of a single rice grain.

“Eating one of those a day is going to make me not want to kill myself? That one whole thing?”

She looked surprised. No, of course not! You should cut it in half.

If I squinted, I could see the groove where it was meant to be halved. “A chisel would be too large for this. I’d need the flat screwdriver from my spectacle repair kit, and somebody to hold the magnifying glass.”

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

(Ten hours after that first dose, taking hold of a glass of water became as difficult as horseback archery because my whole body kept shaking and twitching. That’s a side-effect. I consider it more like an effect, actually.)

My sleep pattern and appetite should get fixed up eventually, too. Oh, speaking of what I shouldn’t eat: no liquor, no caffeine, no chocolate.

“No chocolate! How can life be worth living?” I didn’t really say that, because I hadn’t gotten even my morbid sense of humor back. I did eat chocolate and the teeny tiny happy pill, though.

~

The psychiatrist also hastened to clarify that this was a misnomer. Antidepressants don’t make people feel happy for no reason, like some chemical puppetmaster. Medications targeted thought processing issues, memory problems, stress metabolism, fatigue, oversleeping. Dissipating suicidal ideations coincided consistently enough, but this would never lead to a drug high.

Perhaps I was merely happy to feel normal, two months into the regular dosages. No, I’d made an online acquaintance to whom I could not commit to a friendship, unfortunately, though the way her liminal experiences carried her through a bad situation made our shared conversations something I ought to have clung to; she told me that her mother died and her father physically abused her, and on the other side of the Internet where she couldn’t see, I erupted into giggles. It wasn’t even absurd or unbelievable, maybe I would have begun to laugh at that time without anybody talking to me. Had this been an offline friend, this would come off horrifyingly callous, and I was genuinely and completely horrified at myself for laughing. I couldn’t stop, not even when I desperately made the effort to recognize that someone else’s situation was horrifying and painful to them. It was like the tremors and twitches, in that respect, but I can’t say it was purely mechanical—like, I began to hyperventilate as though I were laughing. Instead, bubbles of sheer delight filled my chest. It was an intrusive mood: I was not delighted.

Fellow depression recoverers would say things like, “that’s the depression making you think/feel that way, not you,” and I would never understand that dissociation. Happiness wasn’t me, especially not this kind, this was the pills. The psychiatrist told me it was a misnomer, and I don’t want to say she was mistaken. I’d heard the opposite too often, too, a derisive, “go take your happy pills,” or “take your chill pills” whenever I came off glum or angry. Even if it weren’t the case that psycho-social stressors (from, say…people who take the same lousy health-bigot attitude as that…) played a significant role in triggering my depressive episodes…it didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a way to get high.

Some new magazine research or another would inform this friend or that how antidepressants caused depression. I’m inclined to blame the stigma associated with medication, becoming itself a psycho-social stressor. I’d also differentiate between stages of depression. I’d go quiet and shrink into the conviction of my own worthlessness if someone so much as informed me that my shoelace was untied, and that anxiety would carry over into every little thing I did. Learning not to care about every little thing could be healthy, or could be a sign of further depression, because then I stopped washing up or eating—but that’s probably more like ennui. Then there’s suffering so much physical and emotional pain that I’d chase death just to make it all stop, every waking moment like I was being stabbed in the head with all the tears I forced myself to hold in because crying wasn’t helping anymore (but not crying wasn’t helping, either, it was just bothering people less,) and the heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Starting on the antidepressants got me back to anxious about my shoelaces. I’d almost preferred the bleakness, only because serenity and joy and adventure didn’t feature as options. Maybe depression is a way for the psyche to modulate the focus and sensitivity that leads to distress, dulls the senses, gives a bit of mindspace to find one’s center again…but, then nothing can modulate the modulation. Not philosophy, not theology, not activity—I’d gone for all that—and certainly none of the advice from people who condescended to care but really refused to get a clue (not that I explained or described it well, then or even now—but I can’t believe it was all my projected frustration.)

And I won’t say the medications were the one true solution, either. I believe that medication eventually did away with the feeling that I was holding a solid iron bowling ball in my skull (though I still wake up to spikes—I may want to learn to cry properly again), and more eventually did away with the sort of misty mold that grew on the inside of my skull so I could only make out the fuzzy outline of my own thoughts. That’s a huge improvement over my quality of life, and I have not entirely been the one to foot the whole cost of that improvement. It was expensive, and hardly worth it to my birth family, who believed I should be somebody else entirely (someone on whom a pressure-cooker of abusive dynamics has no effect; let me reincarnate a few million more times and then maybe I shall spring from the womb so unshakably enlightened.)

One bit of good fortune that I’ll admit to gratitude: I have not required an adjustment in the dosage and kind. I haven’t exactly suffered from an adjustment in the dosage and kind, or days when we couldn’t find a pharmacy that stocked them, or days when we could but my mother muttered about the expense so I would lower the dose. I ate them with chocolate sometimes although the psychiatrist with the million-dollar education in this field told me not to, and the effects wouldn’t be better or worse than times I didn’t eat chocolate with the antidepressants—but that doesn’t make my decision an inherently good decision. When these pills took me from bleak to anxious (and queasy, and so twitchy that I couldn’t hold a glass of water), I made the decision to keep taking them anyway, and the result was good enough for me—but anyone else for whom the drugs leave psychologically raw and undefended, in a different life situation than mine, with vastly different predispositions and body chemistry, well, it stands to reason that my decision to keep taking what was prescribed can’t apply across the board as a good one. When I caught myself laughing at a very real abuse testimony from a dear acquaintance, I lowered the dosage without consulting my psychiatrist—and the intrusive high moods stopped. I will neither recommend this course of action nor heed accusations of my excusing psychopathy with medication: a drug happy-high wasn’t worth eclipsing empathy, no matter how generally miserable I’d become—rather, the matter was that I was exactly as miserable as I’d become, so maybe someone more depressed or differently-depressed would have made a different decision.

Only I can draw a line like that for me: sometimes I’ll get so excited about something that I overstep my bounds and come off like my happiness is so much more important than the comfort of people around me (and I’m sorry); sometimes I’ll flip the bird at what’s clearly a dishonest attempt at emotional blackmail (and I’ll often still be sorry, and have to keep telling myself I’m in the right.) One time I decided that sharing someone else’s pain and misery completely was worth the risk of inexpertly adjusting a rice-grain-sized drug that effectively shakes the nervous system to the mindcore. I’m as likely to help myself to imaginary bone-shaped biscuits either way.

The Human Experience is chemical, and theological, and genetic, and philosophical, and physical, and personal, and social, and circumstantial, and relative, and overlapping-confounding, and clearly distinguishable and objectively conforming to a specific value judgment.

While people who have have suffered less competent psychiatrists than I have would, perhaps, develop a completely valid aversion to the whole thing entirely (and I don’t exactly love my psychiatrist, could be another reason I would do everything to avoid checking in on an adjustment)—I do consider a theological exclusion of psychiatric medication…umm, wrong.

To be concluded…

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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.

To be continued…