Friday, July 10, 2015

Pneumonia, or Something Like It

This story starts in my adolescence, but we haven't got all day. It starts again during my college years, but there's nothing uncommon about that part of it. Waste of words. For our purposes, it really starts in March, which, as I told you before, was a month flattened out and made pallid by inertia.

Things did not get better after that. They got worse. It took most of the spring, but eventually I had to admit that my symptoms aligned, like eclipsing planets, with those of depression.

Melencholia, Albrecht Durer, 1514

Depression is not a sexy illness. It's not rare. It's got a spectrum so wide that the noun has less meaning than it should. It's also hard to explain (to justify?) as an actual illness, but that was how it came to me this year: as a virus that would not go away, that deteriorated from a cold to the flu to pneumonia. Walking pneumonia, really. I functioned at the required levels, but something was eating me alive on the inside.

By mid-May I could not read anymore. My concentration was too spotty to be able to follow a book from chapter to chapter. I couldn't even read short stories, because I'd reach the end without understanding what had happened. I'd read a page, and then read it again, with no memory of any of the prose. Reading has been the best part of my life since I was three years old, and it was suddenly gone.

There were other things, too.

The most painful symptom was an inability to write. I don't like the term "writer's block" (that post is for another day) and anyway this did not feel like that. This was fear and uncertainty and paralysis and despair and anxiety so big and buzzing it was like trying to imagine writing while pelting headlong through a beehive. The inability to write fed the depression and vice versa. And it seemed like more people than usual (well-meaning, often beloved people) were asking me what I was working on, and it was horrible to try and form an answer to that question that wasn't just shouting "I'm sick, I've been sick, you don't want to know about it, just tell me about your life instead."

Finally, last month, I went to the doctor, and I started clearing out the accumulated bacteria. That process is slow, and ongoing. But my progress of late is so encouraging that I cannot help but share it with you, which is why this post is happening at all. I'm functioning again, and not just at the required levels; I've reclaimed my interest in the world, in art, in ideas. I've gulped half a dozen novels in the last three weeks. Music has gotten its color back.

Best of all, I wrote some prose yesterday. I hadn't written anything since the end of February, and had built terrifying structures born of illness around the process of writing. It wasn't much, just 250 words or thereabouts. And it came largely out of boredom rather than inspiration (though, hey, boredom is a long-endorsed wellspring of creativity). And I don't know that it will be of use for the project to which it belongs. Except that it already has been of use, because it was the first prose I'd written in over four months. I wanted to pop open champagne.

I hope it's okay that I posted this, out of nowhere, and that there may be more radio silence for the near future. I've missed this space and I wanted to explain, even if it's oversharing. I want to resume commentary here on a regular basis, but I'm wary of doing too much too soon. I'm still recovering from pneumonia, after all.

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