I happened on the live stream of Krista at the New York Public library last night, just as the conversation with respect to depression began. And though a bit reluctant to write, after having posted several times already on the site blog in the last few weeks, I decided I would anyway given what was expressed. I sent this in an email just after the program, but noticed the text formatting was lost so I thought this morning I'd try yet another blog comment, just in case it was delivered all in one unreadable lump sum paragraph.
After listening to the program about Einstein this week, I decided to pick up a copy of Krista's latest book Sunday morning. I spent the day reading it, finishing late in the evening, just before heading off to bed. Given the title I was taken a bit off guard by the material concerning clinical depression, but was struck by it perhaps the most. I've struggled off and on with long severe bouts of it myself, sometimes requiring long hospitalizations and months of followup ECT treatments, many of which have left me with sizable gaps in memory.
The mention of Rilke came as a surprise. I speak no language other than English, but during one of those bouts I stumbled across a book of his poems, a selection translated by Stephen Mitchell. I came to love the "Duino Elegies", "Requiem for a Friend", and "The Panther", the latter seeming a perfect description of my condition:
"His vision, from the constantly passing bars,has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. It seems to him there are a thousand bars;and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,the movement of his powerful soft strides is like a ritual dance around a centerin which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly--. An image enters in, rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,plunges into the heart and is gone."
A long time ago now, in a post in a group I sometimes read, someone more or less made the observation that after having been ill for a number of weeks the referent of the word "normal" had slowly but surely changed, and that she felt she had entered a bubble. That observation struck a nerve when I read it, because of its clear applicability to myself as well as her, and the fact that it does get to me from time to time. Without noting how significant the analogy might be, I posted a reply to the aforementioned observation, that if the illness is serious enough, it can seem you've been dropped in a deep dark well, basically out of sight and out of mind of everyone else, at least from your point of view. I also noted that if a significant number of days pass before you find your way out, by whatever means, the mental machine built in the dark, basically to adapt, might have changed the referent of the word "normal" to such a degree that when you do in fact exit the dark, it may not mesh fluidly with the built mental machines of those who spent all that time in the light. It can take some time to reattach.
I wanted to thank Krista for what she shared about this topic in that book, and during that discussion. My built mental machine meshed well with what I heard expressed tonight.
I also wanted to mention something she might find of interest, if she isn't already aware of it herself. In addition to picking up a copy of her book Sunday, I picked up a copy of Walter Isaacson's recent biography of Albert Einstein, feeling the need to read yet again about the exploits of my old hero. In it I ran across the following, about Einsteins attempt to obtain a position at the University of Prague in the year 1910 (pg 163):
"There was one final hurdle, also dealing with religion. Being a Jew was a disadvantage; being a nonbeliever who claimed no religion was a disqualifier. The empire required that all of its servants, including professors, be a member of some religion. On his official forms, Einstein had written that he had none. 'Einstein is as unpractical as a child in cases like this,' Friedrich Adler's wife noted.
As it turned out, Einstein's desire for the job was greater than his ornery impracticality. He agreed to write 'Mosaic'... "
I rather liked that myself :-)
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