Sunday, 21 March 2010

How Twilight Saved My Mind

Early last week, the declaration was made that I feel I have reached 60% healing on the way to recovery and victory over the depression that has held on to me for so long. When I hit 50%, I owned it and it just bugged me unlike before that when I was at it's beck and call.

It probably proves my insanity is ripe in that I regularly declare out loud that this depression is my b*tch. It damn well is now and thank goodness for that.

So why the title? How did a teenage love story about sparkling vampires written badly by a mormon 30 something save my mind? Good question. As with most of my answers, you won't see this one coming.

The first thing that goes when you are depressed is your mind. "Well obviously", I hear you proclaim. To be more specific is that your ability to concentrate disappears right near the beginning of your depression. All that consumes your mind is a series of negative thoughts that run through your head so fast that you can't catch them long enough to think your way out of them. It's one good mental kicking after another until you are left too tired to think, sleep or concentrate.

Literature on depression says that it will usually pass within 3-5 years of starting. That is assuming that you are not one of the unlucky ones who suffers life long depression. I still don't know if I'm lucky or not. The progress I am making at least leaves me relaxed in the knowledge that I will be making my own mind up from now on and not some behavioural triggered chemical reaction.

Before I realised I was suffering from any mental illness (ouch! It hurts to use that term on myself but I should own it to own it), it frustrated me to no end that concentrating on anything that required higher level brain function was almost impossible. A workmate (Phil Calcado) once commented on how short an attention span I had when he'd shared a link to a blog post on some topic and he saw me take an entire day to get through reading it. That isn't the normal me by the way.

When my mind was like this and sometimes still is, I don't give up. I persist in reading; doing mind puzzles like crosswords and playing scrabble; writing code outside of work; and painting or being creative in a tangible way. It can take me up to ten times as long to finish a task as I would pre-depression. For me, it was the finishing that made it worth while. That was the point to celebrate and feel triumphant over the fatigue.

My library before the divorce contained many classic books and great works of fiction and non-fiction in every genre you can imagine. It was both my ex-husband and I who loved collecting and reading books. We spent more of our disposable income on books than anything else I can think of, when we were together. Yes, even my shoe collection.

Towards the end of my marriage and the beginning of the depression that almost took me down, I couldn't read anything much at all. My feed reader was always at 1000+ items and the pile of books to read was growing rather than shrinking. That was when I changed tack.

The new feeds I subscribed to were short reads from comics and picture blogs with lolcats to one paragraph updates from comedians and teenage girls circumnavigating the world. Stuff that didn't strain my brain but still allowed me to read. At that time, my book club decided to read the first book of the Twilight series. If you have been living under a rock then it's about a teenage girl in a small American country town who has a chaste relationship with a vegetarian vampire. It's been described as a man falling in love with his food in a New Zealander kind of way :)

The writing is simple and aimed at teenage girls and housewives. Oprah wouldn't touch it on her book club and most book geeks will deny ever having even touched the books. There are four in the series and I read them all. They were a breeze to read and took me around three to four weeks to work my way through them. The achievement I felt at the end of finishing the series was brilliant. I'd managed to absorb the simple plot and get to know the characters without much effort. Yes, they will not win the Pulitzer or Nobel in Literature but they made reading accessible to me.

My ex put them down at any chance he got and made sure I knew he thought them to be for pathetic women with no lives or brain cells. For me, that did not matter. I started them and read them all the way through. Like the lolcats and 140 character tweets that kept me entertained in those days, they also helped me keep my brain in use. That was valuable.

Now, I read a lot more feeds with a lot more words. My books are becoming more complex and challenging intellectually but I keep the fluff around and still roll in it like a dog who has found a dead fruit bat in the tropics.

What matters is not what you read but that you do read. Elitism is a way of excluding people and only makes the insecure feel superior long enough until the self-doubt kicks in and makes them find fault in something else.

Read whatever you want. Play Scrabble or Upwords. Giggle at pictures of badly spelled cakes or comic books with excessive violence. It doesn't matter what does it for you at the time, just keep doing it. Yes, therapy + medication + environment will help you but so will keeping the brain going.

Thank you sparkly vampires and teenage angst. Thank you cheezeburger cats and the Watchmen. Thanks for keeping me ticking. I appreciate you.

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