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Friday, 02 January 2009 10:54

A Melancholy of Mine Own - Page 6

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Since my "condition" is so deeply rooted, much of my personality grew out of it and developed to cloak it. This made expressing myself even harder. I did well in school, stayed out of trouble, behaved like a son my parents could be proud of. I wrapped myself in a skin of normalcy and success but grew more hidden, from others and from myself. In high school, I wrote in a poem that I wished "to be a slug," to have an exterior that expressed what I felt. Like Gregor Samsa, I greatly desired to speak the whole truth. Instead, much of the time, I merely said, Thank you, thank you, I'm getting up now--going to school, going eventually to college and the bright future that everyone expected. But the present, which I tried so hard to dodge, could not be dodged.

In Seeing Voices, his book on the language of the deaf, Oliver Sacks notes that philosophers have long dreamed of "a primordial or original human language, in which everything has its true and natural name; a language so concrete, so particular, that it can catch the essence, the 'itness,' of everything; so spontaneous that it expresses all emotion directly; and so transparent that it is incapable of any evasion or deception. Such a language would be without (and indeed would have no need for) logic, grammar, metaphor, or abstractions--it would be a language not mediated, a symbolic expression of thought and feeling, but, almost magically, an im mediate one."

I hoped for such fluid, full, direct communication in therapy. I tried to express the relentless stream of criticism that I directed at myself and others, the way I felt split in two, the dull and sharp aches that moved around my body as though taunting me. I wished to plug a probe from my brain to the doctor's, so that he could see--without mediation--how I stood outside myself, watching and criticizing, and could never fully participate in a moment. How I felt bewildered, anguished, horrified.

Instead, I often found myself silent. When I spoke, it was with stumbles and stammers. Words-- unhappy, anxious, lonely --seemed plainly inadequate, as did modifiers: all the time, without relief. Ordinary phrases such as I feel bad or I am unhappy seemed pallid. Evocative metaphors-- My soul is like burnt skin, aching at any touch; I have the emotional equivalent of a dislocated limb --were garish. Though this language hinted at how bad I felt, it could not express what it felt like to be me.

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