Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"...this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

Perhaps the title for this post wasn't the best thought-out, given that it's arguably racist (it's a quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Prospero's talking about his slave, Caliban, who is frequently portrayed as being non-white).  Nonetheless, it was the only title that came to mind that I didn't absolutely hate, so I hope that you'll forgive the infraction.

The thing is, a number of things that I've been seeing, reading, and experiencing have lately had me thinking about the darker side of people's personalities.  Regardless of whether we admit to having them, we all do.  All of us have thoughts and desires that, if we're basically decent human beings, disturb us or make us wonder if we're really the good people that we want to be.  (Or, if you want to be cynical or are experiencing a period of self-doubt, you might say that these things make us wonder if we're really the good people that we pretend to be.)  Nobody thinks or acts with perfect love at all times.  And yet, so many people have such a drive to be kind, to make this world a better place, despite these things we try to keep buried, to hide from others and perhaps especially ourselves.

It's such a temptation to pretend that these less-admirable qualities of ours don't exist, and it occurs to me that it is not necessarily a wise thing to do.

Wouldn't it be better if we were able to openly acknowledge these things about ourselves?  How effective is it to bury these things, knowing that they're never really all that far away from the surface?  I'm not saying that we should actually indulge these harmful aspects of ourselves, but I do think that it's far healthier to admit that they exist and try to actually live with them rather than to try to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they don't exist, despite the strange shapes that they make under the surface that we're futilely pretending is flat.  And in fact, perhaps the one positive thing that I've found has come as a result of having experienced serious, long-term depression is this: I've been forced to confront these demons of mine.  I've never had the luxury of ignoring them.  And every time I feel like I'm going to relapse, I have to confront them again, if only because I know from experience that if I try to ignore my personal demons, my mental and emotional state will only get worse.

I won't list them, but anyone who's been following this blog for a while will probably be able to figure out what at least one or two of them are.

When my character flaws come to surface as they occasionally do, I deal with the problems that result in several different ways.  Usually, my first impulse is to write out what's bothering me; if I can put what I'm feeling into words, it will almost always calm me so that I can deal with my emotions in a more productive manner.  (In the words of John Donne: "Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,/ For he tames it, who fetters it in verse."*)  The results of this tactic, of course, sometimes end up here, or in a locked post on a blog that I write on another site under another name.  Sometimes I'll resort to meditation, or if I can't concentrate on that because I'm too upset, I amuse myself by playing Vice City in order to do some stupid car tricks (I've edited a couple of the cars so that they're almost indestructible and will travel far faster than their default settings would allow for), picking up my violin and playing very fast; tunes like Catharsis or a fiddle adaptation of The Hellbound Train are particular favourites of mine for moments of intense frustration, perhaps especially because I don't play them perfectly, or, if I can be reasonably sure that nobody will hear me, singing something with a lot of high notes—or even one very cathartic high note, like "Stay" by Shakespears Sister. (That note actually is in my range, though I don't so much "hit" it as "pulverize" it, so it's not actually a sound that you ever want to hear me make.  Still, I often feel better after I've sung that song because it just feels good to produce that high note.)  And when all else fails, I take a good long walk, moving as fast as I can for as long as my feet are willing to carry me.  And then I rest for a while, think (or write) about what's been bothering me, and make my way back home.

I know that none of these things will ever solve whatever problem I'm encountering, but I still consider them to be a good start; they give me a chance to tame the negative emotions that I'm experiencing so that I can actually think clearly enough to do something about whatever is causing the problem.  It's my form of acknowledging those demons of mine without actually letting them take over, especially as most of my character flaws tend to be emotional in nature.

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to do these things, of course.  However, I do think that, rather than just ignore one's shadow side or try to pretend it doesn't exist, it's far more practical and constructive to take a good look at it—shine a bright enough light so that it can be seen, so to speak—and come up with ways to deal with it.  It's a profoundly uncomfortable processs, of course, but I would argue that it's also a necessary one.

After all, it's awfully difficult to figure out precisely what darkness and light really are unless you've taken a good, hard look at both.  Or at least, that's been my experience.

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*"The Triple Fool"

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