Delight, Delirium, and the ways we mark time.
I am writing from a fast boat traveling between Gili Air and Bali. The waves are rough and all around me people are vomiting.
This. . . was a last-second thing. I didn’t discover until today that all the early boats tomorrow have been canceled due to a lack of tourists.
With two critical appointments tomorrow in Bali my own choice was to figure out new travel plans, pack my things in an hour, and be on my way.
I expected to feel stressed and anxious, instead, I feel clear headed. My friend helped me out and I was out the door and apparently no longer the sufferer of a sensitive gag reflex.
I feel capable, grounded, supported.
Very different from what my depression was telling me last night.
The lies of depression.
Last night my depression tried to convince me that I’ve been miserable for months, trapped and isolated in a foreign land, sinking into my addictions with no hope for change.
The truth is, depression lies.
Depression often presents itself as mental clarity. The mind is sure that it is seeing things the way the world really is, perhaps for the first time.
The depression that stretched through most of my life was convinced there was something inherently wrong with me. Something that drove people away. It was convinced I was broken and couldn’t live without the help of specific people to save me.
I have sat with depressed loved ones and heard their stories, heard the depression and recognized what it was, the way the brain can get stuck on loop and not find its way out of these twisted thoughts.
I recognized it because I knew it so personally.
Sometimes we can sit with people until the reality dawns, sometimes we can only sit and watch, knowing that while we are sitting in the same room their minds are showing them a different world, a darker world, a greyed out nightmare of what we experience.
Last night I tried to sit with the depression. I found her in my chest, weeping. She began her litany “we are alone. We can’t go home. We can’t afford it. The people who mean the most to us won’t talk to us. Do you even remember the last time you were happy?”
In that moment, I really couldn’t remember.
“You haven’t been happy for months, your dreams are falling apart. You won’t accomplish your goals. You smoked a cigarette, you’re going to fall into your addictions. They’re the only thing you have to pass the time.
They’ll eat you up. Delight is gone, you are lost to delirium.”
I got caught in this for a time, felt the resignation set in. That’s what I feel with depression. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes your chest aches, but for most of the time its simply resignation, a belief that the rest of life will feel hollow, empty, that it has always felt hollow and empty.
Maybe, if we’re cursed, there is a memory of a good time long gone, a moment just beyond touch.
I felt the depression deadening the world around and inside of me. I had to push myself to step forward, to enter into it.
Sitting with depression.
The image shifted as I sat beside the weeping woman and comforted her.
I recognized the things that are true. People I love aren’t talking to me. I told her I was sorry for that, that we could weep and grieve over that.
I acknowledged that we’re far from home and its natural to miss the people I haven’t seen.
And then I went looking for counter-evidence, something to set the record straight.
In the grips of depression, I struggled to find a recent moment when I was happy. Everything felt distant, felt flat.
I searched and searched. I pointed to people who I had enjoyed time with but depression said they weren’t the right people or it wasn’t really enjoyment.
I remembered enjoying flowers and music but depression asked “when? Where?”
And I didn’t have a good answer, the only memories that arose were from months ago on the other side of the world.
The truth of the matter is that I was enjoying flowers and music just days ago but the mind didn’t remember that.
Instead, my depression kept repeating that delight has become delirium, that I have been depressed for longer than I remember and that delirium will be the only way for me to escape, ever.
The new Delirium.
In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, one of the five eternal aspects of humanity experienced a transformation when Delight became Delirium.
Last night when sitting with my depression she referenced this transformation, a story I had read over a decade ago.
That’s the power of stories, they give a framework to the mind. They hypnotize us with new narratives that the unconscious can attach to.
In this particular narrative, the ability to naturally delight in the world has given way to a confused interaction with it. It is suggested that this change is historic, a mutation in the collective unconscious, a new way humans began to engage with themselves.
The story itself gave me a new way to look at my own experience of delight and the many highs I was chasing.
During the years of my addictions, my concept of the mind and happiness was chemical.
Good times with friends invoked serotonin, oxytocin, drugs and booze created a chemical delirium that made the world palatable, sometimes even enjoyable.
We don’t have to be drinking or inhaling for our world to be filled with delirium. Anything that confuses the mind, that causes us to “zone out,” disassociate, or become distracted from the worlds around and within us is an invocation of Delirium.
But what is the alternative?
What/who is Delight?
Delight is the ability to enjoy the world as it is. It is the moment you stop to smell the flowers. The smile that comes to the face when a baby is just too cute to comprehend or a friend tells a particularly good joke.
Whereas delirium distracts or distorts the world, delight embraces, accepts, and revels in experience.
My depression tries to convince me that my happiness, my moments of joy in life are simply disjointed chemical reactions. When I enter into this mindstate I forget my true experience of delight and begin to see with the eyes of delirium alone.
In a way, my mind forgets the bliss of the Sun peaking out from the clouds, a calm rainy day, a bumble bee moving from flower to flower or a cat purring on my chest.
My mind forgets the things I delight in and begins to create new priorities, ways to manipulate the delirium, to distract myself from the world so that the endless gray isn’t too unbearable.
The ways we mark time.
Gili Air runs on island time, which is to say there isn’t much in the way of time there. The days simply float on with the tides.
Even my phone forgot the time, constantly switching time zones due to reception.
In this flux of endless time, I was reminded over and over again how I used to smoke as a means to mark time.
Back in college when my days were unscheduled time was ordered by the ritual of a smoked cigarette or a packed bowl.
These rituals started the day and ended it, they marked meals, accomplishments, moments where I felt drained and stretched.
They played into my narrative of the brain as chemical and did their best to mimic sacred ritual.
I think this is one of things that changes when delight turns into delirium. We begin to order our lives around a new set of rituals; rituals of distraction and chemical manipulation rather than rituals of clarity and enjoyment.
When I’m healthy my rituals include breathwork and delighting in that breath, chant, walks, stopping to smell flowers, the touching of a tree’s bark with the palms of my hands when I walk by, prayers, time spent with friends and evening reading.
When the depression sets in and I forget these things there isn’t much left to fill the day. I wake up. I brush my teeth. I struggle to take care of my responsibilities and then I look at the clock, becoming anxious that there’s so much time left to fill.
I want to punctuate that time with consumption, a meal, a cigarette, something to look forward to for the next hour and to plan again as soon as it is consumed so I have something to drag me through the hour to follow.
I begin to mark time with rituals of distraction rather than those that bring me into the moment, that mark my mind with their delight.
Reminding depression of the truth.
It took a lot of time and a surprising amount of effort to finally remember an experience of delight that could break through the depression.
What I was finally able to catch on was the ceremony I performed just last week. The depression couldn’t greyscale the scene from my memory, the Sun shone above, the trees were green beside the altar.
The incense danced and I felt ecstatic within.
The depression couldn’t hide this. It couldn’t mask it. I had an anchor and I used it to prove the depression wrong.
I was happy, just a week ago.
When I was able to show the weeping woman this memory, others started to open up: my time at some listening to music, adventures out and exploring, sitting at dinner with my host family.
I am not alone. I have friends here and loved ones I keep up with in the states. My dreams are closer than ever and I am working towards them.
Yes, I have had a relapse with cigarettes but it isn’t the end of me. I’m going through a hard time and had a handful over a week. It won’t last and it won’t summon the rest of my addictions take over my life.
I don’t need delirium anymore. I know delight.
What about you?
Does your mind ever lie to you?
Do you find it telling you stories that aren’t true?
What is your relationship to delight? To delirium?