Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Mental Influenza

I was sick recently. It started off with with weariness and small aches and pains, which I kept trying to power through. Eventually I was almost incapacitated, overwhelmed with this one task I needed to do and wasn't able to. It ate away at me. When I thought about doing it, I was miserable; when I tried doing it, I kept missing the mark because I wasn't well enough to do anything well. As it was, I spent a few days feeling barely able to breathe. Finally, I started recovering, and once I was feeling better, I was able to accomplish what I needed to do, and that helped me recover even more, which helped me do better and better work. A vicious cycle turned into a virtuous cycle.

This is a standard pattern for sickness. You get a cold, you're down, you get over it. Same with the flu, although the recovery period takes longer. I followed this same pattern, but I didn't have a cold. I didn't even have a physical ailment. I had mental influenza.

People talk about mental health as if there's no gradation between utter normality and full-blown depression, but there are gradients mentally as in all kinds of health. You can be a generally healthy person and still come down with a raging cold, and then get over it and go on being generally healthy, and no one thinks much of it. It's a bit trickier to talk about being in a funk, or having a full-blown breakdown, without people wanting to give you advice about counseling or medication, but since I know that this isn't unique to me, the risk of internet diagnosis doesn't matter that much.

So. Something was gnawing at my mind, a discussion I needed to have with Darwin. And as I kept trying to grapple with it and it kept oppressing me, the daily work of parenting and running a house that can be mildly frustrating became increasingly heavier. I spent an afternoon in bed because I felt too exhausted to move. I felt edgy. I was worried about this discussion, and I didn't know how to start it. Perhaps you too are a storyteller, and you find yourself analyzing the way situations can go if you use this tactic versus that tactic. Much time I spent doing this, but I couldn't see any way out of my dilemma that didn't involve making a painful hole in my marriage. I knew that there must be grace out there, and I prayed and prayed, constantly, as it seemed. And yet I sunk deeper, so deep that I was on the verge of tears all day, and I almost couldn't bear to see Darwin, because I couldn't show the slightest bit of vulnerability without blowing myself apart. Once or twice I tried, but I wasn't capable of making myself understood. Darwin, of course, could tell something was wrong, but because I was holding myself together so tightly to keep from falling apart, he didn't know what. I began to wonder if I ought to find someone professional to tell my troubles to, except that I knew that the solution be the same one I saw myself -- that I needed to talk to Darwin.

And when I was able to, I wrote, as obliquely as I could.

And then, independent of all my efforts, I started to recover. I felt better. I felt more reasonable. I was finally able to find words to tell Darwin what was on my mind, and -- incredibly, and yet absolutely predictably -- he listened lovingly, and we had a wonderful discussion that kept on bearing good fruit for days and days. And the offshoots of that discussion, the many tangents that we kept talking about in all our spare time, sped me on to full recovery and helped me feel stronger than I did in the first place. The air was purified and sweetened. Iron sharpened iron.

There it is. I don't have any deep conclusions to draw from this for you. No neatly packaged moral with a pretty graphic so you can see I have life all figured out. Would I have avoided a collapse if I'd talked with Darwin before I let my trouble gnaw away at my mental energy? Perhaps. But even master athletes get colds. Indeed, what's more insufferable that someone who claims they never get sick? Not every malady is equal -- this was a far worse funk than I've ever been in, comparable only to the baby blues I had after Diana was born -- but you get sick, and you survive and go on washing your hands and taking your vitamin C in hopes that you won't have a relapse. May God keep us all in good health.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

"Mental Influenza," is a term I've needed for long, long, time.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

Unknown said...

Grandpa Day was fond of this little ditty when one of us was sick: "Someone opened the window and Influenza." I guess that could be a spiritual window also.

Julie D. said...

I have totally been there, in every way you describe. I love that "mental influenza" idea ... perfect for acknowledging we're not doing great but that it will get better ...