Dave's Progress. Chapter 114: Speak, Memory.

The above title is taken from the autobiography of the great writer Vladimir Nabokov, who was most famous, perhaps, for writing "Lolita", that infamous tale of the academic Humbert Humbert and his perverted pursuit of under-age girls, or "nymphets", as he likes to call them in the text. Anyway, what better title for an autobiography, I thought, being, as an autobiography is, perhaps just a collection of one's past memories, all jotted down for everyone else to see. Hence the autobiography's reputation as an "unreliable" form because of its overwhelming subjectivity.
When my own memory "speaks", however, it does not tend to induce the feeling that I want to write down all that I remember. Indeed, my own memory seems to be littered with remnants of embarrassing behaviour, mistakes; things, generally, I shouldn't have done. OK, so I know I've suffered from what is regarded as perhaps the most severe of mental illnesses, and at some points that has been responsible for the things I've done, rather than any will of my own in my sane state. But, this doesn't stop the feelings of regret and sometimes, shame, at having behaved so abysmally.
It seems, also, that in this I am not alone. Reading through some blogs the other day, it became clear to me that those who have experienced mental ill health often have many regrets about their behaviour when ill. It is only when one comes down from an episode of illness that one's social conscience seems to kick back in and the feelings of embarrassment or shame begin. Sonya, over at "Not Singing the Bipolar Blues", has often spoken about this phenomenon, and for "TheraScribbles", who writes about her own experience of depression, it seems even insignificant events from the past can cause overwhelming feelings of embarrassment or regret. In her blog "Regrets, I've Had a Few" she explains this uncomfortable experience (and I hope she doesn't mind me quoting her here):
"I tend to dwell on things. Things that may have happened 20 years ago... or more. As I have discussed before, I also sometimes 'catastrophize' things. Combine those two things and you've got a recipe for more darkness. A fragment of a memory of something that happened in high school and has very likely been forgotten by all others concerned, can have a physical effect on me. When one pops up, I can feel it hit me like a briskly swung pillow. I usually openly and physically flinch when something like that enters my addled mind. It's quite ridiculous, in fact."
Well, I would say that it isn't ridiculous at all. I tend to do the same thing. Thera writes that the thing to do, then, is to learn from such errors and try to move on, thereby extinguishing some of the pain of such recall. For me personally, I think I have managed to do this. After a few years of now good mental health, I can begin to rationalise such thoughts, telling myself such behaviour was a result of really quite severe illness. Indeed, we are often taught by mental health services how to do this; by performing a sort of self CBT, we can turn negative memories into more positive thoughts. We are also told to try to live "in the present", and avoid too much rumination over either the uncertainties of the future or the downright embarrassments of the past. So, now, I can't change the past, but I know I can change the way I think about it.
Having said all that, this still doesn't entirely stop the operation of my memory, and sometimes it seems impossible to stop being bludgeoned with remembrances of my "madder" days. Indeed, I remember actually trying to write an autobiographical account of my descent into insanity, stopping after 7000 words, such was the deluge of shameful thoughts. Eventually, it began to feel like, perhaps, not a cathartic, but unhealthy exercise. Every time I would call on my memory, it seemed to come back to me carrying a tatty rag or a broken dream.
So, if all we have left at the end of life is our memories, better make some good ones, as the saying goes. And, I think, to end on a more positive note, I am in the process of doing just that. Or else, every time my memory "speaks", tell it emphatically to shut up.  



THE SNEE said…
Hi David,

You are such a beautiful writer, truly memorable. I like your wise words.
David said…
Dear SNEE,
Thank you very much. I'll have to remember not to let such nice compliments go to my head! Thanks once again.
Your with Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,

This is a powerful article you write that encourages positive living. Thank you for that.

Although you share how to move forward, I empathise with your having embarrassments and regrets regarding the past.

Ironically what attracts me to read your blog is 'the you, you've been' and now 'the you, you are.' "Dave's Progress" is an ongoing blessing for me. I'm grateful for your sharing.

In peace and good wishes,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thank you for leaving such a lovely and complimentary comment.
It is really nice to know that my blog has an effect on at least someone, and I, of course, love to read your own writings.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
My sincere apologies for taking so long to respond to this posting. I would also note your respectful thoughts regarding your tribute to Cath.
As you are aware, I've been confronting and challenging my personal darkness, over the last few days. However, I shall now attempt to come up with some semblance of a comment.
I duly note your mention of Sonya and Thera and your responses to their thoughts makes for some interesting reading.
It seems to me you are trying to formulate a healthy balance. The past is the past and yet your anticipation of a better future, intertwined with some of the more positive memories of your past, is encouraging and most pleasing to read.
I shall talk to you soon, my friend.
In peace and very best wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Always pleased to hear from you, whenever it may be.
I truly hope that your "dark thoughts" are on the wane. I hope I understand how difficult it can be when in that frame of mind, so just know that I am, of course, there to lend whatever support I can.
As for myself, although I do get memories of my, how shall I put it, less grounded days popping up, I do think I am now at a stage where I can look forward to a more positive future. Indeed, good friends such as yourself have been vital to that process.
So, thank you, Gary, and also for acknowledging my little "tribute" to Cath.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
TSB said…
Gary at klahanie let me know this evening that you had mentioned a posting of mine.... sorry I did not discover it sooner!

I find, as I mentioned in my post, that instead of "remembering" something, I often "relive" it, experiencing the event in my memory as if it were happening now. "Self-CBT" (great name!) is all I have so far, but still when something comes up like that, it physically hits me. An odd, and infuriating experience!

Thanks for the mention, and of course you may quote. Unless you are going to call me names... in which case you should ask first ;)

Your post is very inspiring. It shows me that there IS light at the end of the tunnel, just perhaps I can't see it yet. That you can look back and say, "Oh that's where I came from"... well that is surely my goal. I shall add you to the blogs I have been reading and clearly have some catching up to do if this is Chapter 114!

David said…
Dear TSB,
Thanks for your interest and letting me use that quote from your own blog.
And the very best of luck to you in your own journey through the murky waters that are mental ill health. I could certainly identify with what you said in your blog, and I'm glad that my own gives at least some hope for a better future. Indeed, I can assuredly say that, even with the most severe diagnoses, there IS light at the end of the tunnel.
Wishing you all the best,

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