Friday, January 14, 2011

Minds in Bodies and Bodies in Mind

I've spent the last three or four years in a strange sort of denial.  I can't remember exactly when it started, because it was an experience I didn't have much frame of reference for, but every fall recently has brought a set of subtle but insidious symptoms, worst of which was a fatigue that cut my energy levels to about 70% - enough to slow me down severely, but not, it turned out, enough to stop me in my tracks long enough to seriously reflect on what was going on.  What I ended up doing was confusing my physical state for a mental condition - I thought, during these stretches, that I was 'coming down with' depression, after years of being pretty much an Energizer Bunny of positivity and accomplishment.  Last year in particular, the fall involved juggling two or three different jobs while trying to finish my dissertation and searching for a job, and fatigue and anxiety seemed only natural.

This fall was a different story, but also the same story.  As some of you know I'm currently a research fellow, which leaves me with a lot of time - but this fall I found it desperately difficult to make use of it, even after my initial settling-in period here in Tokyo had passed.  I was unfocused, and didn't set about getting interviews and other ethnographic work together with my usual single-mindedness.  I started, again, feeling bad about myself as a person, berating myself for running out of energy before my usual late-night fieldwork got underway.  At the same time, I was aware that at least part of the problem was that I was physically not at my best.  The one thing I had been able to be objective about the previous falls was a series of sinus infections and colds, and again, this time around, I took some cold pills and antihistamines, but they didn't really do the trick.  I basically soldiered on, and fell further and further out of touch with a sense of myself as capable of accomplishing anything with the huge gift of time I'd been given.

Then, two weeks ago, I learned the hard way that antihistamines and pseudoephedrine didn't mix well with even moderate drinking.
 At about the same time it started to actually get fairly cold here in Tokyo, a change which came much earlier during my years in Iowa.  Together, these events gave me the physical and mental resources to take steps to address the situation more forthrightly.  In particular, feeling so physically drained had made it difficult for me to get over the barrier of anxiety at the prospect of going to a Japanese doctor.  Yesterday, I finally went, found the experience perfectly pleasant, and got an anticlimactic and unwelcome, but in other ways hopeful, diagnosis - I have hay fever.

I got a prescription for Alegra, and I can already tell it's doing me a lot of good.  What's most mystifying and fascinating to me about the whole experience is how hard it was for me to be aware of what was going on with my body. Part of this was certainly my own doing - I have a strong self-image as almost indestructably healthy, in addition to being at the crux between being young and being, well, not so young.  I would hardly call having bad allergies a confrontation with my own mortality, but at the very least it's a reminder that I'm not   a god.

Most of all, I'm dumbfounded that I really thought I was somehow developing psychological depression, when what I really had was allergies.  I found myself going to bed early, taking naps, barely able to get up - and these all fit descriptions of depression I'd read or seen, so I connected the dots. I proceeded to notice my 'depression' and to inhabit it - to experience it as an independent phenomenon.  If you look back at my blog posts from the past fall, for instance, you'll see several tagged with 'depression,' including some with quite dark subject matter.

And then, of course, every winter I would emerge from it, going back to my usual outgoing happy self, and forget the whole thing.  Hopefully this year will be different at least in that I won't forget, and won't be waylaid next fall when I suddenly start feeling 'depressed,'  I'm not sure what lesson to draw from all of this, except a continued fascination, if not outright mystification, at the strange relationship between our minds and bodies.  In the face of my aching, exhausted body, my mind saw fit to blame itself.  Hopefully I can train it to think differently in the future.


chuk_etcetera said...

This blog is obscenely interesting to read!

David Z. Morris said...

Wow, I really hope you're a sincere real person and not an ironic spambot!