Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Trial By Terror

" ... the steady battering of the mind by hope aroused and cast down could be more punishing and destructive than truncheon or rubber hose crashing against skull or jaw."
Paul Gallico, Trial By Terror
I recently read the book from which the aforementioned quote was sourced. It was the story of a vigorous young man (Jimmy) in his prime who was captured by secret police behind the "Iron Curtain" during the cold war. The story gave an account of how Jimmy's soul and will was broken down by psychological means (fairly easily in the end) and left him as a broken mind in a still hearty shell of flesh. His ultimate fate was to falsely testify against himself in a public court as a western spy - fully believing his guilt. Whilst I have read novels I have liked much better the parallells I saw between Gallico's story of Jimmy and my own experience with depression were quite interesting.
The quote itself was the punchline following a series of ploys from the interrogators to keep Jimmy on edge and uncertain about his case. Jimmy would be brought in for questioning from complete isolation randomly, arbitrarily. The key to his torture in this was his not knowing when the isolation would be broken. His agony was increased by anticipation of his case progressing - especially when confronted by familiar cues of hope eg. guards walking past etc - only to be left alone and waiting again. The combination of these and other psychological events did much to break his spirit and hope and left him vulnerable to a false truth constructed wholly by his interogators.
Immediately I read this section I recognised the parallels with my depression. The waiting in hope of a breakthrough in my health, the uncertainty of when the next period of recovery will take place, the familiar footsteps of normality echoing in my ear only to pass me by, cruelly, taunting me with the promise of normality but leaving it yet again unfulfilled, the battle to remain hopeful of a recovery in my depression - or at least for a break in my health where it is reliably manageable - and life as 'normal' resumed again.
The uncertainty, and the taunting nature of my illness, has at times worn down my will and terrorised my soul with impending doom, utter hopelessness and despair, and growing desperation. In these times I have been tempted by (and have at times succumbed to) falsely constructed realities. "My life has no value" "Liquor will numb my pain" "Gambling can provide a replacement income" "Amphetamines (speed) will pick me up out of my depression" "My death will please those for whom I am a burden". And others less dramatic. "There's no point in trying" "You'll always be like this" "You're not really sick - just lazy and good for nothing".
Many of these sound completely ridiculous when phrased as above especially when considered in times of a clearer mind. But these phrases, like the Sirens voices, embody an irresistable reality when being terrorised by the uncertainties of depression and its cycle.
In parallell with Gallico's assessment I think much of the power of my 'trial by terror' is the constant uncertainty of my health coupled with the breakdown of hope. There is not much I am able to do with the uncertainties of depression except develop undying patience - the quest continues. The constant uncertainty makes me vulnerable to unfair assessments of myself and other false realities but works most strongly against the hope of recovery (or hope of reliably managing my depression).
Fighting against the breakdown of hope is a battle I must renew often and thankfully is one I keep ahead of most of the time - thanks to supportive family and friends.


Anonymous broke said...

I think I recognize quite a lot of what you describe here. Certainly the necessity to be endlessly patient rings bells. I do confess though that sometimes hope and hoping feel to me more like a cruel prolonging of agony than lifelines. But I guess without hope there is very little left.
Take care

7:45 AM  
Blogger Blackdog said...

The question of whether hope is a cruel and ironic device that sustains personal suffering or a distant beacon on which to focus and seek comfort in the darkest of hours is as fascinating as it is important. I find that I have been drawn each way in my hoping at different times. In my own experience however I typically find that I am battered more by the unfulfilled expectations of hope than its potentially masochistic function. I am unable to say for certain why that is although I do think in my case I have steeled myself against the latter interpretation beacuse as you say - "without hope there is very little left." And I have too much to live for to indulge in any other option.

(P.S. by phrasing it this way I am not suggesting that its indulgent to suffer through the sustaining power of hope it's simply my way of keeping an additional degree of mental separation. Hopefully this is a safeguard from being battered too mercilessly by hope).

2:22 PM  
Anonymous broke said...

Yes, I see what you mean. I hope this isn't a crass thing to say, but do you think that having a child means that one must hope, because hopelessness cannot be an option? I don't have children, but I can imagine that if I did I might feel that because they were dependent on me, I had to live, and therefore had to hope. Imagining this now, it feels to me as if it might well be a harder thing to do than one of my options - which is to surrender to hopelessness if things get too tough.

11:48 PM  

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