The Alchemy of Illness

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

"Much as sick people complain, ofter vociferously, about their isolation and the lack of sympathy from others (we constantly switch doctors and friends in search of the "good ear"), many come to recognize that this invisible wall between the sick and the well protects both.  Laura Chester wrote that "the isolation of illness did not seem to be a bad thing," for she was "left alone to revive the inner seed, which had withered under the intensity of interaction."  There came a point in the depths of my illness when I realized that the people closest to me could no longer bear to hear of my despair, which was inconsolable;  it seemed to short-circuit their capacities for attention and compassion.  After a long night of self-confrontation, I decided to keep that bitter nest of despair to myself from then on - and a curious shift occurred.  While I felt scared, like a lost child whose cries could not be heard, I also felt infused with power, a power I associate with mountain climbers and deep-sea divers, people who face their destiny and know their survival rests in their own two hands.  I felt, to use Chester's words, "my soul opening and strengthening, like a muscle."

Not only is it better for the sick to be left alone at times, it is also better for the well to leave them at times.  Healthy people can be contaminated by the gloom and depression of the ailing if they come too close or have too much sympathy;  it is commonly called burnout in the helping professions.  If that were to happen too often, as Virginia Woolf surmised, "buildings would cease to rise, roads would peter out into grassy tracks, there would be an end of music and of paintings";  for culture is created and maintained by those with the energy, enthusiasm, and idealism of health.  The well need to be well for the world to continue, just as the sick need to be sick so the world can be regenerated.  Each has a necessary job to perform."  Kat Duff - The Alchemy of Illness

I happen to like grassy tracks.  But the end of music and paintings?  Okay then, let the distance remain.


  1. Your gold has always been obvious, Sue, in so many ways. Your courage shines. Keep up the alchemy. :)

    1. Thanks heaps, Harry. Your kind words when I'm having a hell day are so much appreciated.

      Today is a gold day :)

  2. Well said.

    It's a fine line.

    1. It is a fine line. When you're on the sick side of it you feel abandoned and fallen apart and just a little crazy. But if you manoeuvre yourself into an excessively small position, Leonard Cohen's crack appears and then you REST, and it's all good :)

  3. Sorry. Had a huge giggle. Totally inappropriate I'm afraid, about... Leonard Cohen's crack :-)

    My mind really IS unwell :)

    1. Hehe, no, it was intentional. Like I quipped on Twitter yesterday:

      If I would stop forgetting about Leonard Cohen's crack my overall life experience would smell less like arse

      Hehe :)

  4. Seems I missed the gist!

    Not on Twitter. Otherwise, it probably would've made sense to my tiny mind.
    Oh well :-d

    How're you feelin' today?

    1. Ah, it's early :)

      How am I feeling today? Good! Thank you for asking! :)

      Well, good comparatively speaking. But I felt early this week like I was going crazy, and I felt suicidal. Horrible. Paralysed. According to one doctor I spoke to who was conducting a hair mineral analysis for me, I have high levels of barium in my body, which is highly toxic, and which on occasions will make me feel paralysed. Awesome. I believe also that I have high copper, running alongside high estrogen. I think what I was having were copper dumps. They feel like almost-schizophrenia and I can't tell you how scary it is to feel that paranoid, but to be aware that you're feeling like that but being unable to stop it. I can't even describe it without sounding like I'm entering into the land of mental illness, except that it's now at the end of the week and I am feeling myself again. I feel like I have a new view on paranoid disorders. I feel like my body is in the state where I could be the sort of person who could develop one of those, except that I'm onto it and dealing with it and detoxifying it.

      Life in my body at the moment is sort of crazy, sort of exciting, sort of healing. Except that the healing is coming by way of excreting shitloads of stuff my body's been hanging onto for years, and hence looking like I'm going backwards only to jump forwards again. It's hard to keep track of. But I'm feeling good! Exchausted 'cost I'm not sleeping, but good. Normal. With a libido and stuff. Rock on.

      You're very kind for asking, Ms Vicki. Methinks you have your heart screwed on good.

      Sorry for rambling, hehe :)

  5. Sorry for the staggered replies - back and forth between studio, brekky and computer.

    Ramble on girl! If I'm at the computer, I'm happy to hear/read it... and, reply :)

    I think that you are incredible.
    Because, you are aware, or at least are trying to figure out what it is that your body is going through and how that impacts on your mental well-being.

    I believe that can go a LONG way to helping you. Even though, when you're in the centre of a dark time, it doesn't feel too damn helpful.

    But, knowledge can be a huge help. You can tell yourself then, that you can weather through it. And that hopefully, by process of elimination, you can slowly heal, or at the very least, lessen symptoms.

    That's my belief anyway. To me, I'd rather have an inkling than be in denial or totally ignorant and ask always, "why me?".
    But then, I also know that when in pain, mental or otherwise, logic can take a flying fuck out the window.

    I do feel for you, you know.
    My mother suffered throughout life with mental illness. It drove her to drink and (heavy prescription) drugs.
    To the very ends of despair.
    She threw herself out of a moving car one time when I was seven years old - I was in the back seat and saw it happen right in front of me.
    And, on another occasion, she walked into oncoming traffic on a highway and was hit by an old guy. Poor man. He was such a mess afterwards.
    She survived these and many other attempts. Veiled cries for help.

    She was in and out of institutions for as long as I could remember.
    Her black states were horrific to endure - for her and for me as a wee child. Hard to comprehend why my mother was doing all this.
    Bad days indeed.
    I hated those periods of darkness. They would last weeks, sometimes, months.
    Then, as if one day the sun would come out from behind the clouds, all was "well" again. For a time. My mum would "be back".

    The problem was, and I think that is the biggest part, is that she denied - to her dying day, that she didn't "have a problem".
    Not with alcohol, drugs, or, heaven forbid, mention a "mental problem".
    She dried out in the institutions, and wept often, saying that she never understood why she had to be there.
    It was the old, "I'm not mad, its the rest of these loonies that are. Not me".
    So heartbreaking.
    I think that's why I connect to movies such as "Frances", about the Hollywood starlet Frances Farmer. And, Angelina Jolie's character in Changeling. And other movies where the characters endure institutionalisation - with no other knowledge on how to treat mental (perceived or otherwise)illness, than with cruel methods, often barbaric.
    Considered second class citizens.

    God! Sorry. This is SO heavy.

    Sounds like you are seeing a naturopath - hair analysis?
    I'm a big fan of natural remedies.
    They do take longer to help make changes in our body. But at least they are natural, organic substances working with our own organic bodies.

    Sorry to sound "preachy", because I know many people only prefer conventional meds, but I believe there is a place for the natural way :)

    Rambled response :)

    1. Hey, thanks for sharing your story. I feel sorta privileged.

      Your poor mum. And your poor you. I am a big fan of natural remedies too. I have the belief the orthomolecular medicine and epigenetics will begin clearing out some of the psych wards. A close family member has just tried killing themselves again, and so I have a personal vested interest in this stuff on a multitude of levels.

      It's so hard to keep being responsible for your own health, physical and mental, because society denies it and so it's hard to not deny it in yourself when you're not getting any outside encouragement from the culture to face your own demons. Especially when you get a respite from them and it's oh so tempting to think "Well that's that. That was an awful experience but I'm not going back there again now and life is all rosy."

      What a shame that your mother could not hang onto the health inherent in the thought that "This is not really me. I'm not mad" while also hanging onto the reality of the situation and what needed to be dealt with. Heartbreaking. For her and for you. I'm so sad that you had to go through that.

      And so glad that you are an artist who can work this stuff out through the clay. Do you have anywhere on the net where I can see your work?

  6. Yes, I too think (hope) a more natural - and kinder - understanding will help many, many people and put them on a better path.
    I'm glad naturopathy is available to us all. Just wish it could be claimed on medicare :)

    But, you are so right. Even tho' mental and physical ailments are a little more understood, there is still such a long way to go.
    And I don't get why the populous is not more forgiving.
    There, but for the grace of god.. and all that.

    I wonder if the more "perfect" society becomes, with the search for staying/looking (ineffectually) younger and the race to becoming richer/powerful, it doesn't cloud people's perceptions of reality.

    The seeming need to mask the 'ugly truth" of reality can really distance some from acknowledgement.

    I dunno. What a world.
    In some ways, there is better understanding and care, and in others, more disconnect.

    Keeps me in my shell when I think on it for too long.

    As for my artwork, I do sell very little items on Etsy. Mainly due to the ridiculous postage, I only stock brooches on there.

    Most of my stuff is sold at markets. Much better that way.
    I've a month of markets starting this Saturday at Northcote and I'm panicking that I won't have enough stock to last the four weeks, arrgh.
    That's why I'm at the computer - I'm procrastinating! I should be prepping for tomorrow :)
    Last-minute girl.

    And, yes, art has gone a long way to help keep me sane when the edges start to fray ;)

  7. What? No emoticon for winky? Awwww.

  8. I guess fear overrides any "There but for the grace of god" ... fear and overweening individualism. How fucked up is it that so many of us get about in fractured duality, thinking that we're not connected to the whole? That what happens to that homeless woman on the street doesn't affect you? That kind of thinking I find disturbing. It's legislated insanity.

    It's also 11:11. But that's an aside.

    Yay, selling stuff at markets. I love that though. I love the thought of you being in your studio also on this bloody freezing cold and beautiful day. Journey well, Ms Vicki

  9. Funny that you mention, "that homeless woman".
    Of all people, I feel very connected to the homeless.

    They were all once someone. Children with homes. Even of a fashion, in one way or another. How they become homeless is a truly personal, individual story.

    My heart goes out to them.

    Regardless of whether it was of their own doing in a negligent way, or (so often) a sad circumstance of economics, they live in hostile, unforgiving environments. Hand to mouth. Day to day. Often, in peril.

    When I went out to check the kiln last night, it was so bloody cold. And what immediately came to my mind was how sad I felt for the street people.
    I wondered how were they keeping warm. Did they have layers on to keep out the chill? Food in their stomach to metabolise and keep up a scrap of energy?
    I feel so shitty that I can't feed and clothe and house them all.
    I fear for the women's safety most of all. They are raped and abused with no one to help them. It's their life.

    On more than one occasion, I came close to where they are.
    I am so grateful every time I step into the shower with hot and cold running water. And get to put on warm clothes. And sit by a fire with a mug of hot chocolate. My belly replete.

    Then, I feel despair that others aren't so lucky.

    I don't even know how to say it without sounding condescending.
    I truly feel these emotions.
    Because I lived a shitty childhood of hideous abuse and neglect from both parents - an only child.

    So, I know how EASY life's circumstances can lead us down a path that middle/upper class society don't have a clue,or choose not to know, about.

    That's why I dislike elitist, spoilt attitudes and those who look down on the "less privileged".
    I've experienced them first hand.

    Oh boy. Emotions well.

    Time to make clay :)

    Take care Sue. Spend a little time in the sun and grab a smidge of Vit D on this cold, sun-shiny day.

    I'm thinking of you x


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