Depression and the muse

Depression and the muse

Running across a busy four-lane street, I find that my ankle still doesn’t like that at all. My career as a runner is done. I’m taking advantage of the car I rented over the weekend to get my old Ford serviced, and luckily the garage is right across the street from the rental place. But in unpacking from my drive I took out all the CDs, and ended up listening to NPR for the first time in a long time. The program was about ECT.

Some of my favorite creative people have been through electro-convulsive therapy, many of them involuntarily, including Roy Harper. I started thinking about why ECT is such an effective treatment for depression. I think the answer may be hinted at by one of the side effects, memory loss.

One of the curious things about creative activity is the long association of the creative muse with memory. Why is that? Sure, writers and other artists mine memory for the material to flesh out their creations, but it is paradoxical to think that new creations can only come from old experiences. Going back to Blake, it seems that he is one of the few artists that really appreciated the deathly grip that memory has on us. It makes our thoughts and actions a futile rehash of evils that have happened before. Blake ranted about replacing “the daughters of memory,” the muses, with “the daughters of inspiration.” Maybe, the evils of depression also feed on the daughters of memory.

ECT shakes up those pathways, disrupting memory, and allows people to start over. Maybe that’s what the muses are really all about. The disruption of those familiar patterns, allowing the brain to take in new breath, and hence, new life. As a depressive, I know that I never want to get out, or do anything, or confront anything, when I’m depressed. So it locks into a cycle, chains you up inside your own memories until you just can’t shake it off. The only weapon I have found to fight it is to keep searching for new things that get me past it. So far, so good. I’m always out there, looking to hit on those daughters of inspiration.

Damn, it’s still too bright in here though. I forgot to buy a new dimmer, but I did get my books for a class on “Writing and Healing,” six books, including a couple of novels. They love to load the stuff on in grad school. I can’t wait to dig into some of the theory there: I’ve always been puzzled by the idea that by writing about bad experiences in our past we can overcome them through catharsis. I’ve never experienced that, but writing does seem to help. It seems to me that being slaves to memory is particularly bad when it comes to tragic experiences. And yet, it works for some reason. Writing can make you feel better. This is really fascinating stuff, to me, I’m just hoping that there isn’t a bunch of new-agey feel good crap in it.