I took the photo along a street in Cape May the other day. It was what sparked this poem for Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Psychology, many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to involve ruminating thoughts and this poem is for a fresh perspective on rumination and overthinking.
Is it that we consider some mental proclivities as disorders to be fixed, rather than see them as a healing process, like a fever for example; ruminating on wounds, hurts, anxieties appears to be normal, for some more than others, it can seem an endless obsession. It isn’t easy to seek to be understood in a world where time and attention are scarce, it’s also dangerous to be vulnerable where society is given to judgement and quick fixes to urge one back onto the grindstone.
Our collective lack of supportive empathy, loss of belief in self healing, a pill to fix everything and the inability to let people see their anxieties or sorrows as something to be experienced for a while and not incessantly seek escape from, is a bit sad in a way. Our interventions too sometimes seem prescriptive, so also do our cures for symptomatic relief. On this note, it might be interesting to know that ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), is still being used to treat depression and mood disorders in the US.
I didn’t wish to ramble away but thought to share John Read’s article advocating against electroshock therapy or electroconvulsive therapy, which is still a mainstay of psychiatry. I never knew until I read this essay  a couple of months ago and felt it merited a mention given that it is mental health awareness month. I would like to quote from it the documented experience of the Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was one of the first to use electricity to induce seizures in patients in the 1930s:
His first human subject was a 39-year-old engineer from Milan, whom the police found wandering around a Rome train station in a confused state. When the first electric shock failed to produce the desired convulsion, Cerletti and his assistant discussed whether to administer a more powerful shock. Cerletti reported: All at once, the patient, who evidently had been following our conversation, said clearly and solemnly, without his usual gibberish: ‘Not another one! It’s deadly!’ Cerletti proceeded anyway, in the first of the millions of instances that were to follow, and which continue today, of people being given this treatment despite clearly stating they don’t want it.
There is something about this that bothers me immensely and I would be concerned if it didn’t bother you dear reader. A case of confused wandering and gibberish could entail ECT in the 1930s, then we have something to think about, if in our haste to pathologise human behaviour, we have stopped to listen to what the psyche demands, in our hurry to fix it, even through such horrific interventions. It is as if we are afraid of being left alone in our thoughts, afraid of our inner voice, constantly seeking that we are, to silence it.
I am a bit of a serial ruminator and a gopher of sorts that will dig out the entire garden to find meaning in soil, ah well, compost maybe. I see ruminating as a healing process mostly, debilitating at times but similar to the formation of pearls if it transmutes into something creative. Engaging with passion (some may read this as obsession) in a creative enterprise, appears to be a defense mechanism, like layering a foreign substance in nacre to form a pearl, over a lengthy period of time. There are so many ways of mitigating pain or distress or anxieties, even an oyster has a lesson for us perhaps.
In the nausea of yesterday's regrets
that knocks the wind out of our sails and they say,
"Submit to the dhow, be resigned to the sea."
Memories are grains of sand that strode over
barnacles, oysters, as salt water baptised
rocky shores to spirit within a clam soul
the 'forever itch'. Looping recollections
of schoolyard bullies unearthing every time
the solar lantern crashed the limiting horizons
of a violated dusk, darkly helpless
to aphorisms of a fiery sun,
a compassionate moon or retreating waves.
Conchiolin layers nucleated sorrows
in luminous nacre of a lyrical
immunity, a concentric array of
soft healing words accreting around old hurt
rounding edges off aragonite bruises,
to finally spit pearls, raise anchor, set sail.
The memory of feeling nauseated on a dhow comes from Zanzibar. The waters were very choppy. The dhow keeper told me then, not to fight it. He asked me to lie down and become one with the movement, it turned out to be my lesson for ‘going with the flow’.
This is an attempt at a hendecasyllabic poem, where each metrical line consists of 11 syllables