The Pain of Writing
THE PAIN OF WRITING
Copyright 2020 © Cristian Ceresoli, Il Dolore di Scrivere | Version 27.05.2020 |
For Martin Svehlik
and Svět A Divadlo magazine
These days, every now and then someone says to me, eh, who knows how much you have to write with all that is going on, eh, who knows what inspirations with all this virus and the deaths and the lockdowns, eh, who knows who knows. Well, I don't.
I have always struggled to write about what happens while it happens. I need a certain distance from the things that happen especially if I find myself inside those things that happen. So, distance of time, but also personal distance: I feel entirely engrossed by the things I write about, and if at the same time I have to face on a daily basis what I write while I write it, I would be destroyed, disintegrated, annihilated.
(Noise of something that falls and crashes from the sky).
In the past few months, I have struggled to write. A black dog attacked me on the fifteenth of July last summer. From that moment, everything lost its meaning, life flows in unease, rolling every day into itself in an infinite crumpling of the same meaningless moment, in a body alive without life. Bummer.
On July 15th of last year I woke up at the bottom of a ravine. Major depressive disorder! The name of the ravine, the name of the slimy walls to which it is impossible to cling, the name of the panic attacks, the anguish, the apathy accompanied by low self-esteem and - total - loss of interest in daily activities.
Let's clarify. The first symptoms go back to June two years ago, I was in Copenhagen, and for a year and a month I had a nice Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a classic. Under the enlightened guidance of my doctor Mr. Pusher I baked myself in Alprazolam, which is better known as Xanax, and then Haldol, which is an anti-obsessive so powerful as to be used in mass exterminations, at some point even a little bit of Maveral, to get myself started in the antidepressants magic world and so, after a year or so, I was a little better - until on July 15th of last year, the blow: my psychiatrist Dr Pusher claims to have had rare cases like mine, but it is not uncommon for a OCD to give way to a major depressive disorder. From the fifteenth of July to the fifteenth of September, the horror. Shitty also October, November, December and January, then I would say that in mid-February the very slow recovery started. Soon I’ll celebrate two years as a psychiatric patient, I expect a lot from this fifteenth of July.
In Italy, depression affects about eleven million people who take drugs daily against this black dog. The percentage of Italians who suffer from depression is rumoured to reach almost twenty per cent of the population, which is four times the European average. That’s how we are doing. I have a friend; his name is Fulvio. He, too, is not so well.
We begin with an alarm clock to which I have to react by getting out of bed. So, once I am on my feet and despite the panic, I have to follow exactly what I have prescribed to myself or what has been prescribed for me. Drink water. Ingest (shit-coloured) enzymes to counteract the side effects of drugs. Prepare the coffee. Prepare peculiar cereals with peculiar milk. Drink coffee. Have breakfast. Do not think. And as soon as possible organize any activity, no matter what, a job, no matter how.
We don't travel. We don't visit each other. On the streets of Bergamo, military vehicles with coffins on board; on the streets of Rome, people gagged by masks, and queues at supermarkets, and queues at newsstands: as if we were in an English TV series.
After the coffee and the shitty cereals, faced with the danger of falling back into the chasm, I cling to the phone. I cling to the phone; I claw it. I hold it in my hands and answer messages; no matter who, no matter what. How am I doing? Am I better? Am I healing? Getting worse? I turn on the radio. The radio allows me to have something to do while I finish my peculiar cereals within my peculiar milk. The question is, What will become of me once breakfast is over? The morning is the most difficult time.
Depressed mood for most of the day. Yup. Sadness and melancholy accentuated and persistent. Yup. Marked decrease or loss of interest or pleasure in everything, or almost everything; the activities of the day. Sure. Anhedonia. Apathy. Psychomotor retardation. Tick.
When Mr. Svehlik asked me to write a piece for Svět a Divadlo magazine right in the middle of this pandemic - I reacted as it was prescribed to me: I accepted. The strategy is to force me to do things, without thinking. The fact then that these words will be fixed at the right distance, by the Czech translation: carried out by Svehlik with sensitivity, I am sure, allows me to have an intimacy that I would not otherwise have. It allows me to say what I still haven't said. To say something that in itself is impossible to say. This piece was born because I can't write it. And it takes this form, because then it's up to you to find a connection, or a music or any other thing that sounds significant.
First of all, I want to tell you that I was born in Bergamo, in the Lombardy region; one of the most affected Covid areas in the world, on the second Sunday of May at quarter past four in the afternoon. My mother had emigrated from the south during the economic boom of the fifties, with her boxes and mozzarellas. My paternal grandfather was dark-skinned like all his brothers, children of an indigenous woman from the interior of Brazil, my great-grandmother Aipira.
Around the middle of December 2019, the health authorities of the city of Wuhan, China (a town of about eleven million inhabitants), discovered the first cases of patients with symptoms of pneumonia of unknown origin. They are somehow connected to the wet market of Wuhan, which has about a thousand stalls selling chickens, pheasants, bats, marmots, snakes, deer and the internal organs of wild rabbits; exquisite.
In Bergamo, during the most tragic days, there is a mortality rate of ten times that of the same period the previous year, and in those days of death, truck loads of volunteers and Alpine troops build a field hospital in eight days. There are photos, viewed all around the world, of military convoys carrying coffins with the dead, through many provinces. But there is a video, during the building of the hospital, of a chant, yes, a chant, which is started by one and then taken up by others and continued by others and then others and it becomes epic like one of those chants that pierce the sky in the Curva Nord. A song that brings tears to the eyes, that everyone begins to sing while moving weights, lifting shelves, screwing bolts, assembling machinery; while harnessed with masks, with gloved hands and despite the fear. People like us never give up. People like us, people like us, people like us never give up.
Think about it: in Wuhan there are as many citizens as there are depressed ones in Italy. Eleven million, not a few. To pour water into the first glass and then drink it. To pour the water into the second glass and then drink it. In the third glass and then drink it. Take the first two tablets and then water: Anafranil 75mg, two in the morning and one in the evening. Everyday. Every week. Prolonged release tablets. Clomipramine hydrochloride. Oral use. Always. Everyday. Always.
As if every time I write, I have to pay the consequences. As if with every eruption or explosion of creativity, so to speak, I am wounded by my own fire.
The wet market is one of those markets where perishable goods such as meat, fish or fruit are sold. The name comes from the habit of regularly wetting and cleaning floors with water, as opposed to the so-called dry markets where fabrics and electronic components, etc. are sold. Although not all wet markets sell live animals, the term is often used to indicate a market in which the slaughter of animals takes place at the time of purchase. Among other things, rabbit is also eaten in Bergamo.
The Curva Nord is that portion of the stadium where the most intense cheering by the football team of my city of Bergamo, Atalanta, takes place. On February 19, 2020, I was in the Curva at the San Siro stadium in Milan, for the four-to-one victory against Valencia in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. To date, the most beautiful and most important game ever played, as well as the last one in front of fans. Also indicated for spreading the infection. I was there.
As if I had not taken but produced drugs so powerful as to allow me to write so much and deeply in a few hours. In three days, an explosion of creativity to the point that for hours each of those three days felt as if under the effect of the fever I could no longer stop and I was inside the writing that kept coming out. This happened for three days in August 2018. And the same happened to me in the first days of May of this year. And maybe other times between one and the other, I don't know. Together with this furious form of creativity, this moment of frightening fertility, I began to wake up at night, between four and five o’clock, always at the same time, and I was no longer able to fall asleep and during the day I started to suffer from the first symptoms of an obsessive compulsive disorder that from that day on struck me until it resolved and then pushed me into the abyss on that morning of the fifteenth of July. That black dog, the major depression, etcetera, we understood each other.
Doctor Pusher is thin, not short, I mostly hear him on the phone; he has straight hair. Due to the pandemic we were unable to see each other, but at this stage he started the visits again, with all the necessary precautions, mask, hand disinfection, shoe covers on the feet, etc. It is as if to write to the end I had to pay the consequences; how romantic.
It was as if I were living a second life, as if everything had been deeply questioned, and now slowly had to be rebuilt. On the one hand! On the other hand, the disease is still there, but in the minor form. It’s not possible to counter it, and the only thing that seems to work is to accept it. As when, in the face of an attack, you would like to react with as much or greater violence and instead, with pain, you need the courage to accept the disease and at the same time forget about it. Which sucks!
Fatigue, the loss or lack of energy/vital impetus, or physical prostration? Yes. Anxiety disorders, panic attacks, excessive and persistent worries? Sure. Insomnia; or hypersomnia? Hypersomnia. Decrease or loss of personal motivation? Yes. Ability to think, concentrate, solve problems, take initiatives, decisions, act? Yes. Ideational slowdown, inertia, listlessness, abulia? Yes, Yes, Yes.
In one of the most acute phases of the disease, one only wakes up to wake up. When the disease still had not spread to the point of becoming a pandemic, the sons or daughters were accompanied to school; to then begin to yawn returning home and once at home to fall asleep, and with each sleep attack the perception of depression increased, until stages of delirium, and you just couldn't stay awake, yet you knew that sleeping was the cause of deep crisis at times perceived as definitive for the life itself; but you could not not sleep, not.
As I tap on the keys my teeth clench and my hands tremble. Sometimes I fall asleep. For days I can't write anymore. Then comes a day when it happens, from my hands I get letters already orchestrated in words and thoughts in actions and then it’s as if I took the most powerful drug, I could jump five meters, sing in a stadium, fall down upwards to the point of moving you.
I wonder if this is not the opportunity to rethink many things. Someone in Italy talks about opening theatres; every day all day. I even hear proposals that had already been put in place during the occupation of the Valle Theatre; in the heart of the city of Rome, from the summer of 2011 to the summer of 2014. Maybe, I think. It takes me little to believe. I always believe, me.
Italy is a nation in a dementia-like condition; at this point it’d be better if it died. That it died to give life to an Italy more Italy that madly started experimenting trying, taking risks. Um. I do not know.
There is also another reason, not to write at all. We are in the midst of a pandemic, in Italy we won’t know if we will be able to return to theatre or to cinema and if so in what way. However, it seems that large institutions, etcetera, will find a way to save themselves; there is optimism. Meanwhile the technicians and the artists die of hunger, to which we are well accustomed after all. For us, in Italy, the early bird catches the shit.
Significant weight loss or significant weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite? Hyperphagia. Yup. Psychosomatic disorders, gastritis, headache? Yup. Tendency towards isolation, loneliness, sedentary lifestyle, poor self-care and self-abandonment with a decrease in social and emotional relationships? Sure.
Feelings of restlessness, helplessness, resignation, self-depreciation, uselessness, mistrust, constant disappointment, pessimism about the future, victimization, negativism about the present, loss of sense of life, sense of emptiness, tendency to cry, up to a sense of failure, dejection or despair or excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt and recrimination, resentment and brooding, up to limit cases of anguish and delusions with detachment from reality. Of course, everything.
Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation with no elaboration of specific plans, the elaboration of specific plans to commit to or any attempt to implement? Eating disorders in general. Eh? But who the fuck writes this stuff? Can you imagine that after suicide you put "generic eating disorders"? I mean, first you jump or shoot yourself in the head and then you kill yourself with tiramisu?
As if with every creative fever there was a mourning, as if a part of me wanted to preserve me and prevent me from exposing myself, as if it wanted me asleep and locked up in who knows which tower while the other part of me wishes to launch into the air and fall upward. I must admit that the image of one who falls upward towards the top is very beautiful.
Aria da capo
These days every now and then someone says to me, eh, who knows how much you have to write with everything that is happening, eh, who knows what inspirations with all this virus and the deaths and the lockdowns, eh, who knows who knows. Well, I don't.
written for Svět a divadlo
published in Svět a divadlo, issue 4, volume 2020
translated from Italian by P40 - ROCCO DI GREGORIO