For years I have been a closed book, to others and even to myself. Time and time again, words have failed me when I’ve tried to speak of myself.
Not any more.
Last month someone read me – a writer, no less. His name was Anthony and in the pages of his book I did the unthinkable: I found my type.
We met in a bookshop. After a confirmatory flick, I took him home, where he spoke to me until the sun rose, shedding new light.
‘There exist two rather fundamental states of mental distress,’ Tony began, ‘the depressive state and the schizoid state. The emotion characteristic of the former is a feeling of hopelessness and misery. The emotion pertaining to the latter is one of futility and lack of meaning.’
Yes, Tony, I replied. I know them both.
‘Both states take origin from deprivations and misadventures afflicting the infant during the first year of its existence,’ he went on.
I hear you, man, I said, but we won’t go there. Tell me more about schizoid dude instead.
‘He is characterized by detachment and emotional isolation,’ he explained. ‘Schizoid people have ceased to interact genuinely with their peers. Thus they often continue to feel themselves to be unrealistically weak and incompetent on the one hand, and to have equally unrealistic phantasies of power on the other.’
‘Moreover, the less satisfaction a person gains by interacting with people and things in the external world, the more will he be preoccupied with his own inner world of phantasy.’
Hence this blog, I muttered. Turning back to Tony, I asked, What about the depressive?
‘His principal concern is also to protect himself from the danger of loss of self-esteem,’ he said. ‘But, unlike the schizoid person, his self-esteem is much more directly dependent upon a “good” relation with others.’
‘Depressives have no built-in confidence. They remain as vulnerable to outside opinion as a baby is vulnerable to the withdrawal of the breast.’
Tea, I said. Would you like some?
But Tony was not to be deterred. ‘Many people of this temperament give up hope of being loved for themselves, especially since they habitually conceal their real natures. But the hope raises itself when they start to create.’
Then he grew more expansive.
‘Another way of dealing with depression is the so-called “manic defence”,’ he said. ‘When a man becomes manic, he reverses and denies his depression. He becomes overactive. Instead of being sensitive to the needs and wishes of others, he becomes inconsiderate, irritable, demanding. He alleges that he feels splendid and claims complete self-confidence.’
You know me better than I know myself, I said.
‘It’s possible,’ said Tony. ‘After all, some creative people seem to have only a tenuous sense of their own identity. Indeed, their work may be an expression of their search for identity.’
I nodded. That explains a lot, Tony, I said, sadly. Not least of all why I’ve been obsessed with writing, music-making, art and creativity for most of my ‘adult’ life. Not because I’m especially good at them or because they’ve made me any money, but simply because they keep me sane.
‘If creative work protects a man against mental illness, it is small wonder that he pursues it with avidity,’ Tony said, in his bookish way. ‘And even if the state of mind he is seeking to avoid is no more than a mild state of depression or apathy, this still constitutes a cogent reason for engaging in creative work even when it brings no obvious external benefit in its train.’
You’ve read me, Tony, I said. Thanks to you I’ve found my type. What I do with this knowledge is now up to me.
‘For creative work, access to the inner realm of the psyche is essential,’ Tony said. ‘But,’ he went on, a note of caution entering his voice, ‘so is a strongly functioning ego, inhibition of immediate impulse, and control.’
Point taken, my friend.
Thus our conversation closed, and with it Tony’s tome*, whose lines had me pegged. It leaves me a more open book – if not to others then at least to myself.
And that’s saying something.
*The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr (1972)