Steer into the wind

I hope I’m expiating lots of karma.

I don’t know nautical terms.

In the climactic scene of The Caine Mutiny, the U.S.S. Caine is stuck in a typhoon.  It is facing 90 degrees away from the winds; that is, the winds may be from the northeast, and the bow is facing northwest.  The ship is rocking, and about to capsize.  It is imperative that the ship turn to face into the wind, so that the waves will no longer be striking it broadside and rocking it back and forth, left and right.  But on the bridge, Captain Queeg is somehow petrified, whether from fear or from something else, and does not respond to repeated requests that he give the order.  So the first mate relieves him of command, gives the order to steer into the wind, and the ship is saved.

I have just come through a sustained, profound emotional disturbance.  I am clueless what brought it on, though I will offer some theories.  It went on for several days.  The big day was Tuesday 06/29.

It seemed clear to me that the depression was rising from my physical body, rather than from my soul or affect.  I had not been through anything that I would think would justify this degree of sadness.  Throughout, I had this strong onion taste in my mouth, such as I normally associate with either (a) a cold, or (b) having spent a long time crying.  One possibility is that that taste would come on, and I’d construe it as sadness, and then become sad.

Tuesday morning on my first smoke break, I happened to think of my friend Thelma from church, who last week had lost a nephew to gun murder, up on a street corner up by our church.  And at once that onion taste came on in full force, and I was debilitatingly sad.

It’s hard to tell this story.

Certainly I would grieve with or for my friend, but not like that.  Throughout most of the disturbance, I managed by dissociating from the affect, more or less ignoring it, and keeping my attention on the tasks at hand.  That may be called mindfulness or presence.  Yet there was the mystery of what had brought all this on.


  • My medications, specifically SSRI’s, specifically sertraline, had somehow become temporarily ineffective.
  • Maybe I did have a cold, subclinical, and I was construing the symptoms as sadness.
  • Maybe recent — In recent weeks, in the housing search, I have had several sharp, severe disappointments.  Maybe those weakened my immune system enough to allow such a cold to come on.
  • My bud Will has bipolar disorder, and is an expert on it, and says emphatically that an emotional or other trauma can trigger a bipolar disturbance.  Maybe you don’t have to be bipolar for that to happen; of course, there’s always an onset.

I reflected on people I know for whom mental illness, including depression, is just a never-ending part of their lives.  Will is one; at the shelter, for a couple years, he was one of my best buds, and completely stable; then, about fourteen months ago, whether he went off his meds or something else happened, he just went off.

Jason was another guy at the shelter, years back.  Had schizoaffective disorder, about which the only thing I know, from his case, is that it’s really bad.  He was depressed all the time, hanging his head.  I asked him about meds; I don’t recall what he told me he took.  I asked about SSRIs.  He said he’d been on SSRIs a few times, but the result was always disaster.  On one occasion, he set his girlfriend’s house on fire.  On another, he stuck up a McDonald’s.

Tuesday is my routine trip downtown, to visit the pharmacy, check my mail, and hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts between trips.  I thought, “I hope I’m expiating lots of karma.”  Throughout my childhood and — Well, how old was I in the year 2000?  Gees.  45.  That’s the year I first became medicated.  — I was subject to episodes like this, from time to time.

I had nowhere near the tools then, that I have now, to navigate such episodes.  It was hard to believe that they really and truly had no basis in the external world.  And, in general, I did not navigate them well.  I normally did find some external — pretext — to obsess on and grieve until the episode ended, but by that obsession, extending the episode indefinitely and often causing myself physical pain.  The obsession of choice was racism.

So now, I said, I’m going through this again, only this time I’ve learned my lessons and am handling the thing rather well.

Having done the pharmacy trip, I sat on the ground, cross-legged, across the street from Dunkin’ Donuts, right by the courthouse.  I sat under a certain window, that has bars on it; drinking my iced coffee and using my tablet.  The time 14:00 rolled around; time for me to go to Our Daily Bread and check my mail.  The walk there is about a mile.

New things available to be afraid of:  In the extreme heat, would I “fall out” on the way?  Would my mind wander so as to let the depression take over?  Would I — often enough, when I stand up, especially from sitting on the ground, I feel faint and it may take me as long as a whole minute to recover.  Would that happen?

I got myself in motion to get up; I grabbed hold of the bars, which if need be I’d hold onto until any feeling of faintness resolved; and I said, “I’ll deal with whatever happens.”

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