When I “lost” my mind I also lost the ability to easily form images and ideas in my mind. “Easily”? It’s never been that easy… but losing my mind meant losing the juice, losing some vital energy, losing, in some sense, the core of my being. Sounds a little pompous, I know. I can’t help it. I am writing now as a passably sane human about a time when, oh, shit! I felt something less than human. At one point my wife called me a zombie, and she was right. I knew it at the time and it didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right. Another time she called me a “ghost in a white bathrobe,” and again she was right. It didn’t take an act of imagination to know she was right because that’s exactly what I felt. And it’s hard to hide things from her. But she stuck by me at a time when someone else might have said, “You need to be committed.”
I read aloud to her what I’ve just written and she says, “That’s extreme, honey. I knew you’d get past it [i.e., the loss of my imagination] and I’d never have committed you. There’s loss as in ‘lost and found’ and there’s ‘irretrievably lost.’ That’s called death,” she says.
Anyway, do you commit someone to an institution for losing their imagination? Reason enough if the person’s a writer and the imagination shuts down and the person—even in his own mind—realizes he’s, well, “in trouble.” I’m making light of it, feeling detached enough to gingerly make a joke. Four years. Another life time.
“What was it like?” she asks. She trusts I’ll come up with a description, nothing fancy, just some crude approximation. We seldom talk about “the time,” “the setback,” the “you know…” And when we do we avoid the word “depression,” preferring “melancholia,” which, for me, calls up Robert Burton’s work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621 (Full title The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up). The work through five revised and expanded editions.
Sorry. I’m an ex-English teacher, now retired, and sometimes lapse into lecture mode. Anyway, what was it like: Imagine your color TV going black and white and, then, taking a turn for the worse, everything appearing fuzzy and unreal. It’s not so much that television is a wasteland, but you yourself are an extension, a hollowed out counterpart of the very horror that you are watching. You’re there, but you’re not in the picture, you’re not in your right mind, you’re not in your life. You’re a zombie staring blankly blank blank at the wasteland that is TV. Truly, a stranger in a strange land.
Soul retrieval becomes [in addition] the retrieval of the imagination. Retrieve one and you retrieve the other. And, the inability to sleep tied in with the inability to dream which tied in with the inability to imagine… well, there were exaggerations and misunderstandings, as in the inability to register clearly the “back story,” say, or people’s intentions in saying what they said. But that’s very different from what we mean by the word “imagination,” especially when the word is applied to a literary work, a poem, a story, a novel… a work of imagination. I frightened myself.