“People thought ‘Blood and the Tracks’ was about me but I don’t write confessional songs” Bob Dylan
In my previous blog-post I briefly discussed Robert M Young’s advice that interrogating the fringes of my memories, distressing experiences, and my dreams may be a better way of understanding Klein’s views on unconscious Phantasies than simply reading her texts. Young put it as follows:
“I offer these reports, somewhat shyly, as a way of inviting you to make similar searches of your memories to glimpse the tips of the icebergs of your own phantasies and psychotic anxieties. They are my version of what Klein calls ‘a cave of dangerous monsters’. My general point is that if you ask the question, ‘What is a psychotic anxiety when it’s at home and not in the pages of an implausible and nearly unfathomable text by Melanie Klein?’, you’ll be less sceptical if you interrogate the fringes of your own memories and distressing experiences and, of course your dreams” (Phantasy and Psychotic Anxieties’ Robert M Young p.71)
In this blog-post I will outline some of my own experiences and anxieties order to see if this can bring me closer to understanding Klein’s texts.
While doing my PhD I also worked full time in a hospital for people with intellectual disabilities, and for a while was also working as a tutor for first year and second year college students. This stressful work load led to me suffering from what eventually got diagnosed as a generalised anxiety disorder. Looking back the anxiety has been a part of me since childhood but it simply became exacerbated later in life through the excessive work load. So before discussing the later anxieties I will try to briefly discuss some general anxieties I had throughout the years.
Firstly I will describe a childhood event which wasn’t particularly frightening and as far as I can remember didn’t lead to any particular anxieties but it was the first time I remember my picture of reality being shattered. As a child I woke up and went down stairs to see my parents however when I walked into the kitchen I was greeted by silence there was nobody there and the room was in darkness. I remember the shock I felt. Up until then I had assumed that when I went to bed life went on around me as normal. It was at that moment I realised that other people had a bed time too and that at night the day time family world no longer went on as I had imagined.
It is hard to date the early memory but I must have been extremely young if I didn’t realise that other people slept. This is possibly my earliest memory. It leads me to later anxieties about sleeping I used to have when I was a child. Lying in bed at night I used to worry about the fact when I would sleep I would in effect not cease to exist. I would lie there in blackness only to be aroused if I had a nightmare or a dream. It used to puzzle me and worry me that I would disappear for the night and have no control till awaking. Despite these fears I was still a good sleeper.
I remember in my late teens reading Jung for the first time and discovering his view that dreams had significance and could be interpreted. His work and some research on Lucid Dreaming made me fascinated with the dreaming process I looked forward to sleeping and dreaming as even nightmares had potential significance. The process of sleeping no longer involved the disappearance of the self but a vehicle of discovery. I no longer accept most of Jung’s claims but he is probably the reason I ended up studying philosophy.
A particular anxiety provoking dream I had was again in my very early twenties. Where I went into a barn to see my mother, and a black blob appeared and slowly started moving around and everything it touched was engulfed in the blackness. Eventually the blackness engulfed everybody, my mother and even me. I woke up feeling dreadful the dream at the time seemed to represent a kind of dread of death which inevitably engulfs and destroys all life.
A later dream I recall was again in my mid-twenties. The dream was of a thousands of planes flying over me and crosses I at first I thought I should marvel at the aesthetic beauty of it all then I realised they were going to kill us all. At the time I again put the dream down to anxiety about death and a belief that being immersed in art and science is only a distraction until the inevitable end comes.
All of these dreams and anxieties were very brief moments in another wise happy life. They show some real anxieties on behalf of a particular child and young adult occurring at various times throughout his life. I now want to move from general anxieties about death, nothingness etc to more particular anxieties which occurred in my twenties.
I associate a lot of these anxieties with being in college. I remember walking out of a class on Richard Rorty and thinking about the fact that (1) My current beliefs are caused because of the current state of my brain. (2) I only believe that my current beliefs are caused because of my current brain states because of the current state of my brain. (3) Therefore I am not justified in arguing that my current beliefs are caused by my current brain states. (4) If I am not justified in believing what I believe how can I justify my belief that my beliefs are caused by my brain states. And so on in an infinite circle. This little problem; is a pretty simple problem, actually it isn’t really a problem at all. However the thought kept repeating in my mind in a loop and I could see no way of solving it and began to feel extremely anxious and my mind raced. Why my mind was put in a spin by such a trivial thought I cannot say. But possible reasons were mountains of coffee drank that day, and being over worked and over tired. However the anxious state of mind stays in my mind because it seemed to occur in response to a trivial thought.
This leads me on to real irrational fears. I went through weeks worrying about nuclear holocaust. This worry was an irrational fear. There was no reason to think that any nuclear attack would happen. I had thoughts about terrorist attacks on nuclear targets in Britain and the slow dying of radiation poisoning that would result for me and people in Ireland as a result of any such attack. My fears were not really based on any knowledge of nuclear power or of the likelihood of an attack. They seemed almost internally driven and went away after a couple of weeks as my mind focused on other things.
The first physical symptom of my anxiety was tightness in my chest which I worried may be a heart condition. I worried about this for days and felt more and more certain something was wrong with my heart. I eventually booked an appointment with a doctor did a variety of different tests including an EEG and determined that my symptoms were down to stress. They disappeared not long after the test.
But a full on anxiety problem developed not long after that which resulted from feeling tingling in my arms which immediately put me in mind of disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Motor Neuron Disease. The onset of symptoms was around April 2007 so it began over eight years ago when I had just turned 30. This led to a long period of severe anxiety and worry which lasted for a long time. Neurological disorders are difficult to diagnose and hence one cannot simply have one’s mind put to ease by attending a GP. My GP argued that my symptoms were not an indication of any neurological disorder. I started to feel severe pains in my muscles and some twitching in my muscles. I began recording every incident of a pain, a twinge or a muscle twitch. I went back to my GP who did a series of motor tests, and blood tests which he said convinced him that there was nothing wrong with me. I however insisted on further tests and I had a CAT scan done, and a MRI scan done both of which came back clear. I knew that in the early stages of MMD and Parkinson’s (less so in MS) people can have normal scans and still have the disorders. So I attended two separate neurologists who after a few motor tests and reading my symptoms which I recorded in great detail they argued that as far as they were concerned there was nothing wrong with me in terms of neurological worries though both they and my GP believed that my worries were psychological in nature.
So after a year of nightmarish anxieties and obsessional checking symptoms, not sleeping well, worrying about death, and disability I decided to go into therapy and to follow my doctors advice and begin a course of the anxiety controlling medicine Lexaphro. After a while in therapy and being on Lexaphro my symptoms began to fade and I got back to a normal life. Looking back I don’t think my concerns were entirely irrational; neurological difficulties often take months if not years to diagnose, they are often misdiagnosed as stress, or some form of psychosomatic order by GP’s. So I wasn’t entirely wrong not to trust their diagnosis I did after feel terrible at the time. Nonetheless on the other side of the coin I was aware about baseless worries about nuclear bombs and heart problems so I had ample reason not to trust my judgement as a diagnostician of my own disorder and to instead trust the trained professionals. Whatever the case it has been over 8 years since my symptoms started and they have disappeared pretty quickly since I underwent analysis and went on medications.
Now after writing this brief history of my experiences with anxiety and my dreams In my next blog I will now try and relate it to Young’s advice that thinking about our own dreams and anxieties can help us understand Klein’s beliefs about unconscious phantasies. The first thing to note is that all of my anxieties and dreams were conscious hence my ability to articulate them. So one wonders what my dreams and anxieties really prove about Klein’s views on unconscious Phantasies? I think to really measure or discuss this in any detail it is important to segregate the different aspects of my anxieties which I have chosen to talk about. I will divide these into three different sections (1) Early childhood worries around night time and falling asleep. (2) Worries and dreams about death. (3) The anxiety disorder and treatment. In each case I will interpret and try to understand my experiences in light of Klein’s notion of unconscious Phantasy. In my next blog-post I will consider multiple interpretations of my symptoms from Freudian, Jungian, Lacanian and Kleinian perspectives to show how my own experiences while interesting don’t really demonstrate the truth or falsity of any psychoanalytic theory.