Douglas Clark: confessional poem

Fifty years ago the future looked like a nightmare.
Fifty years later looking back it has been a nightmare.
I have avoided life
By playing the brilliant dreamer,
As my beloved Susan posited,
As my poet friend William spotted.
I am not a poet.
I am a schizotype,
Who delves into schizophrenia and bipolarity.
It is not for love of language that I write
But to protect my fragile ego from insanity,
By bearing witness to my life.
My emotions are like a girl having sex who doesn't achieve orgasm.
Sensitivity is there but also a barrier to normal human feeling.
Nobody is evil but some are twisted.
Poison.
I do not understand why some people like me.
Unnatural.
I am at home with cats.
I bury them in my back garden when they die.
And look for a new kitten.
I know death. I have been there.
But it would really have been better never to have existed.
The last fifty years have been a little difficult.
And before that it was worse.
The future frightens me.

        12 July 2004


Notes etc

1.

I was in the hands of the psychiatrists for nearly forty years on and off and they did absolutely nothing for me except find me the drug that has stabilised me for the last twenty years. For that I am very grateful and feel lucky.

Recently I have been doing a bit of research and realise that my problem has been due to environment interacting with genes. My memory isnt good enough to remember my environment far enough back to pin down exactly when things started to go wrong but it is as far back as I can remember. It definitely wasnt a good environment for me. My father having a nervous breakdown, when I was about two, which affected him for the rest of his life and my mother lacking the sensitivity to understand it. Months after this my sister was born and died, living only six days. And all my life I have been plagued by anxiety neurosis. Early stress seems to have affected my frontal lobes causing obsessive thinking and lack of memory for detail. I cant remember the words of songs or poems, although I can remember numbers. My poor memory means I dont have intellect. And being schizotype I suffer from emotional freezing.

I always fall in love with women whose eyes are lit up by stress. They are the same as me. I wonder if my mother's eyes were similarly lit up when I was a baby.

I think I realised very early on that I wouldnt have a normal life and I would have to be very careful about what I did in life to avoid problems. I recall reading Isherwood's 'A Single Man' in my teens, not knowing he was homosexual, and realising that this could be a path for me. I instinctively didnt expect to get married because I was aware that there was something very wrong with me. Falling in love shook this to my timbers but basically the girls didnt want to get involved, being naturally of somewhat similar makeup to me and aware of the problems. Women have a second gear when it comes to relationships.

My mother assured me that I would finish up in a sanatorium, and I did. She brought me up to believe I was a psychopath. When I was growing up she used to insinuate I was homosexual and a pervert and it wasnt until I was in my 20s that I realised I was normal. I should emphasise that in material terms my mother was brilliant, but intellectually and emotionally hopeless. Although far from stupid.

I now feel that given my problems I have steered my way through life as well as I could although when you have schizophrenia you can never expect to be employed or be married. I knew early on how essential it was for me to get a good degree so I could head for a 'safe' job where I would be looked after. And that is what happened. You see, when I am under stress, as for exams, my IQ goes up 20-30 points giving me ability I dont normally have.

Regarding Group Therapy I was in Henry Walton's Professorial Unit in Edinburgh in 1968 where they were experimenting with it, it being new. I was a guinea pig. The interesting thing there is that I was diagnosed as neurotic, not psychotic.

My only minor worry nowadays is that my bipolarity seems to be increasing so I might have to add another drug to my repertoire. But antidepressives are a very minor thing nowadays. And also my blood pressure continues to creep up to remind me of my polycythaemia and frighten me with the thought of a stroke. My polycythaemia was probably induced by stress, as it is normally a blood disorder of old age.

2.

I should have added that schizophrenics tend to blame their mothers for giving them a bad environment and the legend of the refrigerator mother has arisen. But nowadays it is thought that genetic factors may be more important. Environment, meaning stress, triggers off the underlying genetic factors. Forty years ago Fiona explained to me that our individual troubles were due to the nursing we experienced as babies from our mothers.

The schizophrenic person is normally extremely sensitive but their emotions are dampened down and they dont feel as normal people, giving the impression of coldness. It takes a lot to wake them up.

The current thinking is that neurosis is caused by stress reactions with the mother in babyhood, whereas psychosis comes from genetic factors. Regarding love, attractors in implicit memory derived from neural networks lay the basis of life from infancy. The mirror neurons that generate empathy probably trigger off attractors in the neural networks. Whether attractors can be modified in later life is a questionable point. Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy would imply they can. Perhaps nature via nurture defines attractors. I suspect that CT only works for neurosis and not for psychosis. But whether these are separate entities is becoming dubious.

Neurogenesis research, on the hippocampus which is the home of autobiographical memory and on the amygdala which is the home of emotional memory, shows that fresh neurons may appear in the brain in adulthood. Exposure to stress-causing cortisol inhibits neurogenesis in later life. It also inhibits growth and development. If fresh neurons are not appearing in the brain this makes me wonder whether stress in infancy promotes obsessional thought as an adult. But the key question is as to whether neurogenesis can alter the Hebbian attractors in the amygdala. Synaptic plasticity must also be taken into accout.

Jung's archetypes can be explained as attractors embedded in the DNA. Donald Hebb was a Canadian psychologist.

3.

A poem develops as an obsession running through the head which turns into words. It most likely comes from bipolarity where a touch of mania gets loose, mixed with the dreams of schizophrenia.

Critically my poetry has never been a success but it kept me occupied in life. Here are my reviews....

4.

Sunday 24th June 2007

I have been on a reading binge to stimulate my brain. On Wednesday I bought Matthew Stewart's 'The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World' and read it in tandem with my Antonio Damasio 'Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain'. Stewart brilliantly tells the stories of Spinoza and Leibniz and their contrasting philosophies demonstrating that it is Spinoza who foresaw and lives in the modern world whereas Leibniz fought to preserve man's situation before the Enlightenment when he possessed an immortal soul and Descartes had singularly seperated his mind from his animal-like body. Stewart sticks pins into Heidegger and the postmodern deconstructionists explaining that they are the medieval world's last defence against science. Damasio, presumably another Portuguese Jew, is an important neuroscientist who has been a fan of Spinoza all his life seeing his ideas as foreshadowing his own work. The key to Damasio's book is that gut feeling comes from emotions in the body producing feelings in the brain through neural networks (or maps in Damasio's terminology). This was the argument of his book 'Descartes Error'. He talked of a somatic marker which triggered off the feeling when stirred up enough by the emotion. The Spinoza book is partly about Spinoza and partly about his own work.

Spinoza's thought destroyed any vague idea in my mind that there could be such a thing as the transcendental which is the root of religion, which I dont believe in, and romantic love, which I do believe in. So I thought I would explore love.

I dug out 'A General Theory of Love' by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon and pondered its somewhat outdated science. Their argument, which seems valid. is that in early life, presumably infancy, emotions experienced lay down neural networks in the brain, presumably in the amygdala, which contain attractors which mirror neurons then recognise in later life causing coup de foudres. This ties in with Damasio's thinking although Damasio doesnt mention Donald Hebb's attractors. It is a neat theory eliminating the transcendental. The key is in the empathy invoked by mirror neurons which hadnt been discovered when the Love book was written. The authors also still believed in Paul MacLean's limbic system.

Thinking about the flaws in my own personal psychology this lead me on to Sue Gerhardt's 'Why love matters: how affection shapes a baby's brain' which explains how stress in infancy produces cortisol in the brain which can damage the amygdala and the hippocampus causing problems with emotional memory and implicit emotions, and autobiographical memory and explicit emotions respectively. This led me on to Joseph LeDoux's book 'The Emotional Brain' which explains the amygdala and the hippocampus from his own researches and debunks MacLean. I also looked at Antonio Damasio's book on consciousness 'The Feeling of What Happens: Body, emotion and the making of consciousness' which made me realise that my autobiographical memory in the hippocampus might have been damaged in infancy explaining why my memory of the past is so inadequate. I could never be a novelist.

What went wrong between my mother and me in infancy will always be a mystery but the theoretical background seems absolute. No wonder I have lived a peculiar life, like Spinoza but without his intellect.

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T.S.Eliot said in 'Burnt Norton' that 'human kind cannot bear very much reality' and George Steiner in 'Real Presences' said that we must live 'as if' [God exists].
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