The image is of the Narcissus, who, legend tells us, fell in love with his own reflection. What has this to do with this blog? I set up this blog to write psychoanalytically about things that interested me. Over time I have covered quite a range from Jimmy Saville to ISIS. Then in February this year I needed major heart surgery and my gaze shifted inwards. I wrote a few pieces about my struggle to make any sense of my illness but have not written much since. I enjoy writing and am left with left with a problem. Since my focus is still predominantly inwards, do I cease writing? Or can I say something about the experience of illness and recovery from a psychoanalytic perspective-without becoming narcissistic? I don’t have an answer yet but I’m going to write about me and see where that takes me.
One of the problems with an illness that comes out of nowhere is that there is no preparation time. One minute one is living one’s life quite happily. Suddenly one learns that all is not as it seems. That minor ache turns out to be a symptom of something very serious that has the potential to kill you. Suddenly the clock has struck thirteen and all that went before is questioned. not to mention all that might happen tomorrow. If thirteen can be struck once, then all the rules change. To use my favourite mis-quote from Gatsby “The rock of the world rests firmly on a butterfly’s wing.”
This, of course, is not unique to illness.On a personal level Rape, assault, burglary all challenge our sense of an inviolate self. On a national level, war must do much the same. Our boundaries are nowhere near as reliable as we had thought. The challenge is to find a way to live with the consequences of this boundary violation without losing all sense of self. (I remember when I left hospital commenting that I felt as though I had spent 10 days behind enemy lines, living undercover. By which I think that I meant I had to work very hard to keep my identity secure in a place where there were very few familiar landmarks.)
Freud suggested the idea of Signal anxiety and Primary anxiety. .The function the former being “… an alerting mechanism which forewarns the ego of an impending threat to its equilibrium. Primary anxiety being the emotion which accompanies the dissolution of the ego.” The writer goes on to observe that Primary anxiety may be seen as an inwardly directed form of vigilance. (A Critical dictionary of Psychoanalysis 1968)
Which seems to take us back to mine-and others- experience of anxiety being helpful at some level. Albeit wearing and exhausting at times…