Hélène Cixous writes of “stigmatexts”: “texts collected and stitched together sewn and resewn” in order to “share the trace of a wound.” They are texts made to mark and suture, and in this way, stigmatexts are common.
All of literature, all of language, is “scarry” in this way, she adds. Literature “celebrates the wound and repeats the lesion.” Every scar “adds something: a visible or invisible fibrous tissue that really or allegorically replaces a loss of substance which is therefore not lost but added to, augmentation of memory by a small mnesic growth.”
But writing itself is contradictory in this way — though it produces scars, sutures, lesions, to write is nonetheless to engage with stigmata: open wounds like those of Christ, which might still be probed and entered into anew. To write is to share one’s stigma. Unlike texts that are closed, finished, the continuing act of writing remakes each wound again and again.
Stigma stings, pierces, makes holes, separates with pinched marks and in the same movement distinguishes — re-marks — inscribes, writes.
Stigma wounds and spurs, stimulates.
Stigmata ooze, excrete, bleed. They are open wounds that wound continuously. If the “scar adds, the stigma digs, excavates.” We might think of it, as Cixous does, as the holding open of a trauma, perhaps even a refusal to heal, or maybe a way of thinking about a wound that cannot clot, that requires constant care and attention; a wound that must be dressed, addressed and redressed.
“I want stigmata,” Cixous declares:
I do not want the stigmata to disappear. I am attached to my engravings, to the stings in my flesh and my mental parchment. I do not fear that trauma and stigma will form an alliance: the literature in me wants to maintain and reanimate traces.
Traumatism as an opening to the future wound is the promise of a text.
The more I have thought about my own wounds, the more I have wanted to turn them into books, into literature, into a narrative that is external to me, to be shared and witnessed by others. I have of course already done this — I have arguably only ever done this — but each book project I undertake seems to dig a little further, excavate more of the trauma at the root of all (my) writing…
I haven’t written anything of substance on the blog since August. I wrote a bit about having insomnia back then, as well as piecing together some ramble about poetry I was reading. These fragmented texts were scars of their own. Unfinished, punctured, but a way of holding myself together. It is strange to read these posts back now, a few months later. They are the products of a kind of mental state I no longer have any contact with. And yet, though I was very much still unwell at that time, I think I was in a better place then than I am now…
The fragment above was drafted as an introduction to a third book, sine transformed into a PhD project, that will attempt to think adoption trauma philosophically, through its cultural ubiquity, but nonetheless as a veiled attempt at self-reflection and meditation. I abandoned it in favour of a chance (and a desire) to heal, to make the stigmata disappear. It was the last thing I wrote; the last response to a text read in my dwindling fever.
For those who missed the unravelling: a few months ago I found myself having an acute and worsening mental health crisis, bookended by two unsuccessful suicide attempts. The second attempt, more serious than the first, and as regrettable as it was, nonetheless led me to be taken seriously by my local mental health services (at least for a time) as well as allowing me to access a substantial psychological assessment and medication review by a psychiatrist (rather than a useless GP).
It is a sorry state of affairs that this is how poor mental health is dealt with in this country. The care needed only seems to appear at the 11th hour, only when you are a clear risk to yourself or others, and only if you manage to fight for it against all other impulses.
I managed it, with the heroic help of some friends — it nonetheless took three months and escalating threats to my own life — and after that emergency assessment, I ended up on an interesting cocktail of drugs for a few weeks, which at first worked wonders, but which were eventually whittled down to just one pill a day: 100mg Sertraline — the now standard offering for staving off depression.
But unfortunately, staving off depression (or its primary symptom at least: low mood) is all this medication has done for me lately. I am still not allowed to hold more than a week’s worth of medication at a time, as if pigeonholed as an overdose risk. I am on a waiting list for some kind of trauma-focused therapy, most likely EMDR. But in the meantime, I fester. I’m left thinking low mood is the least of my problems.
After three months of general insanity, mostly spewed out on the blog, I have had three or four months of “recovery” that I am now coming to understand as a terrifying stasis. Almost immediately, on being discharged from the care of the crisis team, I felt that a manic period of productivity was bound to come to an end. I held onto some hope, however, that with the end of the diary, I would walk into a new period of stability and increasing wellness. Now, looking back on July from the long nights of November, and with nothing changing, I’m left with a familiar sense of desperation returning. I don’t know who or where to turn to. It is all too predictable that such a feeling leads me back to the blog.
It is strange that this lack of any real change, somewhat paradoxically, feels like a deterioration. In the empty time of recent months, I have felt the mind returning disastrously to what it knows, what haunts it, as I start to act out old traumas. I catch myself doing it only tonight, and only when it is too late. Relationships are floundering as I just try and hold my shit together, struggling with the creeping suspicious that my mind is atrophying, isolating myself. All I do at the moment is sleep.
It’s interesting to feel besieged by this narcoleptic drag, when I’ve previously struggled to sleep much at all. A few months ago, I was given all manner of sedatives to help with this, as sleep was identified as being so important to my recovery. But am I still recovering? Sleep seems to solve nothing. Intrusive thoughts experienced whilst awake give way to nightmares when asleep. The sense of continuity, of stigmata probed without unconscious suturing, exhausts me. At this point, how am I supposed to take each hollow night as a time of healing? It feels more like an unchanging state of agitation. It feels like PTSD.
I feel increasingly paranoid and ill at ease in my own home, where I compartmentalise parts of my being. I don’t leave my room. I don’t cook in the kitchen or use my own bathroom. I only feel safe in my room. I go out when I can, but accomplish little. I fall back into habits picked up when I last lived at home, in 2014, regularly abused by my mum. I either stay in bed or wander the city alone, wearing a smile if I come across friends, but generally feeling hollow or drunk.
If ever there was a viable case study for the repetition compulsion, I am it right now. It feels good to realise it, if only the social damage hadn’t already been done.
A few weeks ago, I told my friends I wasn’t feeling myself. I scared a few people, but all I meant to do was send up a flare. The ripples of communal stress beat me backwards and I retreated into my room. I attempted to go out anyway, and managed to socialise some. They seemed relieved, some annoyed, as if I caused worry for nothing. A friend tries to make me laugh when we bump into each other at the pub. Concerned, they asked another friend, who had seen me more recently, how I appeared: it was suggested that I was “a bit flat, but not insane” this time round, as if confirmation were needed of just how unhinged I was acting a few months ago.
But in appearing somewhat fucntional, somewhat able to leave the house, I feel I do myself a disservice in keeping up appearances. Of course, I don’t want another descent into madness. Still, friends complain about my absence in one way or another, or my poor communication of late. I am asleep most of the day, I tell them, and I’ve yet to find anyone to help me do anything about it. As far as mental health problems go, it feels utterly mundane; an inconvenience rather than something to worry about. But I am worried. It feels like dangling on the edge of something far more serious — and I’ve been dangling for months now. In fact, if I have at all recovered from the mental collapse that has defined much of this year, I have not yet been given the opportunity to regain a firm grip on reality. What purchase I have is at my finger tips. If my unwellness was defined by a sort of frantic scrambling, now all my energy is expended on just retaining a weak grip.
I just wish I could write (he says, writing…) I just wish I could go on the kind of a readerly journey I was engaged in every day at the height of my unwellness. Though the product of a certain mania, no doubt, it kept me going. I made me feel like I had purpose, and it kept me distracted from everything else going on around me.
Now I feel unable to write; or rather, unable to think. Nothing comes as easily as it once did. This isn’t a cry from a wounded ego, but an unfortunate writer’s blockage. (Another mundane problem, perhaps.) But it’s not just applicable to the writing life, but life in general. Life feels blocked, clogged, fogged. If I try and write down my experiences, I end up writing the same thing over and over. Every text begun is draowned in self-concern. Nothing changes from week to week. Every time I turn to a blank page, all I want to write is some sort of status update, just describing how I feel right now. But it’s ultimately insignificant, a low-level discomfort, and always exactly the same. It feels pathetic.
And hey, at least I’m not suicidal…
My current situation is, for the most part, just boring. But it also feels like some kind of sick joke. Some cruel dystopian torture from a cyberpunk future of chemical dependency. I take my happy pill every day and go about my business as best I can, but I’m left feeling utterly numb.
The sertraline seems to working as intended, in that regard. My mood, for the most part, cannot bottom out. No matter how shit everything else is — and life keeps throwing curve balls my way — there is a kind of stopgap in place that stops me falling further than I might have previously been capable of. But the surreality of my current mental state is that it is only my low mood that feels treated.
It is, in this sense, a grotesquely partial treatment. Although I discovered, to my horror, that effective care was only really available to me in moments of abject risk and crisis, in treating a suicidal tendency alone, I am left with a nauseating discomfort in other areas.
To make questionable use a “physical health” analogy, it feels like I have broken my leg and been given morphine to treat the pain. But I have been left with my leg broken. The bone has not been reset. I simply pop a pain pill every day and then hobble numbly around on some useless limb that might not be causing me agony at the moment, but isn’t much fit for purpose either. The stigma is shrouded; not even I can probe it with any force or intent. It is less stigmata than a mundane abscess. It is hollow. Any attempt to excavate brings nothing new to the surface.
That’s how my brain feels. It feels numbed but it is still not working correctly. And the daily awareness of this fact is only dragging me back to a precipice, albeit one that feels disastrously unproductive. There is no forward momentum, only a slow retreat. I’ve been left in an excruciating limbo, in which I am existing on waiting lists but incapable of really living. I feel like giving up on my medication altogether, so that I might at least be able to say, think or feel something else.
Just when my low mood was feeling treated, I’m left with a quiet fury and impatience, and a constant questioning of whether this life I’ve been left with is worth all that much to me.
I want to write again. Writing was preferable to this: to the months of silence. But at what cost? What use is this “health” that feels like another kind of death? How to live again and break the cycle, without breaking everything else along with it?
Better a stigmatext than a statictext. But the stigma is shrouded; not even I can probe it with any force or intent. It is less a stigmata than a mundane abscess. It is hollow. Any attempt to excavate brings nothing new to the surface. Sometimes hell is better than purgatory.