<- return to "normalcy"
"Thanks but leave me alone for now" Some notes on pain and illness that help me trace my relationship over it the past few months. I've made this difficult to read. This is deliberate. pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain .. we should talk to .. pain pain pain ..... navigation bar set with the ... pain pain pain pain pain .. refactoring .... pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain, slightly lesser pain, (maybe this will alleviate over the next few minutes?) pain pain .. next meeting .. pain pain pain pain .. pain pain, (time to exit the meeting, maybe I should find a room to sit..) PAIN (..comfortably in) pain, (wait what did they discuss in the meeting agian?) pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain I cannot at the moment focuPAINs on a task that takes more than 5 minutes. pain pain pain pain pain pain pain pain ouch I shouldPAIN find pain pain a room pain pain pain pai.. Take a seat. Drink some water. Relax a little. At least until the next unexpected sharp twist in your gut catches you by surprise, even though it hasn't entirely left, only relinquished its hold on you a little knowing that like a greedy petulant child, it will return demanding a little bit more in a while and keep returning until by around 7 PM you succumb to its demands and find yourself far too tired and out of ideas to appease it. So you exhaustedly crash in bed and hope that it'll let you sleep uninterrupted this night at least. There's a special sort of cruelty in the gut punches you feel, both literal and figurative when you realize that you're waiting in the lobby for an endoscopy where a nurse denies you the procedure because there is nobody to take you home after it. So you pain pain pain pai..sit alone pain pain pain pai..in among everyone who has come with their support and scroll through the contact list in your phone hoping desperately to find someone who can take you home. Youpain pain pain pai.. scroll past parents who live across the planet and will decidedly either make themselves sick with worry or express apprehension about you returning home at the cost of quitting a coveted job - the american work visa maintaining its sancrosant position above all essentialist conceptions of familial relationships that might aid in recovery (if recovery is even a meaningful prospect here). You scroll past your friends who have each other for support and with whom you would drink with back in your country when it used to be a home. You scroll past pain pain pain pai.. people who have professed their love to you because you realize there is nothing they can do from a distance and that the only form of love you understand is one that is materialist, grounded in tangible acts of support, consideration and effect. You scroll past your friends in the city to which you've migrated because even though you've spent enough time with them, you're not really sure if you can expect them to do you this favor without feeling ashamed about causing them what they will surely consider an inconvenience. pain pain pain pai..You scroll past thatpain pain pain pai.. neighborhood person your father asked you to emulate as a role model - who tells you to sleep for 4 hours a day and not be unrealistic when it comes to harboring expectations from the world. You pain pain pain pai..then pain pain pain pai..call a coworker who is nice enough to do you this favor and who you have the luxury of not seeing most days of the week. And after the procedure your coworker drives you home because there are no buses or trains that allow you to get around reliably. You go homepain pain pain pai.., walk past the dishes you haven't found the time, energy pain pain pain pai..or patience to clean and pain pain pain pai.. you sleep hoping that you'll wake up the next day with enough strength to cook, eat breakfast and go to work and pretend you're fine enough to sit through 8 hours of an intense social activity which is the prerequisite that prevents healthcare leading you to a bankruptcy. As a 20-something immigrant pursuing his career aspirations in a first world country, what do ones rely on here? - Bureaucracy that makes it virtually, theoretically impossible to take take an extended medical leave without entirely uprooting one's career aspirations or undergoing a kafkaesque legal process even in the middle of catastrophe. - Doctors and medical institutions which can't reach a single useful diagnosis through the few minutes of consultations that lead to thousands of dollars in expenditure. - Family with its faustian relations of dependence and manipulation via property control? - a place cherished as home but which is ultimately a mode of exercising parental expectations through dependence created by property control. - The State that doesn't recognize healthcare as a fundamental human necessity and institutionally invalidates, deprives and humiliates the poor by making the question of "do the poor deserve to live" a perpetual question of national debate. - The free market; with its the extortionist mechanisms of insurance and its hand that never provided a solution for health concerns that don't seem profitable? - The city which has made no provisions for transportation that can aid someone disabled who has not yet purchased a car to reach home. - Work - where each relationship is fomented in the crucible of plastic professionalism to mediate an alienating, meaningless social activity. On the margin, and in the middle of pain does failure become absolutely clear. I could accuse the institutions around me for being rotting festering violent systems that severely punish vulnerability and non-normativity but this accusation will at most only be meaningful to one who has suffered at its hands and been broken by it. For someone lucky enough to have found themselves in a position of alignment and adaptive health the same institutions work wonderfully - responsive to what now seem like minimal needs even if they fail in painfully cruel ways for many. Their voices constantly silenced and made invisible by dull, ignorant dismissals that revolve on the periphery of every sphere in public life the center of which is occupied by the healthy well adjusted successful figure. On the periphery one learns how particularly demeaning it feels to ask one's own family for permission to come live with them during a time of severe crisis and the uncertainty of sustaining a job that pays for rent and food - this discover made while I sat at my desk hoping to churn out more than 20 lines of working code while desperately trying to interpret the new language my stomach seemed to have recently developed to speak after every meal to convey its harsh disapproval at my wanting to eat to live. Who do I voice this to? My therapist who will prescribe some self help bullshit that allows me to rationalize and condone the same institutions that seem to work exceedingly well for him because he happens to be a citizen and has sizeable inheritance that ensures the total lack of any material insecurity? Or a psychiatrist who will prescribe an SSRI that ensures my discontents are finally neutered into impotence? Or a friend, someone who claims to love who'll offer courteous pitiful empty linguistic cliches that do nothing but underscore the general awkwardness with which we culturally are incapable of responding to illnesses both physical and mental? In the crucible of an alienated, isolated condition described by the anxieties of cherished futures slipping further into impossibility, a condition described by the shame of not having perfect justifications for every failure that led up to it since that would require undertaking a project of social examination of biblical proportions, described by the terrors of loneliness and social impoverishment felt alone in a city equivalent to a giant shopping mall, described by the daily dissatisfactions and subsequent compromise with the few possibilities presented to you, I have learned that there exist absurd and empty intervals of time that pain has no choice but to expand and fill into. That no amount of conversation can hope to redeem this. In Los Angeles, I have found that I would rather laugh at these horrors alone on the street than speak a word to someone who professes the desire to help. Anyway, emotional problems be damned. They become somewhat (but not entire;y) irrelevant when some major material constraints need to be immediately confronted. I can partly trace my agonies in explicit detail and show how mu disappointments are not those of unrealistic expectations but concrete harm done by the institutions that I am related to. Harm done by a family that owns a permanent house and uses it along with their elderly parental authority to leverage expectations at a time of vulnerability. Harm done by a corporate workplace that does not allow for enough time for someone ill to recover and continue at a later date. Harm done by a bureauracy constructed to exploit cheap migrant labor which is subsequently dehumanized through constant demands to justify its existence in an alien country Harm done by a state that expects me to carry papers that determine the course of my lifeand can uproot my life if I ever encounter a period of distress that leads to unemployment. Harm done by a job that would rather pay 50 million dollars to an incompetent CEO than provide some financial concessions to their employees that work hard or might need it to deal with unusually difficult situations Harm done by emotionally manipulative relative that demand respect for their authority when they describe to me why reading too much is bad and travelling and making money in the USA are the highest aspirations I could hope for in life. Harm done by the lack of property that I can rely on to sustain myself without being dependent on people and systems I abhor. I'm relatively privileged. Despite my bitter indictments, I realize that I have not exhausted my savings yet, have not been fired yet, have not been entirely abandoned yet. Till now, only my dependence has deepened and my conditions made much harder than I had hoped they'd be by the arrival of a disease that illuminates certain realities that remain hidden when I contendedly and obliviously served my function to everyone around me. "Of course life is going to be hard - illness does that" Why? Illness is much more than a biological fact - especially considering that the vast majority of pains are exacerbated by (or even possibly caused by) stress, anxiety, depression which are decidedly largely social afflictions. That illness is brought about not by the will of an absurd god but how much one gets to sleep, what one gets to eat, the level of access to healthcare, and generally the forms of life one participates in. Illness, apart from its vicious offenses of biological pain is something that I now see also in its capacity to inhibit participation and function amid the people and systems around one. And illnesses are an exceedingly common aspect of humanity - something that almost everyone is afflicted by at some point or another - from the common cold to cancer. For something this significant and fundamental an aspect of human life, one would think that it would not be treated as a mode of exception but a mode of norm. That life, work, relations would be organized in a manner that allows for greater accomodation than it is now. So as much as I grant that physical pain is difficult to deal with, I see a significant amount of difficulties emerging not from the pain itself but its social consequences. I probably would not be typing out this bitter rant if I had found myself pleasantly surprised by the number of choices available to me when it comes to effectively dealing with my conditions. "I want to come home" The desperate desire for someone in pain caught amid the terrors of the soulless shopping mall that is LA with all its boring, vapid, self absorbed, hedonistic inhabitants incapable of expressing any form of empathy or sentiment with depth to a non-commodity, to a human. Where nobody talks, but everyone speaks, either the same old damned cliched lines about the pleasant weather or novel ways of expressing self aggrandizement or novel luxuries they consumed in the past month. What really is 'home' as a concept distinct from parental property dependence? What really is 'home' as a concept distinct from friendships built upon interests that were at one point common and recognition of shared cynicism and strengths that no longer exist and now cause alienation. What really is 'home' as a concept distinct from futile linguistic declamations of love to someone who is almost entirely materially removed from your life but desired you due to traits that you're no longer sure aren't bourgeois, bought or nonexistent. There is no home. Most relationships are farcical - fomented under conditions of unwanted dependence or recognition of admirable bourgeois traits in another. Those that speak highly of the ineffable enigmatic quality of touch, affection and love conceal behind such obfuscations the demented logic of a utilitarian economic order that necessarily arranges people in their capacity for realization as means to provide services and commodities. Everything I have been ever admired or liked for - which makes anyone want to associate with me I can identify as a bourgeois trait either purchased through the provisions of capital or cultivated by me in obliviousness to its ultimate derivation from injunctions issued by the ruling class. As someone in pain unable to (or not desiring to) demonstrate these traits anymore I have become progressively conscious of my growing inutility and irrelevance as a person among people. An invalid. But not quite. I still embody unchangeable traits that bestow marginal advantages that allow for constructing an independent existence albeit one which I can't see inevitably leading to clinical depression once more. What lies beyond and further than this periphery are those who remain largely invisible - more so than me - who perhaps can't find the time or resources to document their struggle on a vain blog that nobody will read. How does one in poverty deal with chronic pain, with cancer, with unaffordable doctors, with a future that promises with certainty only the fact that pain will not subside, with children to feed through daily wage work, with no family to rely on and debilitation bad enough to prevent earning enough to pay for a medical exam? I had considered such cases rare but perhaps that was more a function of the invisibility forced upon them that pushes them out of view into spectacular invalidity through a cultural and societal inability to acknowledge the horror of such circumstances. Can this horror be comprehended? No. Sontag and Wittgenstein agree. There's to be a fundamentally unavoidable chasm recognized both in culture and language that prevents pain as an experience from being communicated effectively. So maybe the solution lies not in appealing to well adjusted for recognition, comprehension and empathy but in seizing the means by which one can assert one's self sufficiency and freedom - something that I instantly recognize as sounding hopelessly abstract the second I write it. How does one pushed towards social invalidity and public inutility through illness reclaim some stake in an unavoidably human project? What lies outside this if not absurd misery until oblivion and nothingness? What affection, if any, does it draw? With what ideological delusion can I situate myself between those I desire in these circumstances? Since I was a child, I've harbored the secret suspicion that each passing year will only bring further subjugation to a crushing and fixed order of life and pain borne from the hopelessly fixed regularity of an existence in which all desire is renounced and all that remains is to lie to those who are loved about a secret suffering. If anything I will credit to myself as a child perhaps it would be the keen sense of intuition about the governing logic of my life as one that would drive it towards an adulthood that would become progressively more difficult to manage and would inevitably lead to destruction. That has been the basis of an undercurrent of anxiety regarding failure that has persisted since as far as I can remember. As a teenager, when confronted with the first important decision I had to make in life, I became conscious of myself as a person responsible for my own life and consequently also as the possible progenitor of my eventualy collapse. College brought temporary respite = under the patronage of my family which afforded the luxury of time in a university where I could focus just on studying - something that took not much effort but had clearly discernibly rewards. However I carried my suspicion of how it the hidden trajectory that I figured would reveal itself towards the end of college. And it did. Since several years now I have seen the wanton destruction of most of my aspirations-- first academic hopes to which I clung as the unassailable boat I would use to ride through the storms that brought most people to their ruin and then later more personal comforts which I secretly held close to me, undisclosed lest they be met with the same unfortunate forces I hoped to protect them from. A feeling of unpreparedness made itself manifest in virtually every aspect of my adulthood although it never assuaged my fears of what was to come, and what came was worse than what I had imagined. First seeing every cultivated and carefully constructed part of my psychological personhood -- hopes, desires, passions, interests, comforts, ideological crutches -- torn to shreds during a protracted period of despair which left me in a state of infancy so acute that I began from a state of having to relearn habits as simple as brushing my teeth, eating adequately and speaking to anyone from a place that wasn't just that of the most soul crushing sadness about being an object of bottomless hatred, unforgivable shame and weakness. In the crucible of a horrifyingly lonely hell began to foment a person who lived with the simple principle that perhaps nothing, absolutely nothing in life could possibly be as important as escaping this hell. I began to take less seriously every project organized around me with the sole exception of finding an order in which I could simply put, get by. Maybe that would become possible by abdicating responsibility and all the recriminations they led to. It would become possible by creating a sweetness that I would direct at myself, seizing from around me in the middle of an alienating and lonely city everything that I could use to teach myself how to love. I would teach myself to take pleasure in walks, a cool breeze, a pretty sky. their overwhelming irrelevance in the middle of a collapsing life would have to be ignored. If I saw an unremarkable flower growing from between the cracks of a pavement next to a grey concrete parking lot, I would take out time to stoop down and look at it tracing its contours and colors until something else would force a departure. on a sunny saturday afternoon, i would sit in my balcony and blankly admire how the singular eucalyptus tree visible from it would sway ever so slightly and on days of exceptional luck I would catch sight of a bird that would present itself near it. Slowly and carefully I would allow into my life hopes that could not disappoint and joys that could not hurt. However this period of reconstruction would be shortlived. I would eventually meet pains, either by accident or by systematic design, that now seem to describe the shape that a renewed and more relentless form of continuous devastation will take. The governing logic of this continuous devastation that I had foreseen as a child will not manifest as a singular catastrophe to be borne and then subsequently forgotten but will instead present itself as the daily humiliations of invalidity, defeat and desires that can't be given up and will at the same time remain perpetually unfulfilled. It will present itself in the continuous promise of possibilities that animate and their subsequent foreclosure. The collateral has already included a sense of childish tender sweetness I had hoped to retain for myself and those close to me. A bitter sense of resentment, pessimism and cynicism inform my language now and I intend to cling to these if not out of practical use but out of indignant accusation directed at a world that meets my skin with the intention of harming it. The inability to cling to such childishness I already lament and I suspect will also be responsible for the same dead eyed look I've spotted in adults growing up which had me convinced that the only way to confront the humiliations of everyday life was to either withdraw in silence or lie about everything. Another casualty as I've observed is the sense of humor that one inevitably develops in response to misery. That in the depths of one's life one occasionally finds laughter as an appropriate response to the joke that becomes the absurd negation of every expectation of normalcy, one sees in sharp focus the similarity of structure in a cruel irony with the setup of a punchline. I had fashioned this into a self deprecatory sense of humor which I would subsequently employ to reveal to those close to me some of my defeats while bartering their proximity with making them laugh. This I can no longer bring myself to practice without suspecting the most callous betrayal of my deepest feelings about a horror felt at being the only one to see a trajectory of devastation yet to fully unfold. I do not know yet if it will allow me to simply get by as I had hoped. I would find myself extraordinarily lucky if it would be possible for me to find an equilibrium that isn't threatened by collapse by a perpetual and absurd battle against a growing tide of unmanageable pain. If I can work enough to pay for a roof under which I can cook food that won't hurt me and read books that won't describe aspirations the loss of which is too painful to bear I would consider myself having achieved an extraordinary victory. As for those inextricably embedded in my life, I would hope for them to not come too close. It is traumatic and hurtful to look at anything that is a reminder of lives that were hoped to be lived and in the pursuit of which one encountered mostly alienation, rejection and then subsequently mental and physical pain. I would like to expect nothing. I would simply like to avoid the governing logic of this life from gathering more material with which to craft conditions that can bring more pain, more loss. It is already too overwhelming. No more. As for now, there exist a few who help. Who have listened to me in vain. I am grateful for this. And yet, I have no faith anymore. I see their participation in my life as the emergent property of an imperfectly exercised ideology that hasn't resolved its own contradictions yet. I have no faith in the future, in the forms of relationships that can emerge between me and those I hold dear amid the systems in which we're embedded. I harbor no hope for love to be sought through barter. The vast juggernaut of human activity reveals itself to me right now as strictly utilitarian, directed towards bourgeois ends, finally dispelling dangerous illusions over its childlike remarkability once and for all. I hope not to find myself entirely without use since that would lead to a form of dependence and subjugation I consider worse than any other. But I hope to not find myself within the logic of modern use either. I expect to be able to read enough before reading is eliminated from my life as an unaffordable luxury. Wittgenstein, Benjamin and Berger will offer their illuminations as my own aspirations, desire and projects teeter out into the insignificant darkness of isolation- unseen, unheard, unimportant, unsuccessful, un-everything.
this is pulkit manocha in december 2019