In the 1970s the American comparative psychologist Harry Harlow created what he called “the well of despair.” At the time he was conducting psychological experiments on rhesus monkeys. He also fancied himself a bit of writer, hence the very poetic terms and expressions he employed. He was researching the nature of love. Mainly, it seems, by seeing what happens to a monkey when you deprive it of all contact.
The well of despair was essentially an isolation chamber, where monkeys were kept alone in darkness. Monkeys were placed in the well from birth with nothing but food and water. Adult monkeys raised in this way showed disturbing behaviour. They couldn’t interact with other monkeys. Harlow claimed that they had been raised in despair and carried this with them into the rest of their lives.
Sometimes, my chronic illness makes me feel like I’ve been forced into a well of despair. My illness does isolate me, but the real well is the one in my own head.
Throughout January I’ve been really struggling. Since my diagnosis I’ve not really come to terms with the reality of having a chronic illness, and at the crux of the new year I think it hit me all over again. It’s the long-term nature of the beast that I’m having problems getting my head around. Things got pretty dark in my mind, and I realised that I’d started avoiding everything. I was deliberately isolating myself. I knew that I needed to talk to someone so I sought out a therapist here in Barcelona. The weeks since have been filled with me trying to adjust my ideas about what my life will look like in the future.
Sometimes it feels like I’m making no progress with my health. But, that’s an unfair thought brought to me by the dark fairy. Thanks to things like taking up pilates my body is getting stronger. I can see the physical proof of this. I can improve my situation, and this gives me hope for the future. I won’t be cured, and I have new limitations, but things can get better.
I had a lot of pain in January, and I kept catching random throat infections from nowhere. This definitely had an impression on my mood. I grit my teeth and determined to just survive January and move on. Talking with a thereapits has really helped me to keep moving forwards, rather than wallowing in despair.
My chronic illness means that I often have to spend long periods at home. This is very isolating, especially because I left the majority of my friends behind when I moved to Spain. In London when I had to stay at home I had a variety of friends I could call on to pop round and keep me company. In Spain, I don’t really have anyone who fills this role. I know that I need to make new friends for my mental health and happiness. It does take extra effort though, that sometimes I don’t have. I’ve been trying to gently push myself though. The other week I signed up to a street art tour. It was a fantastic idea because I met some new people, and this really did perk me up. I need to do more things like this.
I’ve written this blog post as part of the February link-up on A Chronic Voice. Every month Sheryl posts prompts for bloggers to join in. This is my first time taking part.