The Encounter with True Silence
It has taught me a few things. By taking away my favorite pleasures--books, music, crisp sunny days--it has shown me the futility of trying to use anything as a crutch to prop yourself up with, and evade your depression. I did this with these things for years.
But nothing will work as that sort of crutch forever, and the rebound from the biochemical basis of your depression is devastating. I completely burned out on these favorite pleasures from trying to use them that way. Reading went first, then music, and now even my favorite weather has dropped away from me. The disorder chewed them up, spit them out, and left me only with the cuds.
It is so strange to read prose or listen to music with absolutely no emotional affect. Most of the time, there is even no affect reading my own prose. With music comes an utter indifference, except for mild to serious annoyance at the noise. The only thing left is my emotional response to content, when there is content: lyrics or issues to get involved with, exercised with, and concerned about.
Peculiarly, in the absence of emotional affect, I am writing better and easier than I ever have in my life. The words rattle in my head constantly, and it is a major relief to put them to paper or to direct blogging.
I engage content sparingly, for all my recent prolificness in writing. For I fear developing the same indifference to even this level of involvement. Another affect gone would not only leave my world flatter and grayer, it would also silence my voice when all who can speak in defense of the values I hold dear, are vitally needed against the dark ideological onslaught, manipulated by cynical and indifferent wealth and power hunger, which we face in this country.
When I was in New Mexico, I made frequent trips into the high desert backcountry. There I heard, for the first time in my life, true natural silence. No place in the eastern forests, farmland, and prairie is wholly silent. In the country there is always rustling, chirping, chittering, and the dopplering sound wash of passing automobiles.
There is even, if your ears are sensitive enough, and the background quiet enough, a constant, almost subthreshold hum of alternating current in any nearby wire. And some wire or other is always nearby.
In the high desert, you can finally be miles from the wires, the fauna are few and far between, and so are the autos. So, normally, you hear only the wind, and, when the wind lays, you can finally hear nothing. Natural silence. The only comparable experience I have ever had in the East was a heavy snowstorm on New Year's Day morning, with three-quarters of the town sleeping off their drunk, no one running appliances, and the snow pack and very low clouds deadening most of the background noise.
I crave that silence. It would probably move me emotionally again, and would certainly heal and relieve me. For with the regular return of the cloud of depression on my mind--even though shortened and dissipated by the meds--comes a chronic hyperacusis of hearing, making discrimination the content and meaning of live human voices nearly impossible in a room with a chattering television. The sentences alternate between the live voice and the electronic voice in my mind, turning the mixture into paragraph salad.
It also weighs me down with every random background noise: conversation several cubicles away, the copier or fax machine running, file drawers opening, or my co-workers chewing a snack.
The high desert is truly still there, though the West is filling up, and it is much harder to find that silence, or even to find only the sound of the wind. You must drive further and wait longer. But, if you can, go find it and listen. For even if I never hear it again in this life (and the odds are I will not), I can still feel pleasure, though who knows for how long, at the thought that somebody else might hear it.