Tag: depression

Aokigahara (Suicide Forest), the Tumor of a Cancer-Stricken World

Header image from: http://lookingforalosea.blogspot.com/2010/11/aokigahara-forest-suicide-forest-japan.html


The forest called Aokigahara feels almost too dark to be real, like a suspended bubble of fiction that our brains try to refuse a place with truth and light.

Just like any other forest, Aokigahara feels the breeze rustle through its leaves, and it whispers to the passersby. The shadows that loom over the earth are cold and protected, and the earth is moist, the soil alive and thriving with decay and rebirth. The forest is not a made up nightmare, suicide forest is as real as any other forest on Earth, but it is tainted with the stain of death and horror.

The forest lays at the feet of the wondrous Mt. Fuji, one of the most beautiful and iconic mountains in the world. This mountain is like the flag on the Earth’s surface that declares its ownership, its stewardship of the land. Aokigahara is, indisputably a distillation of beauty so intense that one’s mind boggles at the hint of despair that is now running as deep as the forest roots through the land.

Masahiko Kitahara and Maki Watanabe studied the forest and surrounding lands, putting a lens to the life that thrives in the area. In their study, they were able to identify the edge of Aokigahara as an ecological “hotspot” for butterfly diversity. The surrounding edge of the forest thrived with rare and threatened species, likely because they were searching for a spot to avoid dangerous environmental change (Diversity and rarity hotspots and conservation of butterfly communities in and around the Aokigahara woodland of Mount Fuji, central Japan).

I know the writers of the study would be horrified at my conclusions of this study, but I do find poignant poetic indications about the endangered butterflies thriving at the edge of this place, a beautiful herald surrounding the locus of death, a place they dare not enter.

Imagine the man who sets out for the forest, determined to end his life. He has lost his job, his honor, and his family, and he finds that the world doesn’t need him, just another blight of disease on the Earth. So, he begins his journey into the heart of the forest. The forests edge is decorated with signs from the police:

Meditate on your parents, siblings, and children once more. Do not be troubled alone.

Another reads

Your life is something precious that was given to you by your parents.

If the walker ignores these pleas that he reconsider, he will find several more opportunities inside the forest to change his mind. The paths are decorated with ribbons that show the way out.

Unfortunately, many who enter the forest never make it out again.

How is it that such a majestic part of the world came to be so haunted and heavy with desperation?

Much of the history of the forest is drenched with speculation and legend, but the speculation still paints the appropriate picture. It is said that ancient Japanese families used to take unwanted family members to the forest in times of famine, freeing up remaining resources for the other members of the family. Such a depressing history of murder, loneliness, and death is rumored to linger in the soil of the forest, paranormal activity being a common occurrence between the moss-laden trees and jutting trunks.

The forest has been a lost-and-found for poor souls for hundreds of years, but the publication of a 1960s novel that ends in the co-suicide of two lovers in the forest has become the named reason for the soar in suicides in the forest, numbers reported in the hundreds of dead.

The topography, beauty, and supposed supernatural phenomenon create a new face for an otherwise peaceful area of the world, and one can’t help but wonder why so many turn to such a sad, otherworldly place for their final moments, alone, sometimes accompanied by a suicide manual published by Wataru Tsurumui. They leave behind wallets, packages of food, egg-carton bedding, or nothing but the noose.

Aokigahara is mysterious and beautiful, despite its morbid associations, and one can’t help but extrapolate to the world as a whole when contemplating the disease of Depression that has seeped into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of human existence. The suicide forest is like the tumor that the world begins to notice, gets checked out by a doctor, and gets the prognosis of a cancer that pervades the entire body.

Before recent media attention put the limelight on Aokigahara, I was unaware that such a place existed, not that suicide was remotely new to me, or to anyone else in this world for that matter. Suicide and Depression have become something that everyone has experienced in themselves or in those they love. Suicide takes pure hearts from the world with the help of these menacing whispers from Depression, the pressure of performing as a perfect, successful, or likable human being too much for any normal person to bear.

The forest is but a symptom. It is not actually a localized disease that has seeped into the soil of a beautiful world, it has spread to every horizon and darkened brilliant minds to the butterflies at the forest’s edge, the rarity that lies in wait for them if they follow the ribbons out.

Of all people, I’m aware that Depression isn’t a choice. It’s not something you can conquer by will of the mind alone. It requires support, sometimes medication, and it requires a heart that is willing to follow the ribbons.

This article is but one of a million like it that pretends to understand what this world experiences that lead them to the forest, but the message is the same, and it’s one that can’t be understated.

Your life is a gift, a miracle by all definitions of science and spiritualism. Your presence is important to the functioning of this broken society, and it can make a difference. It’s never too late for you, and nothing you’ve done has ever brought you past the point of love and redemption.

Remember the butterflies. You may have to gets scrapes and bruises on your way past the trees, and you may have a mountain to climb once you’re in the clear, but you are in a beautiful place. This world is pure, and you are a part of it.

Remember the butterflies.

You Don’t Need Angst to Be a Good Writer E3

EPISODE THREE: You Don’t Need Angst to Be a Writer

In this episode, I talk about suffering and creativity, I review Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader and take some lessons about writing from it, and I talk about the best way to enhance your writing. (Hint, the best way to enhance your writing is NOT to be an intrinsically sad person.)


Mental illness and creative writing

                          **The grumpy bird on the windowsill is me.** 

As someone studying both English and Psychology in college, the idea of the aspects of our disturbed minds influencing our art is very interesting to me.

Last semester, I wrote a long symposium paper on Lord Byron’s Manfred and the reflections of Byron’s mental health problems in the play. To me, it was clear that Byron’s art was influenced by and perhaps was given more meaning in context with his mental health problems, specifically what I believe to be Bipolar 1 Disorder. There was quite a bit of research involved in this theory that I don’t have time to go into here, but I will say that I’m convinced on an intellectual level that both the correlation of mentally ill people having artistic ability is high and the correlation of people with artistic ability being mentally ill is high. Those don’t seem to be different on a surface level, but in fact, there is research that indicates genetic correlations between Bipolar 1 disorder and artistic ability. This is subtly different from people who are artistic being more inclined to feel deeply, to experience mental illness in a way that only artists can.

I hope that those seem distinct to you, reader, and I don’t sound like a driveling moron.

The reason I bring this up today is because I have some input into how this is significant on a layman’s level, how this is significant to me, Taylor McCoy, a writer.

I’m currently working on a novel with a protagonist who has anxiety. This should be fairly easy for me seeing as I experience anxiety almost daily, but still I doubt the legitimacy of the experience and the way that I’m relating it. I didn’t realize until today exactly how deep my abnormal pscyhology influences the way that I write.

For example, I believe that I have undiagnosed sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you don’t know what this is, I don’t blame you. The occurrence of SPD is correlated with people who have generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety and was once (and in some circles, still is) associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Someone with SPD experiences sensations much differently than what most SPD-ers call “Neurotypicals” or, those who don’t experience these intense sensations (or in some cases, lack of sensation).

For me, sitting in a room full of people can be either extremely relaxing, if my brain chooses to filter those sensations properly and it all becomes white-noise, or it can be infuriating, perhaps terrifying. For me, when I was sitting in a room with my boyfriend and several of his friends and there was a TV playing the Simpson’s theme, one roommate singing a different song than the theme, another roommate coughing loudly, my boyfriend talking close to my ear, and another roommate crumpling up a plastic bag in another room, I was suddenly quite certain that I was about to set myself on fire and take down whoever I could with me. I was overwhelmed to say the least. It makes me angry, sad, and felt like the physical sensation of a migraine without an actual headache.

Imagine what someone who experiences things like this with all their senses would notice about the world that a neurotypical would not.

For example, I can call to mind sensations that are vivid for me that I haven’t felt in 15 years. I can feel on the inside of my brain what a rusty mailbox feels like and it makes me want to throw up. I can’t even pick up a newspaper or a paper bag without the fear that I will want to promptly wrench my hands off my wrists and never experience the pain of that sensation again.

So, it seems strange to me to try to write without description. If you ever get the chance to read a novel of mine, you’ll probably notice the high amounts of description, the possibly irritating levels of description. But, how else would I get across what I was meaning to without relaying these things that are so central to my experience in great detail, and at every important opportunity. I feel that I have a distinct skill in relating detail because I experience things so intensely and so differently than normal people do.

It’s fairly uncommon to have a disorder like SPD, but many writers can relate to depression, anxiety, alcoholism and other addictions. When I approach a novel from a writer that I know to suffer from these things, I think it’s hard to wrench the writer from the character because usually the character reflects many of the same struggles, and that’s what makes them different. A writer who suffers from depression, Bipolar disorder, or suicidal thoughts is likely to create a memorable character who can’t contain their own snarkiness. They are dark and brooding. They are sarcastic. And you can’t help but love them, right?

I’m not saying that all dark and brooding characters are the product of a depressed author, but I think that we, as writers, have the unique ability to create memorable characters because of our experience with mental illness. We can write the outcasts who go on the grand adventures we long to have. We can write characters who have deep and meaningful relationships that we are dying for, or perhaps the opposite, the loner character who we intensely relate to and can imbibe with our longing.

I don’t at all think that being a mentally healthy writer is reflective of a poorer quality of work. However, as a writer who has a unique experience every day, having constant internal dialogues about my actions because I’m hyperaware of avoiding anxiety, avoiding certain pathways so I don’t have to fear with every step that I will trip in front of a crowd of strangers, or avoiding certain people because I know they’ll want to hug me and I can’t take that today, I might just retaliate and punch them in the face, I think that embracing these dysfunctions might just be the saving grace of our writing.

It’s undeniable that mental illness and artistry correlate, that the correlation is strong. I think the point I want to make here is that our writing is meaningful because of our struggles. Not to exclude the mentally healthy, again. To us, to those who suffer in similar ways, to a world that doesn’t adequately comprehend mental illness, our experience is important and should, it should come out in our writing.

Thank God we can write. Thank God we can turn to words to express what comes out in jumbled pleas from our mouths without proper rehearsal. Thank God the only way I can make the world understand my mind properly is through the beauty of language.

And thank you for reading.

Experience and the Sponge

Sometimes, when the thick gray air of winter sits on brick towns with painted windows, when old courthouses with cylinder blocks for foundation and the smell of restaurant food and newly paved roads tickles my nose and forces me to imagine worlds into existence, I think:

How wonderful it is to be an artist.

Small things…

-the way the leaves twirl around moving cars in wind shapes like the faery world’s gentle collision with reality

-the way the clouds project the moon from out of the black carpet behind it, concealing, revealing, concealing, so dark they look like midnight dragons on a run through the heavens

-the way caterpillars float, transcendent, I imagine, ecstatic through the air on their silky strings, totally carried by their ingenious invention…and their weightlessness

They make me proud to be an artist. It is these things which fill me up like a thirsty sponge, squeezed dry from the harshness of the atmosphere, from the constricting agenda of hate, smothering, smothering. I eagerly fill myself up on this holy water of this world’s majesty. I drink and drink until I am contentedly wet, ready to purge these beauties out onto other things that are dry.

Yet, sometimes, as I am a sponge, and I absorb, I find that even the filthy water gets in, and I’m already too soaking wet with filthy water to take on anything else.

Yesterday, I printed pictures of a dead woman. Her car was like a flash-frozen, half-melted conglomerate of metal with blood spatter on the ceiling. Children’s toys stretched out over the car, through the air, nestling near the railroad tracks and lying down to rest in the dead, winter grass, broken, wet with mud, dislodged.

I printed pictures of little girls and boys, of big girls and boys, of mothers, of fathers, of friends. Little girl in a blue dress with frills down the front, clippies in her hair as numerous as the twirling braids which stuck off her head like antenna.

I ached. I ached. I ached.

Drunk driver. Too fast. Satin coffin. Orphan family. Orphan friends.

I ached, and I ached.

I found that when I tried to draw breath, my chest was shallow. There was no more room in the cavity which held my non-compliant lungs. I found tears with no logical explanation breaking through my resisting eyes, I felt that the toxic water was so deep in my tissue that I was about to rip myself open to get it all out. I wanted to scream, to scream so loud that it would all come spraying out of me and I would be dry again.

Unfortunately the toxic water didn’t come out. It did, some, purify for a brief moment in the company of friends and laughing and story-telling, but when more toxic water lay itself down on top, urging itself into my widened pores, settling in with the rest, I decided to shut off the tap completely. Nothing will try to fill me up again. Not today and not for now.

So today I am empty. I covered my face with pure bath water so hot it scalded the infection off. I watched videos of things which normally fill me up with healthy water from the world, hoping it could sit on the surface and not move in just yet. I need to be empty for now.

Just let me be empty for now.