Kage Baker considered herself fairly lucky on an emotional vulnerability level. She didn’t suffer from fits of depression, lethargy, panic attacks … and since several of her relatives did, she saw just how much this can disrupt ordinary life. She was very happy her seratonin metabolism was normal, and whatever was funny in her neuron wiring led to fantastical world-building rather than nightmares.
Of course, there is no one to whom the black faeries of depression do not occasionally come. It was just that when Kage got depressed or panicked, there was ordinarily an obvious cause: a bad review. An overdue bill. Staying up late watching ghost programs … And when these things hit, it was usually in the middle of the night. Fortunately, at least half the time, she’d find me awake and reading when she came bolting from her bedroom – we could talk, or watch movies, or I could read to her until she calmed down.
Watching telly was a favourite panacea for Kage. She preferred cartoons for migraines, because she claimed they bypassed her visual interpretation channels – she could just let the stimulus flow in without wondering about it. I’m not sure she even saw it then. Maybe it was an automatic kaleidoscope.
Channel hopping was for panic; I could tell when she was calming down by the lengthening amounts of time she’d stay on one channel. While the adrenaline was still surging, she’d be skipping from infomercial to telenovella to dubious science documentary in seconds-brief bursts: anything loud and basically incomprehensible caught her attention. I think she was trying to short circuit some analytical portion of her brain.
And when she was depressed, she’d put on a favourite movie and sink into the sensorium of some beloved other world. The ability to collect and own movies undoubtedly contributed hugely to Kage’s emotional stability and happiness as an adult. She always, always wanted to be able to replay much-loved experiences over and over: when something had worked well, she wanted it to be dependable and unchanged when she experienced it again. Recorded movies fit the bill like nothing else.
I think the trick with all of these things – Kage’s preference, in fact, for visual input – was because she was trying to shut her mind up. Or down. She needed to stop thinking; the best way, for her, was to overwhelm herself with dependable stimuli. She knew exactly what would happen when she watched The Wrong Box again; her brain fell into line with the expected responses, and the runaway train of depression or panic pulled into the station. By the time the elderly Victorian brothers were wrestling over the open grave in a snowstorm of pound notes (just trust me on this), she was fine again.
Being read to worked the same way, and in fact hit an older harmonic. I read to her a lot in her last year, because she was self-medicating with favourite books; but it was also a trick from years of nocturnal fretting. It never took very long – nothing did; Kage was not, by nature, depressive or panicky. But they hit everyone, sometime or other, and distraction was what worked best to help her.
And then the next step would be, of course, her writing. As soon as the aberrant rhythm in her brain settled down, Kage ran to her writing as the ultimate cure-all. Palliative, stimulant, narcotic, antibody – nothing eased her mind or her mood like writing. Everything else was just to slow her brain down enough to write. Once she was back in the world of her choice, she was happy; not just calm but actually happy.
Kage wrote in a state of ecstasy.
I’m learning this, too. My panacea for decades has been books: the printed word is my drug. But it’s an opiate, there is no doubt of that. I’m safe and content in my clouds of words, but I am also unproductive. That didn’t use to bother me – now, though, I find myself fidgeting in just a few chapters and it’s off to the computer to – as Kage always said with profound relief – fall through the monitor screen …
Yes. Time to go.