The phrase from William Butler Yates, “The Two Trees”, “the ravens of unresting thought,” has stuck with me, because I do frequent battle with those demons-in-disguise. Thoughts whirl, terrible scenarios emerge, what-ifs gibber around and around inside my skull. What if that little ache is a heart attack? What if it’s not just the annual crud? (It is the annual crud.) What will I do if it’s WuFlu and I’m trapped in the house for two weeks? (It’s not WuFlu, it’s the annual crud.) What if something really is wrong with my heart? (No, it’s a combination of unused muscles, cruddy posture, and breathing deeply of cold air.)
Thoughts whirl and spin, swirling like leaves in the cold autumn wind until they choke out productive thought and leave me shaking from the adrenaline overload. It’s miserable, and although I’m doing a lot better managing it, every so often my brain and nervous system conspire to sandbag me.
“Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.”
The attention to detail and hyper-awareness of certain things that are advantages when trying to anticipate trouble and prepare for it are horrible foes when they grab onto minor things and expand them far out of proportion. Even worse, part of me knows that it’s stress and imagination (and sometimes hormones), but I can’t simply flip a brain-switch and make it stop. Uncertainty and stress feed the demons, and this fall has provided an over-abundant crop of stresses and uncertainties at the local and national scale. Not being able to sublimate the stress into writing has made things even worse. I am a creature of habit and routine, and every time I get those things sorted out, whoosh, a change flies up and that’s that.
In the big picture of life, this is a minor irritation compared to a lot of things. And it does help me be prepared for bad things, since I’ve gamed through so many of them in my mind already. When the demons are gibbering and howling, chasing around and around inside my head, however, they grow out of proportion to their real power. I have techniques I use to slow them down, if not exorcise them completely, but they come back, weeks, months, years later.
I’m becoming resigned to them, but I don’t have to like them.