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Trouble and resilience

It has been eight years since I renovated the floor of the smaller room. Today I opened up some of the floor planks to see how the structure is doing. Yes, already for a few years I've been suspecting that there might be trouble brewing there, but I never quite had enough energy to really face the potential problem. So I had just scraped away some of the most obvious symptoms and then just postponing the whole issue - maybe hoping that if I lay still and pretend to be dead then the trouble will go away by itself (or, if not, then at least I won't feel pain in my final moments but just be comfortably numb). Well, but this year has been good to me, and I finally felt strong enough to face the situation. There was no denying it - a part of the floor is infected with Serpula lacrymans, a mushroom which is notorious for its ability to destroy an entire house in a matter of few years.

Also, for a few days I've been keeping an eye on the sand bank under the kitchen sink. There is a spot which seems to accumulate moisture. So far I have made sure that none of the water pipe connections is not leaking, so it seems that the source of moisture is not from above the sand bank, but from beneath the surface. And any such moisture inside the house structure spells serious trouble. Rot and mould both need moisture, so I'd prefer to keep the structures dry. So I have to investigate what is the source of that moisture and what can be done to remedy the situation.

All in all, these two problems combined have a realistic potential to ruin the house. But I can't complain - when I bought the house the sellers said that they believe the house to be in unlivable condition and probably damaged beyond repair. At that time I felt that the same holds true for my own personality, so I felt that I have nothing to lose and ready to take the risk. Half of the floor in the smaller room was completely rotten, and in the lower part of the wall there were traces of Serpula lacrymans. Together with a friend we replaced all the rotten logs of the wall, and I rebuilt the entire floor. Alas, it seems that spores of the fungi remained somewhere in the remaining soil or wood. So, at some point during these eight years the fungi has started to re-grow. But, luckily, it is all inside the smaller room, as I didn't see a slightest trace of it when removing the old floor in the main room. It is all just a little bit of bad luck, and a part of the challenge I've intentionally taken. And, just a few years back I was still too much hindered by that vague post-depression numb that I simply didn't have the energy to fully react to the signs of Serpula lacrymans which I spotted here and there in the smaller room.

But today, instead of collapsing back into the numb state of physical and emotional freeze, I just felt that one way or another I can handle this. I removed a few planks, cut the good parts to firewood and dumped the bad parts into a camp-fire on my yard. I boiled water on the flames of the fire and made myself a mug of coffee. Sitting on the sauna stairs I sipped the coffee, feeling tranquil. There was a gentle shower of autumn rain. And behind the yellow leaves of the oak, under a blanket of clouds came the sun momentarily making the scenery all shiny and radiant. I felt that if I can keep this tranquil state of mind, then the ideas and solutions and necessary decisions will flow out when they are needed, so that I can solve the trouble with rotting fungi and mystery source of moisture. Well, there will probably be more blog posts coming about my future attempts to solve these issues. So for now, let us dive deeper into the more universal themes of trouble and resilience.

So, as I have mentioned in my earlier writings, it used to be so that any small practical problem - like a flat tyre of a hand cart - could send me into an inner paralysis, unable to take action to solve the problem. On the level of my rational mind I understood that this is probably some sort of left-over symptom of the long heavy years of severe depression. And / or a typical symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. No amount of talking or analysing seemed to help dissolve that reaction, so I was looking for another forms of self-therapy and healing. Music proved to be one good way to untie those subconscious knots behind the freeze reaction. For me one of the influential musicians has been Astrid Swan. By a random chance I happened to hear one of her songs on radio, found it very interesting and started following her career. That was the times of the release of her album Astrid4. In so many ways the album touched some deep parts of my soul, helping me to remember how it feels to be strong and fully awake. I was looking forward to the album release tour. But that tour got cancelled, for Astrid fell ill with breast cancer.

She went through the treatments, and eventually she returned to perform on a stage. There was a strong sense of resilience in the way she played, the way she was present on the stage, the way the whole band connected to play together dynamically flowing through tempo changes and diving deep into the rich emotions and atmospheres of Astrid's songs. It is such live concert experiences which have had such a healing effect on me. Helping to thaw the inner freeze, slowly dissolving the all-encompassing numbness making me actually feel something; to feel connected to my own inner self, and to feel connected to others through the medium of musical expression. Apparently, not just any music does the trick for me, but I've been lucky to stumble upon artists who, in their own process of making music, touch such areas of their own soul which happens to resonate with my inner stumbling blocks. Resilience. Not giving up in the face of serious problems. Getting through the trouble, accepting and allowing all the emotions that come with the process, and then re-surfacing feeling strong and solid enough to perform for an audience. To open your mouth and to express your inner self, instead of concealing the pain and pretending to be dead. I have so needed those little moments which help me to remember how it feels to do that, to untie an inner knot.

In her own process of post-cancer recovery, Astrid kept on making music. Her next album, From The Bed and Beyond is described as follows: "It is an album about the aftermath of breast cancer. It is about the body; giving birth, becoming a mother, then becoming a patient – becoming a physical body that is defined by medicine, controlled and intervened, unknown and simultaneously more feeling than ever. It’s a pop record about loss, death, grief and hope." And the album release show was a piece of art in its own right. That show left me with a feeling I'm alive.

Then, not that long after the album release show it turned out that Astrid's battle with cancer isn't yet over but that she has been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. As wikipedia bluntly puts it, "metastatic breast cancer, also referred to as [...] stage 4 breast cancer. [...] There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. There is no stage after IV." Uh oh - so how do you find hope or any resilience in such a situation? Amazingly, Astrid does. Diving deeper into accepting life the way it is, accepting herself as she is, diving deeper into embracing the joy and beauty of all the daily little things. Despite heavy treatments draining a lot of her energy, she also has kept on writing new music and performing.

Nearly two weeks ago I went to see Astrid's concert at Tampere. It was supposed to be a solo gig, but with a smile she said her hemoglobin levels were so low that she decided to ask her guitarist to join her for extra support. For me the concert was a near equivalent of a religious experience; like, facing the fundamental fact of ones own mortality, what do you do? For me it begins with accepting that for her there is no need for any answer nor explanation to "why did this happen to me?" - instead, the answer to make one's personal existence and life feel meaningful lies in art, the art of seeing the beauty of the unique moment at hand. And I'd guess Astrid goes pretty much along the same lines. She played well, with the guitarist they often gave each other a friendly smile, in between the songs Astrid dropped an occasional joke, or commented how one particular song is dedicated to a friend now dead who used to live at Tampere, and then also jokingly commenting one of the current political hot topics. Again, for me, this was such a honest reminder of how it really feels to maintain your peace of mind when facing serious setbacks. After the concert I went to buy the album as a vinyl. "Good that you came" said Astrid, and I thanked her by gently touching her shoulder. I didn't stay to chat for longer, as a line of people had formed behind me, and I had a feeling that there were some ladies who wanted to briefly share their personal stories of fighting breast cancer. So those people probably needed more of Astrid's personal attention than I did.

No, I have never fought a cancer myself. And the trouble I've mentioned - a flat tyre, or fungi rotting my house - are rather small compared to what Astrid has been struggling with. But then, the way I see it, my own post-depression symptoms have their origins in the nearly-lethal violence I faced several times in my childhood. That left me with a tendency of suicidal depression. Which, in itself, isn't an easy monster to wrestle with. So I think there are a lot of universal themes in the general resiliency, in the process of re-finding a sense of meaning of life after serious traumatic events.

So, I'm happy that today a dry rot fungi doesn't trigger a post-traumatic depression reaction. Instead, I see this practical problem as a mere practical problem. One which can be divided into smaller sub-problems, each of which then can be tackled one at a time. So that the whole big problem appears as a series of smaller problems which are easier to solve. I don't feel like a cornered prey animal any more - I have regained a lot of my inner energy, instead of a dead-end I see a lot of routes forward. Things will work out, one way or another.

Astrid's resilience
Astrid's resilience
My resilience
My resilience
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Thanks for then great post as always. I happened to read this just when i needed it, and it helped.

Glad to hear if my writings happen to be of any help to others!

It is good to read about the life of someone else who is recovering from severe depression, and making it okay. I, too, have been through battles only to later find some measure of peace. Thank you for sharing and as always, I look forward to reading more.

Thank you for your comment, and glad to hear you've found some measure of peace!

Sharing and getting feedback has also had a healing effect on me. A couple of years ago it often was while I was writing, or about to hit "save"-button, I was haunted with an eerie sense of primitive fear; something terribly bad will happen if you express your inner feelings and thoughts. But time after time, as I've recognized that the fear exists, yet writing and posting anyway, and then getting positive feedback, slowly the fear reaction has faded. Nowadays that fear is almost totally gone, it doesn't drain my energies, and I'm ever so delighted by feedback which confirms that sharing and communication is actually possible and meaningful. (Sense of total isolation has been one of the central sources of my depression).

Oh well, yes =) But maybe some of the coming posts will again be mostly focused on my personal and general thoughts on depression and recovery.

PS. Hello everyone, here is Dreaming is Dangerous by Astrid Swan - one more track well worth listening to!


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