Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Existential Anemia.

For those of you readers who don't know, I have anemia, a depletion of iron in the blood. Easily treated with daily iron supplements, I can manage it very effectively (though I suffered from its symptoms for years during high school and college while it went undiagnosed, my parents insisting that I was just lazy and lacking exercise). The following is an excerpt from my personal journal. It's solipsistic and ridiculous. But it would be dishonest not to admit to this part of me that can assert itself (and that had a formative effect during my adolescence, shaping my sense of meaning and my stubbornness in creating it). Maybe sharing it here, in the context of an on-going, always developing spiritual life, might be of some interest.

I am planning my escape. Escape plan, this is necessary. The months are slipping away and I refuse to be left in a position of abandonment.

I'm not sure what's causing this awful boredom and disinclination towards... everything today. Three hours ago, I felt like finishing this book review would be a piece of cake, but as soon as I sat down to work on it, I was bored out of my mind. I'm too bored to read, all the books in my to-be-read pile suddenly seem uninteresting, and the one television show that seemed to have caught my interest suddenly seems dumb. I'm even too bored to watch "Doctor Who," though I haven't even finished the fourth season yet.

This is probably due to an extreme lack of iron in my system. I ran out of my iron supplements a few days ago and was too forgetful to go to the store to get more so I'm feeling depleted and unmotivated. I don't feel like doing anything. Everything seems like such a huge waste of effort. Nobody gives a rat's ass about me. I just want, for a while, to curl up and not have to deal with my real life. All of this is just a side effect of low iron (depression, fatigue, nail biting, "restless leg syndrome"--hurrah for anemia). If I just took care of myself and got back on my supplements, I'd be back to normal, coping fine with what seems now to be basically a pointless and redundant life. Can I know if this is actually true? Knowing that my relative optimism/pessimism about my life is almost entirely based on a particular element being in my blood stream makes me even more cynical about the meaningfulness of perceived happiness. I am not happy or sad because anything external to myself has changed; therefore, what real meaning can such happiness or sadness have? It's self-referential. I have it within my power to make myself happy or sad based solely on whether or not I take my vitamins. There is nothing beyond my own closed-off self that can affect my perception of my life as good and meaningful. I am cut off. There is no reality beyond a daily pill of iron. Take the pill: life goes on. Don't take the pill: everything grinds to a halt.

What if there was something in my life that had meaning? How could I even know it? Nothing shines through, nothing reaches in from outside to let me know it's real and beautiful. There was a time--all those years of undiagnosed anemia when I struggled with depression--when there were still people in my life who loved me and were able to make that love felt despite the absence of iron carrying sufficient oxygen to my muscles and mind. But now, there doesn't seem to be anyone interested in that kind of work, that kind of reaching. I have to make my own beauty and meaning, I make it for myself. And when my physical body is too tired and depleted to create that meaning, it ceases to exist. It simply... ceases.

But what is meaning that can so easily lapse into non-being? What is meaning if it does not exist beyond my own self? With no one to share it or reaffirm it? My life is so small. Just this one small body and its needs. And I struggle, every day, I struggle and reach and claw to get out, to get beyond myself. But there's no one there. Every path out of myself that I chop through the jungle is just a path inwards, into the dark. I cut the path, and when I walk, it leads nowhere but back to my own center. There is no way out. No exit. Sartre said hell is other people, as though the desire to be limited by the reflective perception of an external Other was inherently painful or destructive. But that's not the reality of the thing. Hell is the self, inescapable, easily misled and malformed, bent on its own dumb survival at all costs, a Klein bottle with no inside or outside, no volume. "Immersed (but not embedded) in three dimensions."

I began by wanting to be a vessel for God to fill, but then I lost my faith in that monotheistic, transcendent kind of God. In hindsight, this may have been a bad move. Now, what can I really do? I am planning my escape.


  1. It seems to me that the question you pose here deserves an answer. Is it the case that Meaningful Life is only available to those who have enough iron in their blood, or have the right brain chemistry, or -- to extend the question -- get the right kind of early education or parenting, or other lucky breaks in life?

    Now that you've had your iron pills (I assume you have?), do you have an answer?

  2. Yes, I am back to my iron-peppered self (in fact, I had taken my supplement about half an hour before beginning to write that entry and, placebo effect or not, had already started to feel a bit better by the end of it).

    I don't have the answer, but I may have an answer, or at least an answer for myself. Which is, of course, that a Meaningful Life is accessible to anyone, regardless of bad luck, circumstance or stupid body chemistry. I think it's Sartre (again) who suggests that it is our own responsibility to craft a life of meaning--"existence precedes essence," I think is the phrase. It's possible to think of it as a lack of iron just kind of clouding my vision, so that if I just "get myself right" (in whatever way that means) the real beauty and meaning of the world shines through once more. But there are times when I'm not wholly satisfied with that explanation.

    Through my job, I work every day with people who haven't had a good education or a stable family life, who've had a lot of bad luck and difficulty in their lives... but I still find them to be bursting with life and beauty and meaningfulness. The question is, who is creating that meaning? Them, simply by living as best they can, or me by observing and appreciating them? It seems to me that I see something innately good and meaningful in them, but how would I know if this is true? Do they have a sense of having meaningful lives, is that even a question that occurs to them? Does a flower in the field have some inherent meaning, or must I give it meaning by admiring it, or does it perhaps have layers of meaning, some inherent and others created by the Other? Is it possible, then, that I could work to create the meaning of my own life and still, in being "unobserved," lack some other layer or kind of meaning that can only be bestowed by an Other? And might I feel that lack palpably, especially during times of physical weakness or vulnerability?

    I don't know. Many questions. But asking them is part of the process, and I know for sure that meaning is some kind of process, regardless of its still mysterious particulars.

  3. All the questions you posed in that last comment would be a lot easier to think about if we had a good definition for "meaning". :-)

    I think I know what "meaning" is in a linguistic context. But what is "meaning" for a life? Or for actions, or opinions, or feelings?

    Does "finding meaning" mean finding a REASON? Or does it mean finding a PURPOSE? A flower might have various reasons for being there (accident of evolution, planted by a gardener, etc.), but maybe there's no purpose to it...

    Other than Beauty, which has always been a favorite Purpose of mine. :-)

  4. I remember having a month-long email correspondence with an old high school friend about just that: what do you mean by 'meaning'? Other than the two interpretations you suggest, it's also possible that "meaning" could be used when trying to evoke something like "fitting into a personally relevant or 'valuable' context"... The example I used with my friend was how people ask "what do the 'cat' mean?" when they talk about a poem about a cat (assuming the animal is, perhaps, a symbol or expression of something), while rarely do they ask what the real-life cat "means."

    Back to the Druid idea of story-telling and approaching one's life and its world (i.e. the landscape of its existence) as a story or "song" into which things fit in particular ways. In some ways, then, asking about the "meaning of life" is not about reason or purpose, but more about context and harmony--how does it all fit together and what's the "big picture," the story or song that it composes? Thus, the possibility of fitting into different stories/songs in different ways and there being many possible "meanings" to any particular being or place.

    So maybe I'm trying to ask: I think I understand how I see myself as fitting into the world according to my own story, but what is the story that others make of me? How do I "fit" into the Other and how does the Other see itself as fitting into me (if it does (they do) at all)? Is my story by itself... enough?

    I'm not sure I'm making sense.

  5. This takes us into the interconnectedness of things. Each song interacts with other songs. We none of us, as persons, stop at the epidermis. We each have an effect on the world about us, and the world has an effect on us. After a walk in the woods, we carry a memory of the trees with us; and the trees and the forest has a memory of us, even if it only in the pattern of our footsteps through fallen leaves. The same is true with people. Our song is altered by them and we alter their songs.

  6. Self-gratification is the key to happiness. Just looking at blind or disabled people make you feel blessed. Think of something that you already have, and nurture it. Surround yourself with beautiful things, things that make you happy, people that makes you laugh.

    We each move forward secure on our own earth, not the earth of others. Happiness is something we must create for ourselves. No one else can give it to us.

    Disclaimer:The comment of this author is only his personal views and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

    Just joking - CHEERS!!!

  7. Here' the lover of nutrition -

    I don't know what kind of doc you work with, I share office space with NDs, & they are all about nutritional balance!

    Years ago I used to be 'anemic' - but had a lot of iron in my diet - & rancid fat (crisco, wessen oil, etc) . . . so *probably* truely Vit E deficient!! I took those 'horse pills' & ate meat daily, liver weekly, was constipated, & h-a-t-e-d those durn pills! NEVER felt they were what I 'should' be doing, . . .

    When I hit my 20s, was PG, my now fomer hubby was 'into' nutrition, esp. Adele Davis, who had written extensively on nutrition - & sug I take a GOOD Vit E supplement (400 IU alpha Tocopherol) . . . no anemia thru the PG, & an 'easy' birth!!

    Now (in my 50s) I take a mix that is high in gamma E, which promotes heart health, . . & tocotrinols . . . there was a cool book on Vit E I had from the library that really went into how great it is, & how necessary metabolicly, but low in many diets, esp if anything rancid is consumed!
    I also take Co-Q 10, which recycles vit C & E, so the body gets more milage from those antioxidents. It can turn around congestive heart failure, etc. I get really good brands from my office, at close to cost, an added bonus :)

    Iron uses vit E in its metabolism, so the iron does great with Vit E (usually, of course there can be exceptions to anything) BUT the Vit E needs to be taken seperatly ~ 8 hours away, for your body to full metabolize the E!! THink of rust & an old wagon in the rain - the iron 'rusts' in the blood, the E is an antioxident that puts a protective coat on.

    A great herbal for iron absorption is dock - Susun Weed gives great info on that (wise woman site) . . . it's not high in iron itself, but helps the body metabolize the iron in food & etc.

    With the E, breast fed babies are rarely anemic, without needing iron, tho milk is low in iron, it's (usually) got enough E to help the absorption,. . . .

    Blessings ;)

  8. Anemia occurs as a result of too much blood loss from the body, decreased red blood cell production or when the body has problems producing red blood cells. This can also occur when red blood cells are broken down or are destroyed faster than the body can replace them with new ones.