I’ve recently been discharged from a psychiatric clinic for a depression episode. I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about my current state as well as my experiences within the clinic, but mainly what I want in my life. This piece touches on my state of mind post-discharge, and is centred round my thinking of being worthy of being called a mental health advocate.
My ideas and writing are flowing beautifully- this often makes me nervous because I worry I’m hypomanic. Although I do need to mention, I am feeling like myself lately – as if I have returned from the dead. To me, this statement I can take literally. I was dead: an unreliable, lifeless body of fake smiles and numbed energy. And nobody really knew, except me.
I don’t like to burden, not even my closest ones, with all my thoughts and feelings- seriously, who would want to hear the stories of my sobbing brain anyway?
That’s what it feels like: my brain is sobbing- weeping because it cannot function. It can’t understand and I can’t connect to flip the switch to feel anything but pain.
The fact that my brain can’t function is painful.
It can’t tell me to go fetch the post, clean the dishes, feed the children, let alone shower and brush my teeth. It can’t even get me out of bed to drop or fetch the children from school.
It’s all noise. Tasks, lights: noise. There’s no love either. I’m numb. As the time passes I miss deadlines and break relationships and I can’t say sorry. I literally struggle to utter a word.
How do I then speak up for those who are ready to remove themselves from the world by cuts and nooses? How do I lift my tongue, heavy from the crying, to say it’s okay to live in this world?
How do I say I’m good enough for the world- to teach others that life is worth living, when I have been unsure more than once myself? How do I speak up for myself when darkness was all I knew?
It’s extremely difficult to be seen as reliable to anyone after you crash. This especially after you have publicly shown how vulnerable you can be.
In the same heavy breath, I can say now though, that through the darkness, I have seen and now see the light.
In this moment, I am present, and say and see it was okay to fall apart in a million pieces. That’s one of the best messages I would pass on to any broken person who happens to hear my voice.
Know this; we’re alive to be in this moment, caught between the darkness of this mental illness and the reality of being perceived as weak and unreliable.
We’re caught between loving and hating the ones who care; hurting them and hurting ourselves; defending or swimming in our own misery.
Even in all these struggles, I still sit here today, not really stronger, but more resilient.
How do I know this?
In my time of brokenness, I fell apart ten times over and chose the part I wanted to glue together.
This is my world. And I choose life. Life where I can speak about what I endure on a daily basis. Medication, therapy, financial constraints, husband, children, friends and family are all in the mix.
In this moment, I prize a recovering mind and soul.
I choose life.
Being between Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom deriving from Greek mythology, meaning "having to choose between two evils". Several other idioms, such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" express similar meanings.
The myth and the proverb
Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monsters noted by Homer; Greek mythology sited them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was rationalized as a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as a sea hazard located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. According to Homer, Odysseus was forced to choose which monster to confront while passing through the strait; he opted to pass by Scylla and lose only a few sailors, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.
Because of such stories, having to navigate between the two hazards eventually entered idiomatic use. Another equivalent English seafaring phrase is, "Between a rock and a hard place". The Latin line incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim (he runs into Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis) had earlier become proverbial, with a meaning much the same as jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Erasmus recorded it as an ancient proverb in his Adagia, although the earliest known instance is in the Alexandreis, a 12th-century Latin epic poem by Walter of Châtillon.
Cultural and popular references
The myth was given an allegorical interpretation by the French poet Barthélemy Aneau in his emblem bookPicta Poesis (1552). There one is advised to choose the risk of being envied for wealth or reputation rather than swallowed by the Charybdis of poverty. "Choose the lesser of these evils. A wise man would rather be envied than miserable."
The story was often applied to political situations at a later date. In James Gillray's cartoon, Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis (3 June 1793), 'William Pitt helms the ship Constitution, containing an alarmed Britannia, between the rock of democracy (with the liberty cap on its summit) and the whirlpool of arbitrary power (in the shape of an inverted crown), to the distant haven of liberty'. This was in the context of the effect of the French Revolution on politics in Britain. That the dilemma had still to be resolved in the aftermath of the revolution is suggested by Percy Bysshe Shelley's returning to the idiom in his 1820 essay A Defence of Poetry: "The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism."
A later Punch caricature by John Tenniel, dated 10 October 1863, pictures the Prime MinisterLord Palmerston carefully steering the British ship of state between the perils of Scylla, a craggy rock in the form of a grim-visaged Abraham Lincoln, and Charybdis, a whirlpool which foams and froths into a likeness of Jefferson Davis. A shield emblazoned "Neutrality" hangs on the ship's thwarts, referring to how Palmerston tried to maintain a strict impartiality towards both combatants in the American Civil War. American satirical magazine Puck also used the myth in a caricature by F. Graetz, dated November 26, 1884, in which the unmarried President-elect Grover Cleveland rows desperately between snarling monsters captioned "Mother-in-law" and "Office Seekers".
Victor Hugo uses the equivalent French idiom (tomber de Charybde en Scylla) in his novel Les Miserables (1862), again in a political context, as a metaphor for the staging of two rebel barricades during the climactic uprising in Paris, around which the final events of the book culminate. The first chapter of the final volume is entitled "The Charybdis of the Faubourg Saint Antoine and the Scylla of the Faubourg du Temple".
By the time of Nicholas Monsarrat's 1951 war novel, The Cruel Sea, however, we find the upper-class junior officer, Morell, being teased by his middle-class—and more progressive—peer, Lockhart, for using such an old-fashioned phrase.
Nevertheless, the idiom has since taken on new life in pop lyrics. In The Police's 1983 single "Wrapped Around Your Finger", the second line uses it as a metaphor for being in a dangerous relationship; this is reinforced by a later mention of the similar idiom of "the devil and the deep blue sea". American heavy metal band Trivium also referenced the idiom in "Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis", a track from their 2008 album Shogun, in which the lyrics are about having to choose "between death and doom".