facing anxiety with the men of one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
It took a book about people locked in a mental hospital to find the most inspiring sentence, the one that has helped me to work harder on a special project (which I will tell you more about later, when things are more settled). It is also a sentence that has coursed through the cloud of anxiety that has been hanging over my head for years now but most especially over the last few months.
I had heard a lot about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I have a thing for the isolated, and somehow, it’s always men, not women, that I relate to. Men like Frederick in John Fowles’s The Collector — he has changed how I look at butterflies forever, or Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, not to mention Luke in John Burnside’s The Dumb House.
It didn’t take much for Kesey to grab my attention. I had only to read one sentence, typed down early on in the story — “But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”
As a constant daydreamer, this contradictory sentence makes perfect sense. I thought about every time I got so worked up in a daydream that I got emotional because it felt so real. I thought about anxiety and how I am fully aware of how ridiculous and unfounded my fears are and yet, they still feel real — real enough that it’s hard to leave the house sometimes or to eat or to be in a crowd. It is the truth, even if it isn’t happening, and no matter how much we try to rationalize our fears.
We’re not delusional. We know what is real and what is not. We know that what we are daydreaming isn’t really happening. We also know that our anxiety is often a result of irrational thoughts and fears but we still allow it to take over at times.
It has been wonderful to sit back and watch the men in Kesey’s fictional mental hospital stir up trouble and break a window (or three) to anger one annoying nurse. More than that, it has been a way of getting a peek inside my own irrational fears.
I cannot tell you that my days of feeling anxious are over. Those of you who suffer from anxiety know that it doesn’t go away, we only have good days and bad days. But I will tell you that we can always find something in our life to give us hope, courage or sound of mind and for me that will always be books, so I will leave you with a moment in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest when the protagonist, Chief Bromden, talks about being taken to the hospital’s library.
“I want to look at one of the books,” he says, “but I’m scared to do anything. I feel like I’m floating in the dusty yellow air of the library, halfway to the bottom, hallway to the top. The stacks of books teeter above me, crazy, zig-zagging, running all different angles to one another. One shelf bends a little to the left, one to the right. Some of them are leaning over me, and I don’t see how the books keep from falling out. It goes up and up this way, clear out of sight, the rickety stacks nailed together with slate and two-by-fours, propped up with poles, leaning against ladders, on all sides of me. If I pulled one book out, lord knows what awful thing might result.”
Story credit: Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.