Hope and Despair

For the miserable, moody and mercurial, one’s outlook can swivel on a sixpence. Or dime, if you prefer.

Not so for the irrepressibly cheerful, the waggy Labradors who go through life with a smile on their face and the conviction they are about to win the lottery. Waggies are always cheerful, pretty much. It takes a lot to get a Labrador down.

Back to the perennially miserable. The external situation may change little and yet the mood might swing through 180 degrees. And back again. It has to be down to wonky wiring.

Today was a case in point. I have been working on a project for over a year with little success. With repeated failure in fact. And then today, after my arrival at our cottage on the happily unfashionable East Kent coast, I was met with the news that the project had blossomed.

After a few bad weeks (or has it been months?) something has actually gone right. Sadly I have not won the lottery but then I am too mean (and too statistically aware) to engage in that absurdity.

None the less, the triumph feels to be a pretty major one. Suddenly the sun shines and I can see the Teletubbies dancing in the garden. Lala, Dipsy, Po and of course Tinky-Winky.

I am always reminded of my wife and her sisters when I watch the Teletubbies. And there the merry, bossy little souls are, dancing around like rotund little faeries in the garden.

Is there any lesson to be learned from all this? No, I don’t think there is really. The trite tropes one may find scattered throughout the internet come to mind.  All of which are bollux.

Don’t give up. Keep trying. Rome wasn’t built….. Bollox.

The stark fact is that we are all built differently and we are largely stuck with the results of the genetic lottery.

I was reminded today that an uncle of mine suffered from black moods. I had forgotten the poor fellow had a major meltdown and became convinced the CIA were after him. He was a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong back in the ’60s, and his specialist subject was Tibet.

That was in the days of the truly warped and horrible monster Mao Tse Tung.  What a brute he was, with his nasty little red books and bad tailoring. Should have tried Sam’s in Hong Kong. Wonder if they are still there?  I must have had all of 20 suits made there 30 years ago and promptly stuck two fingers up to investment banking. So I never really wore any of them – still stuck in the attic I think.

Anyway poor old Uncle H was convinced the CIA were after him and to be fair, a left wing university prof might well have been a target, especially if he had inside info on the ghastly Reds.

There seem to be a lot of nutters among my close and immediate family; some of them are still around, creating chaos and misery for their nearest and dearest.

And so back to me. Miserable victim of an uncaring and random universe. Recipient of three pounds of grey shyte which passes for a brain; all the wrong bits connected to all the other wrong bits.

What to do when you are amidst the encircling gloom? Stuck somewhere half way across the Styx.  Well, you could, I suppose reach for your copy of the Peaceful Pill Handbook.

The only other remedy I have found remotely helpful is to cut off, completely and utterly from everyone and everything. Bring down the shutters, lock the door. Disconnect the phone. Refuse to speak to anyone – those around you can contribute little at these dark times.

And then the fog may lift for while; not for long perhaps. But you enjoy it while it does; “normality” briefly returns.

It is hardly surprising that such a condition comes to rule your life.  It warps and corrodes your every thought and governs your every achievement (or non-achievement). For many of us, a job would be impossible.

I’m sure some manage better than others. But my natural state of mind is cynicism and introspection. And of course black pessimism. For the world, the universe and for my own particular corner of it.

The Labrador wears rose tinted spectacles; I wear impenetrably black lenses.



  1. I’ve been mulling over this post for several days now, and would be glad to know that you are able, at least occasionally, to see through the fog when you are in it, and that your efforts to fortify yourself when you are NOT in a fog might be of some solace to you, and allow your keen sense your own true nature to sustain you to some degree until such conditions subside. Your writing on this subject is astute and your willingness to acknowledge the struggle is laudable. While I would not suggest that anyone, even the experts, knows precisely, in every instance, why certain individuals seem to fall into the conditions you describe, some progress has been made regarding how to respond to the “impenetrably black lenses,” which result not only from “the results of the genetic lottery,” but also from levels of particular brain chemicals and nerve cell connections at any given time, as well as the functioning of nerve cell circuits in areas of the brain which help regulate mood.

    The experiences one has and the worldview that develops as a result of assumptions about the world also contribute to our ability to cope with adversity or chaos. It’s a confluence of a number of factors that can press us to conclude that we live in “an uncaring and random universe,” and those same factors, should they be composed of more favorable genetic conditions and life experiences, can allow us to see the world quite differently, although it might actually be equally disadvantageous to be an “irrepressibly cheerful Labrador.”

    We are coming around in the areas of neurology and cognitive science to understand that our genetic inheritance is not necessarily our irrevocable destiny and that supplanted with persistent exposure to a more advantageous mental environment, coupled with adjustments to brain chemistry, new neural pathways can be established which might assist in lifting that fog.

    I’m no expert in these areas and do not pretend to know much of anything of value to share with you beyond the confines of my own personal experiences in confronting similar conditions, but even a brief review of your remarkable collection of writings here reveal a number of bouts with “normality,” and keen insights from deliberate introspection, not tainted by “black pessimism.”

    In my humble opinion, there is great value in at least being open to the realm of possibility, and the consistent reports you give of inspirational moments and experiences when they do occur, contain the seeds of hope for greater balance.


    1. John, thank you as always for your kind and perceptive comments. I believe you are right in everything you say. Reality is largely in the perception of the perceiver and those wearing different colour lenses interpret the exact same external facts in an entirely different way.

      You have also commented shrewdly on the condition, and again I concur. I believe that it is largely physiological although some effort on the part of the sufferer can ameliorate the misery. I believe also therefore that in the fullness of time our scientists will find the appropriate chemical, physical and medical switches to colour the lens with a more helpful hue.

      There have indeed been moments of illumination along the way. The worst of the blackness descends when hope is abandoned (even if that abandonment usually turns out to be temporary).

      My friend Alfred reports (on balance) success with his use of psilocybin. He has had a break of a couple of months and is able to see with greater clarity after such a long break what modest amounts of that drug can contribute to his sense of balance and his view of the world. I may well follow in his footsteps and see what such a course of action might add to my own perception of the world.

      Thanks you very much as always for your king and very helpful comments.


  2. A perpetually problematic project actually does end up succeeding? It sounds like things are going pretty well for you right now Anthony. Do let yourself be happy about that. And like me I perceive that you’ve been having some fun blogging lately. Even if you do shut some people out in normal life, we online are (probably) real people. And if need be you could also shut out troublemakers here.

    Apparently you’re not the “manic” kind. I understand that they can get amazingly hopeful and so work hard for a given goal, but then realize that they were deluding themselves given that feeling and so fall into an even deeper pit of despair. Conversely you’ve seen this recent project through without giving up, even with the bumps. That sounds pretty healthy to me!

    But then wonky wiring … yes that’s still an issue to address. And indeed worrying about this is like a double negative. Conversely “the Labrador” even gets the wonderful feeling of hope that hopeful things are going to come! There’s something to be said for happy delusions, even when false. I suppose that I’ve got mine.

    Last time I mentioned that I thought our destiny would be to wire ourselves up to pleasure machines, since this can already be done for mice. Well I finally did an internet search on this, and it turns out that (as you’d expect) humans can also be pleasured by means of implanting deep brain electrodes. Apparently for a 1972 paper some doctors tried to “cure” a homosexual man by pleasuring him this way while associating it with women rather then men.

    “Whatever” on all that homophobic nonsense, but is intense pleasure really this easy to trigger in the human? A bit of electricity in the right place? Wow! If so then why aren’t suicidal billionaires, at the very least, having their doctors juice them up? Why aren’t suffering terminal patients being given this sort of “medicine” rather than potentially conflicting chemical drugs?

    I don’t yet know — I only just now realized that such a thing had actually been done. Here’s a 2011 article from a book on the topic.



    1. Thanks Eric. I will take a look. I have looked at (briefly) various techniques of magnetic stimulation of the brain, both the invasive and non invasive types. I have even seen a video of a badly depressed woman whose lights suddenly came on when the current was switched on. I have been following these guys: https://www.qualiaresearchinstitute.org/

      Their theory is that it is all about mathematical symmetry in the brain. And harmony. So….perhaps they are onto something. Re my project, I have been working on it for a year and have been met by repeated failure. Suddenly, last Thursday, it was evident that my persistence and hard work has paid off. And that I had succeeded in the difficult task I had set myself.

      It was nothing to do with finance and banking. Nor, sadly, does it make any money. Nonetheless the interesting fact is that it completely and utterly dispelled the gloom. I am left wondering whether there is not some project out there which I could engage in which might be mildly profitable and yet enjoyable.

      I am an analyst – my work as a lawyer and as a stockbroking research associate gave me that. I program – indeed I am fascinated by programming and maths – pretty good at the former, not so very good at the latter. Perhaps I need to find a new challenge away from the financial markets. Unless of course that would again be escapism. I have been guilty of escapism for many a year.


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