Mental Vitamin C

You’ve probably heard of scurvy, the disease that would afflict sailors and pirates at sea. It is caused by a lack of vitamin C, a chemical that is crucial to our survival, but one that our bodies can’t produce themselves. We rely on our diet to provide our vitamin C and if you don’t eat any for a while, you get scurvy. What I recently learned about scurvy is that people with the disease report that old wounds, ones that had healed years ago, would back. Scars would re-open.

Frankly, I was horrified. But also intrigued. “Is there a metaphor here?”, I wondered. Indeed there was.

I’m not a biologist, but my understanding is that when we have no vitamin C, our bodies aren’t able to keep up the collagen production necessary to keep old wounds healed. I used to think of healing as a way to restore our damaged bodies back to their original form, but that’s not the case at all. Our bodies are constantly keeping themselves healed, as an active process. Without vitamin C, human bodies can’t do that, so old wounds come back.

In a sense, our bodies are tapestries, telling the story of every time we’ve been hurt, stitched together by lattices of collagen. That collagen needs constant upkeep; our old wounds would return if we were to stop this active process of repair. It takes work to keep our past physical traumas from surfacing. And if our bodies stop that work then the traumas return.

I think this physical health “fun fact” has a parallel with mental health. I think that without actively-maintained mental health, our old psychological traumas would return. I think that we need some kind of “mental vitamin C” to keep that from happening.

And I think that I’ve been deficient in this “mental vitamin C” long enough that my old mental wounds have re-opened.

Moving back to Canada has been amazing, but it’s also been very difficult. I’ve changed cities and changed jobs, which has left me without my usual support network. And I’ll be honest (though nondescript, so as to not incur any contractual penalties from U-Haul) that the actual drive up from New York to Canada was pretty traumatic for me. The mandatory two weeks in self-quarantine indoors once we arrived were also very difficult. The following winter, with the ever-present pandemic stress, compounded these difficulties. I fell back on old mental habits.

This is all to say that I’m seeing a therapist again. It’s going well. It feels like every time I re-enter therapy it gets easier to get back on track. And I am feeling on track, but it’s an active process. I’m still coming to terms with that fact that the traumas I’ve experienced – both physical and mental – are things that will stick with me for the rest of life and will need constant repair.

It feels like I should be able to become healed, as good as new, and not worry about my past mental injuries anymore. But just like my body still remembers things I told it to forget, my mind remembers too. Furious affections, indeed. It’s going to take work, but I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I intend to make the most of it.

Wish me luck, and, take care of yourself.

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