Vitriol or Bitterness
By Paulo Coelho
For The Bali Times
In my book Veronika Decides to Die, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital, the director develops a theory about an undetectable poison which contaminates the organism over the years: vitriol.
Like the libido – the sexual liquid that Dr. Freud recognized, but no laboratory has ever been able to isolate – vitriol is distilled by the organisms of human beings who are in a state of fear. Most of the people affected identify its taste, which is neither sweet nor salty, but bitter – that is why depressions are intrinsically associated with the word Bitterness.
All beings have Bitterness in their organism – to a greater or lesser degree – in the same way that almost all of us have the tuberculosis bacillus. However, these two diseases only attack when the patient is debilitated; in the case of Bitterness, the terrain for the disease to arise appears when we are afraid of the so-called “reality.”
Certain people, in their anxiety to build a world where no outside threat could penetrate, increase exaggeratedly their defenses against the outside – strangers, new places, different experiences – and leave the inside unprotected. It is then that Bitterness begins to cause irreversible harm.
The biggest target of Bitterness (or Vitriol, as the doctor of my book preferred) is desire. People attacked by this evil begin losing their desire for everything and in a few years are unable to go outside their world – because they have used up enormous energy reserves building high walls for the reality to be what they wanted it to be.
When avoiding outside attack, they also limit internal growth. They continue going to work, watching television, complaining about the traffic and having children, but all that happens automatically, without really understanding why they are behaving like that – after all, everything is under control.
The great problem of poisoning by Bitterness lies in the fact that passions – hate, love, despair, enthusiasm and curiosity – also don’t appear any more. After some time, the bitter person has no more desire. They had no more will even to live, or to die; that was the problem.
For that reason, for bitter people, heroes and madmen are always fascinating: they are not afraid to live or die. Both heroes and madmen are indifferent in the face of danger and go on ahead in spite of everyone saying not to do so. The madman commits suicide and the hero offers himself up to martyrdom for a cause – but both die, and bitter people spend many nights and days talking about the absurdness and glory of the two types. That is the only moment when the bitter person has the strength to reach the top of his defensive wall and look outside a little; but soon his hands and feet tire and he returns to daily life.
The chronically bitter person only notices his disease once a week: on Sunday afternoons. Then, as he has no work or routine to relieve the symptoms, he realizes that something is very wrong.
© Translated by James Mulholland
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