My Dear Reader,
I promise I won’t treat this as a journal very often, but this week I need to. What’s happening right now is something I was planning on writing about anyways, so why not try while it’s happening?
One trick of depression is that no two depressive experiences are ever the same. The overarching themes might be similar, the times and context, but the texture of the misery can move between a 200 thread count to 1000 thread count; it’s hard to notice. Depression is also tricky in that it feels new every time it climbs out of the muck to start chewing on you. It does not suffer from habituation, it grows from it.
This isn’t a cry for help (granted one might argue all writing is some kind of cry). However, I’ve had a few stresses this week that would push me towards the depressive side of things: the stress of starting classes (both teaching and taking), the loneliness of my apartment, the fact that my neighbors had my car towed (it was blocking there driveway a little), that annoying feeling that there’s something missing. I like to think of each depression as its own Jackson Pollack: hectic, splattered, some clearly darker than others, some less overwhelming. This Pollack might be done in mostly lighter earth tones.
The lighter shades of depression shift from misery to boredom, though the two are never fully without each other. I can flicker into a feeling of total boredom. This might better be referred to as dysthymia, an inability to experience pleasure. Of course, dysthymia is a clinical term, so it isn’t designed to carry the weight of being-in-the-world. Also the term ignores the subtleties of boredom. As I said, I can flick in and out of it for a while. There’s a long period of time that’s like a slow motion shot of someone losing their grip on the ledge of a skyscraper and falling down, their face is staunch and cold, like they don’t recognize their own fall. At first the mood state is scary at how abrupt it is. I can walk across UVM’s beautiful campus, the crystalline sunlight branching down through the scattered evergreens, warmed in my coat, inwardly laughing my beard freezing followed by the feeling that nothing I do matters and nothing I do is interesting and it will always be this way. I am not a good writer, I am not a worthwhile friend and more significantly I’m no longer interested in pursuing those two things that matter most. Best if I close off from the world.
Here, my practiced defense mechanisms kick in (I’ve worked on these things for years, like the way someone might fix up an old car, they run smooth). I can intellectually (read as, unemotionally) assess my inner world and say: this is a moment of dysthymia it will pass. Do you remember two months ago when you felt it and it passed? It will do the same. The words won’t convince me to feel better (remember you can never argue with an emotion, only the context it sits in) but they do keep my verbal thoughts busy so I don’t start panicking. It is possible to be totally bored while in the midst of a panic.
But I’ve left something out of depression’s special boredom; it’s also not a boredom that seeks to rectify itself. In fact, the usual stuff that might help me out (I could play my stupid GameBoy, or read that pile of comics) sounds not only unappealing, but almost revolting, and then a bit frustrating because until this specific moment I loved those things. It’s not the kind of boredom kids complain about on summer break. They’re ready for stimulation. The world seems dry, and you only want it to get drier, if you want anything at all, that is.
And yet, just as I might flicker into this state, I can flicker out of it. The lighter is struck and put out.
I can tell you right now, something in me is striking and snuffing the lighter. As I write this stage sets in fully and I grit my teeth and decide to add another fucking word and then it’s gone, as if a visitor without boundaries, wandering in and out of my consciousness. It is the closest anyone can get to an alien abduction.
This might happen ten times a day or once a week or twice a minute for a week or once in six months and the context is somewhere between random and predictable in that I’m sure it will happen again, I just don’t know when. It’s as if my soul (the thing that makes me a thinking thing, a caring thing) is forced to play peekaboo with dissonance itself.
I value imagination (the thing that colors the world with shades unseen on the visible spectrum, the thing that adds new vectors to old shapes and seeks liveliness in all capacities) but when depressed boredom walks into town, it very quickly dries up one’s imagination. Colors are duller, food has less of a taste (and consequently I look for more sugary and salty foods to make up for it), my sex drive dries and the same pretty girl I made small chat with in the library not only bores me when I see her, but makes me angry. I’m angry I can’t look at her or talk to her the same way. I’m angry that flare of orange brightness in my gut in seeing just how attractive she is isn’t there to flare and blossom again. Most of all I’m wrung out.
Yet there’s another thing that persists. As I sit here, now, listening to Music with Changing Parts by Philip Glass, sitting in an ugly brown chair with wood grain that looks like a five o’clock shadow, and feeling what little I can feel as it ebbs and flows with the bizarre pulsing of Blade Runner like tones, I am writing. This might seem small, maybe like the ineffectual middle finger of a teenager to a principle, or the rantings of the hard right evangelist on a busy and atheistic college campus, but it is more than that. It is a personal victory in all of victory’s definition. You see, I now know there is a me that persists beyond pleasures and needs. There is a thing in me that will create with no impetus to do so, no inspiration, no muse. I can exist as a creative thing even in the dry nightmare scape where my mind is nothing but chalky bones in a stone covered desert.
This is not some kind of egotism, nor is it a riff on Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. For me it is something more profound. No matter how destitute depression makes existence, I can defy it. In response to stogy ole Descartes, I know I exist because I’m in enough pain that I have to do something about it, no point dawdling. But furthermore I know my existence can matter, if only in some roundabout manner, to me, and I know then that I can hang on long enough to feel that it matters as well.
If I am dried up I can wait until I’m full.