Q is for Questioning

One wonderful thing about anxiety disorders is the moment the anxiety takes a break. At nineteen I was deep inside my first extended bought of anxiety; the kind of anxiety that made me feel as if there were maggots having an ungodly orgy under my skin, squirming relentlessly. I was sitting on the couch in my room; it was a dark and otherwise pleasant summer night. I was trying to pay attention to “Mind Games” by John Lennon when the anxiety broke, if only for a moment. It was as if my subconscious had heard his lyrics and decided to cut me a break. I felt relief. I felt like a gently rocking rowboat in an endless ocean, slowly bobbing, waiting for the next wave to come, but laughing in the meantime. What else could I do?

In retrospect it’s hard to make sense of this initial anxiety order. It came out of nowhere and clung to me like an Alien face-hugger for months (until I started taking the numbing, but welcome medication Paxil). I was afraid and convinced I was gay.

Full disclosure: when I was in middle school I was a fearful bigot. It was actually my church Pastor that challenged me about sexuality. I was a 12 year-old and we were discussing sexuality in relation to the church for some Boy Scout thing. She asked me if I thought it would be alright for two men or two women to get married. I said I didn’t agree with homosexuality (whatever the fuck that actually means[i]). She asked me why and answered that I couldn’t answer. In fact, part of me thought she wanted to hear that I agreed with Leviticus and Romans II and that it was a doggone sin. That was not the case—in addition to that neither Leviticus or Romans II, when read critically, actually say much about homosexuality, but that’s a whole ‘nother argument.

So I was 12 and in middle school and trying to make sense of  what the hell queerness was and why everyone seemed to hate it so much. I probably let a lot of that environment leak into my own opinions. I probably got afraid I could be gay, the same way someone in the USSR might have gotten afraid they didn’t really believe in Stalin and his communism. I problem held deep seated and uncomfortable feelings that queerness was still “bad” despite consciously trying to change this idea.

I cannot date when it really started, but I do remember driving with my father up a hill in Glastobury, CT thinking, okay, if I’m gay I’m just gonna accept it right here and now. I had an anxiety attack. I kept it hidden from my dad by clenching every muscle in my body. He didn’t know because I was scared to let him. The ironic part? He would have talked to me in a calm and levelheaded manner, telling me that being gay was fine. It was also fine if I was straight.

Not only was this uncomfortable, it was new. I didn’t know anything about anxiety disorders; my mind was a great untamed landscape that was more to be feared than trusted, with its roving thought patterns and flora that would lash out with stinging words. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to accept my gayness. Mostly because I wasn’t gay; but, I don’t think I had a compassionate place inside me to examine these frustrations without judging myself, so instead I started developing obsessive compulsive tendencies.

I spent hours researching “ways to tell if you’re gay” (even writing that still makes me shudder with trepidation). I came across a now infamous and largely stupid study that showed gay men had a longer ring finger than pointer finger… or was it that the fingers were about even? It had something to do with testosterone because obviously gay men are less masculine than heterosexual men (again an entire ‘nother problem to unpack). But this wasn’t enough because I could make my fingers look about equal or make my ring finder look longer; and I did, for hours.

Things started reaching a fever pitch. I was working at a golf course taking care of golf carts and I stopped talking to my fellow co-workers because I was going over that last fact I’d just looked up on the internet, like: a gay man’s hair tends to swirl counter-clockwise, mine is clockwise, why doesn’t that make me feel better?

Eventually it reached a point where I decided to masturbate to gay porn as some ultimate test. I waited ‘til the house was empty, opened up my laptop, did the search, watched for a moment and felt a deep and ugly revulsion come up inside me that I was sure could have been arousal. Shaking and shaken, I went to the garage and grabbed a sledgehammer and went to the woods and smashed a boulder until my hands blend. Then assume this hammer use was just sublimation.

The thing is, I felt like I was wrong for daring to asking these questions, like sexuality was a given and everyone knew theirs. I took it as a sign that if I was struggling I was by default gay. Most of this anxiety came from a homophobic place and I knew it. If I was queer I just wanted to accept myself as being queer, but something kept getting in the way. In a weird way, I’d dug out a closet that never existed before; I was hiding from people the fact that I felt hurt because I couldn’t find a solid foundation in my sexuality. Yes, I recalled the countless times I’d had some awkward woody around a girl I thought was attractive, but my anxiety riddled mind just assumed those were all fetishized moments or repressed homosexual urges or whatever psychological/psychoanalytic theory I’d recently read.

And then there was that break: John Lennon singing “Mind Games.” It was an unexpected moment of synchronicity. My mind was at rest for a moment and I saw the structure of what was going on. In a very strange way my obsession with sexuality had nothing to do with sexuality and I certainly wasn’t going to learn what turned me on in my homemade laboratories. You see, the best I can understand was that I had a lot of failures with girls in the past and I took that to mean I wasn’t ever really attracted to them, or not meant to be with them. Girls scared me, sex scared me, but everything I saw told me I needed to be having sex as much as possible all the time. And, living in a society that emphasized sexuality as a binary rather than a spectrum or a multiplicity, the only logical alternative was the seeming fact I was gay. That’s why there were some girls I wasn’t interested in. That’s why I felt uncomfortable having sex with the idea of sex at that point in my life.

This insight didn’t “cure” me (it goes without saying that queerness never needs curing, it’s a compassionate take on sexuality that widens what we know to be human) but, it did give me some weird insight I could repeat to myself once I started slipping into another anxiety pit.

But this still left me with something I was not at all comfortable with: my desire to prove I wasn’t gay. Why was it such a big deal? And it was answered after I got to know some gay men and women: it shouldn’t be the sole signifier of a person. It is not the single most important definition. Important, yes, but the definitive statement on who someone is? No. I cared because there were still vestigial religious traits in me that said your sexuality is your self-worth. I’ve found sexuality to be an expression, whether alone or with someone else.

The best part? I now know a whole lot of people that have gone through something similar. I just wished we talked about this more, everyone. Why is it a weakness to admit you’re unsure, let alone tell others?

[i] I actually think a lot of this ugly homophobia comes from the well-worn tread of ignorance, but maybe more importantly, a lack of compassion. It’s hard to be compassionate for someone, some group of people you know nothing about, it’s hard to imagine their pain.

Tension in the Transition

Again, trigger warning. The following contains a discussion of suicide. If you yourself are dealing with suicidal desire please, I beg you, call someone, a friend, a family member. You won’t be bothering or burdening them, I swear it. If that seems like too much right now then call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. I swear they help.

You can always tell a cheap New Age self-help movement by its emphasis on “Visualizing Your Successful Future.” It asks you to imagine when you’ve moved up three pay grades and can finally get that company lease and other sleazy middle-class marginalia that has nothing to do with who you actually might someday become.

I might be a little bitter with all this forward thinking stuff because I suck at imagining the future. I can imagine a complex beehive type dystopia where each person is genetically mutated to fit somewhere on a new food chain of differing hominids, but five years from now? Hell no. You could tell me I’d find ruby shoes and end up in Oz and I wouldn’t doubt you.

Like all things with me, this isn’t due to lack of imagination or work ethic (I like to think), but because, since I was seven years old my future plans were suicide. I am not being hyperbolic. I spent a grand total of twenty something hours anxiously thinking about how I could hurt or kill myself between 5th grade’s fall ball and spring baseball. It mostly amounted to dropping a rock on my foot. Or walking into the pond near my Connecticut family house with a rock. Or dropping a rock from my top bunk bed onto my head. I was hung up on rocks, and as inappropriate as it seems to laugh here, it always makes me smile. I was a bright kid who made up colorful worlds. The best I could do was drop rocks on things? But, as I’ve gotten older and more knowledgeable in adult ways, the scenarios have become more complex and feelings have gotten stronger.

There’s a pattern. There’s two general time’s I start thinking suicide (please forgive my casual use, but I’ve lived with the proclivity for suicide for so long, thought about it so much, lived through it, wrestled with the fucking thing that it’s not scary to me anymore… in certain situations. It’s scary when I start to desire it, when it feels comfortable. Somehow I still get flustered when I hear someone casually remark “I’ll kill myself if I have to—fill with inane complaint”[i]). I start thinking of suicide when I feel bored, purposeless and when there’s a transition, say for example, driving home from my VT digs for a week to sit in my house only to drive back to life as a graduate student.

I can tell you that I spent my Friday night buying a bunch of crap (actually graphic novels, so it was pretty awesome stuff, but you get the picture) on Amazon to assure myself I wouldn’t crash my car on the way to Burlington. I had to dangle a carrot in front of my nose so as not to purposefully drive off the road.

The thing is I’m not sure this desire actually comes from a dislike of Burlington, VT or a special love for my house in CT. I think these tensions are built into my changes. I think I’ve been so afraid of being hurt for so long that my immediate thought has been to head it off at the pass because no one can hurt me if I’m dead. I think I’m at the point where this is not useful anymore because the one thing I’m most afraid of hurting me is myself.  Through involuntary practice (were talking starting around seven) I’ve used suicide as a way out and now I’m afraid it’s the only a through.

But that’s not true, is it. Every morning is a reminder that that isn’t true. Actually every ticking second is proof to me that my future is not suicide, if only because of the basest fact: I’m not committing it. Not now, not this next second, or the one after, or again, the second that is now.

This might seem small but there’s a deep reclamation in it for me. It allows me some small feeling of control, and a very strange metaphor for life at large.

In Infinite Jest one of the struggling heroes of the story, Don Gately, tells himself,

Any one second: he remembered: the thought of feeling like he’d be feeling this second for 60 more of these seconds—he couldn’t deal. He could not f—-ing deal. He had to build a wall around each second just to take it. The whole first two weeks of it are telescoped in his memory down into like one second—less: the space between two heartbeats. A breath and a second, the pause and gather between each cramp. An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat. And he’d never before or since felt so excruciatingly alive. Living in the Present between pulses.

To parrot Wallace further, it’s hard to be present and alive, for me especially, but enough of this type of unspoken faith gets me between crossroads and through them and into whatever the fuck the future holds.

[i] I think my comes from the fact that I know that person has not suffered as I have. I don’t say this in any kind of sanctimonious manner, but rather, to point out that it would be easy for me to be righteously indignant all the time. Think of all the jokes about suicide: the biggest losers are the people who can’t even kill themselves etc. This stuff bothers me but I know I would just start to pity myself if I was angry over it all the time. And sometimes I do get angry and self-pitying about the whole thing, but then that’s followed by shame because who am I to say what suffering really is? And what if everyone I meet really is suffering worse than I am and the starving children, the starving children in Africa and gratefulness and… It just turns into a fucking mess.

Will You Give an Ear for a Moment?

I’m lonely right now. And I’ve been lonely for a while. Everyone gets lonely; it’s such a basic idea it might be considered trite. I know all this and I’m still ashamed to admit I’m lonely. It’s even hard for me to tell my friends. A silence tends to waft in and settle after. I’m lonely. I’m scared of telling people that. And all that makes me ashamed. Thing is, I don’t know where this shame came from. It’s not like anyone sat me down and said “John, look, sometimes you’ll be lonely and it’s a bad thing” but admitting loneliness is socially uncomfortable enough to be seen as a social faux pas. Again, let me repeat, we are all lonely at point in our life and it generally isn’t by choice. It’s not like we’re revealing an intimately placed tattoo of the “WHASSSAAAPP” Budweiser commercial to a group of strangers. Loneliness is not only normal, it’s inevitable, and can in fact be capital “g” Good at the right moments and in the right mind mindsets. But what about when it isn’t Good and we need to be able to talk to someone because we feel locked away? I remember I was in group therapy years ago and a woman was describing how she and her husband had grown apart. She described in great detail, the gentle but firm way he used to hold the space between her breasts and push his chest against her back and would quietly exhale on her neck as she slept. She said that in the past months they’d inched farther and farther from each other until they were on opposite sides of the bed, both slightly colder at night. She described the weight on her shoulders and the weight in her stomach. Then one day she just got out of bed and just drove. She was supposed to bring her daughter to school, but her husband could handle it so she just drove until she got to the great American void all of us at least consider visiting: The Grand Canyon. She said she stood out there and it was grey but it didn’t matter because she felt free, but sad. And yet it was a better sensation than the cold bed. The group psychiatrist, a wizened old fellow who commanded a room by being soft spoken said, “Sometimes it’s the moments that we feel alone that mean the most, because not only do we die alone, but often times we live alone as well. It is actually the moments we connect that are rare. It sounds like you felt, for the first time, that it was okay to be lonely.” To which she responded with a reactionary staccato, “Oh no, I wasn’t lonely, I think it was just nice getting away from my husband and our kid.” I remember being uncomfortable with how defensive she was, or at least, being uncomfortable and picking up on her defensiveness. The easiest thing to do with anything uncomfortable is shove it away (but loneliness is inside us, maybe even when we’re with others) or make fun of it. I do a whole lot of the latter. Doesn’t help much. I also know I picked that one up from TV. I could talk about being lonely without upsetting the mood. I could have my lonely cake and sit in the corner watching it as it sat on the table too. Of course, these efforts at humor (lord, how not-funny is that phrase?) were passable about best. Maybe I’d go on about wondering if there was a kind of lycanthropy that turned people into a cat lady. I think I got it when I started feeding the neighborhood stray every morning etc. etc. This didn’t work, the humor that is. Then there’s another attempt at defending myself: drinking and going on social media. This is another thing I do an uncomfortable amount. It’s the usual ploy of trying to drown a feeling and heal it with the third best thing: digital interaction. I think loneliness may be the most common Western-Developed-Nation form of suffering. It is a key part of depression (which might be thought of an acid loneliness that seeps into every cell). I think we aren’t very good at talking or working with loneliness. To me, Camus was right to ask is suicide worth committing. Not because I think it’s a valid question, but because the drive behind it was, is there something in all this (lonely) suffering worth hanging on to. He recommended we imagine Sisyphus happy. The unspoken key to this philosophical as that we are there to witness Sisyphus endlessly role his boulder. We are there to be happy with him. Loneliness might be considered the foundation of modern philosophical thought. When Descartes wrote Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am) he was only proving the existence of the one who thought. When he realized this cast everyone else’s existence into doubt, it meant he had to scrabble to prove other’s existed. He decided that by viewing other’s over time, one could surmise they really exist. There’s something absolutely wrong and something dead right about this idea. People around us do tend to be shades. We don’t know their passions, how they interact, how they make love. And we can’t know the exact experience someone is having at a single moment: their thoughts, bodily sensations, rising temperatures, and swirling passions are forever locked inside them. But just as they are locked from us, we are locked from them. What I’m saying is loneliness is etched on human bones. It is a fundamental difficulty of being a singular subject that we’re forced to struggle with. Sometimes we’re given the tools to do it, sometimes we aren’t.  The rituals we practice, whether in private social circles, institutional places (school, church etc.) end up determining how we feel about and handle loneliness. So why am I so fucking afraid and ashamed of mine? I cannot conclude this topic. To be totally honest I had this silly notion that I could write my way out of the hurt in my chest, write my way out of my loneliness. I think that’s why I write in general. To feel like someone is there, listening. I guess that’s what I might want (not that I don’t already have it), probably something everyone would want, a person to listen, to share with. I’m not the only one who feels like this, right?

The Hum

Trigger Warning for those struggling with suicidal ideation. If you are I urge you to call a friend and tell them how scared you are. The disorder will tell you not to: don’t listen to it. If you don’t have someone to call then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They help. I swear it.

It comes to the surface every so often. I’ll be strolling along, capturing or being captured by my inner verbal/pictorial dialogue, and there will be a resurgence from my balls to my guts to my chest to my thoughts–from emotional center to intellectual center—and I’ll think, “oh, that’s right, that’s how I feel. I feel like if I sat down now I’d never get up.”

This is my “Water.” In his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College David Foster Wallace, something of a hero to me, and also something of a warning story, starts off by telling the students a parable in which two young fish encounter an older fish who says, “Morning boys, how’s the water?” Wallace uses this story to demonstrate the idea that, “The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” He then goes on to say this is a banal platitude when stated as a sentence. My water (and if you read the commencement closely, Wallace’s water) is emotion. Unfortunately, every time I stop and wonder how the water feels I’m met by a disturbed thrill. It feels like the underside of bad. It feels like the shallow levels are bright and cheery and when the dark water inevitably bubbles up it reminds me that sometimes I’d rather not be living.

I don’t use that idea lightly. There is a dark streak in me that would rather have me not existing, not necessarily dead; just not existing. I like to think of that thing that keeps humans going as a kind of hum, maybe the warm hum of a machine or computer, the hum of a beehive or the hum of a river or the hum of an uncle as he sits a cold beer on the swinging porch as the sun sets, ready for rest. Nonetheless, a continual linking inside people that chains each moment to the next and keeps them contented between intensities. I see it my father as he contentedly sorts papers and types on the computer. I see it in my students in class when they sit quietly while I read a work sheet to present. I see it in my friends as they work day in and out at jobs I couldn’t. I do not see it in me. I don’t hear it in me. I’m afraid I don’t have it. In fact, I’m not sure I ever did.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things in life that keep me here. I love my family and friends and will fight tooth and nail to keep from hurting them more than I already have. I have bursts of excitement; moments of jouissance that leave me wanting to fill the nearest moleskin with notes or the closest stranger with ideas, but between those moments there often hangs a hollowness that seems to be, well, for now at least, my default state.

In one of the more moving (in an admittedly disturbing fashion) of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy he recounts a line from an old Greek myth, Silenus. In it King Midas is searching for Silenus, Dionysus’ companion. When Midas finally catches Silenus, Silenus turns to him and says, “Miserable, ephemeral race, children of hazard and hardship, why do you force me to say what it would be much more fruitful for you not to hear? The best of all things is something entirely outside your grasp: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing.” I read this as a college freshman and felt soothed. Something dim and frustrated in me was named and gentle nuzzled in the tougher parts of Nietzsche’s writing. This also scared the living hell out of me because it brought a consistent feeling into full view. I remembered being 7 years old and wanted to ride my bike down the driveway into the stonewall at the bottom, and there was a Boy Scout Swiss army knife at 12 and again and again, I was shown in full the dangerous weight of my own internal hum. I knew there was something different in my basic self, or at least was convinced there was a difference.

But ironically, it was reading more Nietzsche that made me understand the flip side of my pessimistic self. In The Gay Science Nietzsche, ever the pessimism defines true grit and from this true passion when he writes:

The greatest weight.– What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

In my better moments I like to think I live this way, embracing eternal recurrence so that even the hum I don’t have is a moment of celebration just for being. I like to think the constant hurt makes sense due to some primordial philosophy. But maybe I keep going, not out of concerted effort, but because I do have that hum; it’s just set to a different frequency, lower and darker, inaudible like an elephant call, but there, stringing me together. I can’t really be sure.

There’s that old adage that you can’t really love someone else until you love yourself. I say fuck that. I can’t feel my own love but that isn’t going to stop me from loving others. It occurs to me that love might have a whole lot less to do with immediate sensation (though that’s a part of it) and a whole lot more with effort and connection, the willingness to enter the stream of someone else’s hum, to embrace them however they’re able to embrace. Maybe love is in the action of seeking to hold another whether that’s literally or figuratively. Maybe whether or not I feel it or believe it, and whether or not I cringe at the very word, love is a thing that reaches places I can’t, and brings me closer to others in a way I never thought I could be.

For now, that’s the goddamn tune I’m gonna hum.

Self-Loathing

Trigger Warning for those struggling with suicidal ideation. If you are I urge you to call a friend and tell them how scared you are. The disorder will tell you not to: don’t listen to it. If you don’t have someone to call then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They help. I swear it.

It usually doesn’t make sense to rank emotions (they are multifarious sensations that can seemingly control us at times, theirs not best or worst), but I think there’s an ugliest emotion. It’s ugly in that it, like king Midas’ touch, makes everything it comes in contact with of similar substance. It can taint in a certain way. It even hard to talk about and hard to see due to what it invokes in the lookers or listeners: self-loathing.

Like any emotion self-loathing is a mix of other, less complex feelings that then employs itself in various particular forms. But a lot of times it’ll look like this: someone in the corner of an unevenly lit room, still wearing their jacket, with their greasy, un-showered hair hanging down as they viciously swear at themselves again and again and again. The person is both isolating themselves, but speaking audibly enough that others don’t hear and this, perhaps, is the unstable crux of self-loathing: it is both directed at the individual who hates, while still being directed outwardly. It contains the rage of a despair that says “Why couldn’t you love me enough?” while being unable to accept any love as honest or genuine. It can also go from a dense point of anger to a wide, subtle pattern of self-sabotage. It, like everything part of the depressive attitude, is cunning as hell.

I can tell you that shame plays a large part in self-loathing. The idea that you’ve done something wrong around other people and they knew you’ve done something wrong and that now they might think ill of you seems to bring out in people a tendency to mentally and verbally self-flagellate, as if their self-imposed anger might pre-empt and cut of the need for others to punish them (punish in the imagined form of more shame or some yet undiscovered terrifying feeling). So this brings out another layer to self-loathing; the anger for others is derived from what they might be doing and saying and how that feels like a true reflection of oneself.

I felt the need to write about this little talked about feeling because it’s one that visits me from time to time and it’s one that very few talk about in a calm way. Frankly, I’ve had a tough week regarding inter-personal relationships. I said some stupid things, had so things said to me, and walked home with my head hung and my heart heavy. On the walk from my friend’s house to my own all I could do was picture a whirlpool I was at the bottom of, a whirlpool that turned out to be a charming porcelain toilet where I was forced to eat shit for things I said. I kept imagining how disgusted others were with me (when I was disgusted with myself) and I kept imagining how this thing I call a person was now a broken veneer that I’d been desperately trying to hold in place for a long time. I was angry, but only angry enough to hurt myself. It seemed logical to slam my head against the wall, or a hammer on the back of my hand. I wanted the external word to exactly reflect the inflamed pain of my psyche. Instead I played Mario because I was so crippled by overwhelming shame/loathing/fear.

There’s a reason this stuff needs to be talked about. The thing is the above scenario is one I’ve lived in spirit a lot of times. The intensities have been different, sure, but all with the same strange mix of anger and contempt for myself and others. The only thing is, when self-loathing and depressive tendencies team up they start to become really dangerous. On that walk home I did more than think about hurting myself. I wanted to escape this cavalcade of painful confusion I was in so I looked up and thought the telephone pole was a nice place to hang a noose.

In every despair there’s usually something else struggling to get loose, something that wants to be free of the despair. This struggling can take the form of suicidal ideation (the final escapism) or the torrent of thought and feeling associated with self-loathing (if only I could contain all these thoughts and feelings in one grand picture, maybe I could purge them!), but despair must be struggled with in the right way. Friends help. So do pets. Tactile and soothing things that don’t seek to remove you or your thoughts, but rather, to coax them into submission, like cooing at an infant. In fact it’s this most basic ‘self-talk’ that gets me through self-loathing periods. Repeatedly telling myself “okay John, you’re doing this, you’re okay because you’re doing this and you’re doing this because you’re okay” (the ‘this’ referring to anything from walking to eating to teaching to goddamn breathing.  When the black hole of self-loathing is involved talking to myself makes me a little less crazy.

Turn On, Login, Space Out

Listen To This While Reading

Sometimes I’ll have up to four screens on at once. Generally it’s just two, but if I’m feeling especially rotten it can get higher. Often times it will go something like this: computer screen to play a videogame  (and despite adventure/puzzle games being my favorite I’m probably wasting time throwing grenades at Nazi zombie robot dogs and feeling shitty about it because I generally tell people I don’t play games like this; in fact I’m not even enjoying it that much), iPhone with one earbud in to listen to a podcast (but actually unconsciously wishing for a text knowing I won’t answer it), TV on in the peripherals piping an episode of The Office I’ve seen at least six times (I sort of look up to/ identify with/ wish I looked like Jim because maybe women would like me more and I like having the slightest sensation that I’m not single and my girlfriend is as kind and pretty as Pam and maybe I’m not as lonely as I thought), and laptop on a stand next to the computer with Facebook just sitting there, staring at me, the site itself simmering at a high temperature, wanting to scald me with the images of friends doing fun things without me.
The strangest part? I do this to escape the feeling of loneliness. I connect to disconnect from myself.
Connection is something I value highly. But are there different types?

In Zadie Smith’s article “Generation Why?” on the film Social Network she finds herself at the uncomfortable junction of generations (which seems to happen whenever bold new type of technology reveals itself to be popular) ask whether the Facebook Generation has a different conception of personhood. She writes, “Perhaps Generation Facebook have built their virtual mansions in good faith, in order to house the People 2.0 they genuinely are.” Her question is full of implications that every generation demands of its offspring: are you serious? Are you really in there? How can you live life this way? I’m worried what you’ll turn into if you grow up. Do you have the capacity to be human like we do?

The answer to all of these should be obvious, and it’s not the questions that are really interesting. It’s more… why are you even asking. Considering I just got an iPhone and was chided by my best friend’s father for being behind the times, I think there’s less of a generation gap in terms of technology use, but there is one when it comes to what we might be losing to social technology. Maybe we’re ignoring what’s truly dangerous about technology’s affects. Not its ability to influence behavior like the video games causing violence in the 90’s scare, but social technologies ability to anesthetize more primal and necessary desires.

You see, when I’m watching four screens I’m often unknowingly refusing to address a problem in myself that will nonetheless be played out through my extremely divided attention. I want to be with other people and yet much of being an adult seems to require certain amounts of either being with others in strictly “professional” settings or being alone or both. This is celebrated. I don’t know why.

So to answer my own previously posed question: there’s one type of connection with many different flavors and intensities. It can be strong, joyful, fraught, confused, sexual, funny, any of these, but when I’m not longer with the person, physically, it takes a sharp turn. Instead my anxieties and desires fill in the gaps for me. Suddenly the way I saw you sitting with you legs tucked under you, leaning on one arm and looking both enchanted and enchanting; that’s gone, so the complexities and intricacies of interaction are lost and with it a certain amount of human social signals, a certain amount of felt warmth, that isn’t so much heat as it is the bones of spirit.

For me, solely texting or Facebooking or calling friends is colored with anxiety. I wonder if I’ll ever see them again, if they care about me all, if they’re actually doing okay or putting on that voice that says they’re doing okay. I worry if our friendships that end up in the digital realm can suffice, can sustain. The polite answer is yes, the honest answer: why am I trying to drown myself in connective media?

But please don’t take me for a Luddite. There’s some joy in the use of computers in all there vermiform shapes and sizes. What worries me more is the way in which adult life is not structured around connection, but rather, connection must be structured around adult life (adult life being understood crudely as work, pay bills, everyday ins and outs, responsibility). Maybe what previous generations are actually asking is can we take it, a life that is not built around connection? And maybe the right answer is no, not when its so easy to treat ourselves with a large dose of digital downtime. I might already be nostalgic for a time that never was, but I know if depression has only been increasing in the last fifty years, why not try something (that I will leave purposefully vague) that encourages community rather than a turn on, login, space out (‘til worktime).

In the mean time I might get a fifth screen. I hear the curved TV’s are on sale and I need to catch up on Kitchen Nightmares.

Petty Bougie Horror

Depression can’t be trusted for its world view, but it can be trusted for a couple insights. Like maybe, the cliché about urban/suburban/small town settings being dissatisfying is true; maybe they hide horror in plain sight.

This can easily come off as teen-angst whining or Ivory Tower elitism, so let me start my “critique” with a wider lens. There is now 10 to 20 times the amount of depression there was in the 50’s[i] (of course there are a myriad amount of reasons this is problematic. Less reporting of depression, less recognition of the disorder, different social expectations that determined when it was and wasn’t a disorder). That is to say, if we have been making progress then we’ve been cultivating a lot of mental disorder along with it. When it comes to the reasons a person has depression in the first place (the disorder as a whole, not the whys and wherefores of drifting into a particular episode at a particular time) the reasons tend to be more systemic than atomistic. In other words social practices and trends can often, unknowingly, help foster the birth of disorders rather than seek to alleviate them. For example, depression tends to increase in periods of great economic disparity, especially amongst the middle and working classes (though, because it is an alien illness it can very easily visit the upper class as well).  Why not target these structural enablers (the bubble system of an unchecked marketplace, lack of safety net) of mental disorder instead of the individual sufferers of disorder? Many treatments seek to simply find a disease within a single person, and while the treatment might include environment, they leave the responsibility while a treatment like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy[ii] can be helpful, especially in dealing with phobias, it makes less sense to demand of every individual a conformation with practices or habits they find sincerely unpleasant just because there’s an unspoken social norm stating everyone should be capable of everything.

Okay, give me a second here. I know this might read the like the sound-bites of a precocious leftist undergrad, but I have reason to think them and experience that gave birth to said reason: I was in a grocery store. I don’t like grocery stores. I don’t like them for specific reasons.

I’m a sensitive person. It’s something I’m pretty ambivalent about because there’s a lot of good and bad that comes with it. It means I’m sensitive emotionally and if you say my comic book collection isn’t rad it’ll hurt my feelings, it also means that stimuli (loud music, crowds, parties, classrooms, bus stops, even a supposedly quiet but overbooked Barnes and Noble) do more than tire me out, they take my consciousness and give it a towel wringing, leaving me with an unpleasant floaty feeling.[iii] I often end up feeling like I’m dreaming and knowing I’m not really connecting to the world around me. For some reason my brain has to put my mind in bubble wrap. I never leave a grocery store in a state of reality.

Grocery stores are over-lit with flat fluorescent lighting, full of busy stressed people making a lot of noise grabbing at a couple water sprayed apples, colorful in a chaotic marketing way rather than a bright film or piece of art (I once heard an ornithologist on NPR talk about how you could tell the health of an environment by the plentitude of its sounds; birds needing to adapt to new scales and chords to distinguish themselves from other birds. Their differentiation was the sound of fecund life.  It seems grocery stores are similar with their colorful displays all vying for consumer attention, but perverse in that, unlike the songs of birds which speak of mating, sex, the turning wheel of life, these colorful displays only speak of money) Grocery stores can range from the gargantuan, like the warehouse heights of a Shaw’s, to the labyrinthine and claustrophobic, with aisles turning into other aisles one selling five flavors of vinegar, the next ten shades of baking powder. They are a special type of American hell.

BUT! Grocery stores are necessary to purchase food. Being a human, I have to buy food and I can’t afford to eat out every day. Therefore, I have to go in grocery stores. I hate this fact. Apparently, to be a functional adult I have to go in them regularly and operate in a smart consumer fashion, with coupons and lists, I think tax auditors are less prepared with bureaucratic recording instruments than the modern American grocery goer.

Here’s the thing, grocery stores were not built with human comfort in mind. They were built on floor space convenience and splashy marketing. They do not care. And yet, when I was going through CBT I had to go through grocery stores repeatedly. This caused three weeks where at some point in the day I’d end up feeling that sickly-stoned depersonalization feeling because CBT said I should have anxiety about grocery stores or large crowds of people or carnivals etc. etc. and if I do it enough I’ll stop being so deviant.

It didn’t work.

When one thinks about it, grocery stores, as we Americans know them, are an aberration of the 20th-21st century, they never existed before Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis in 1916. How is my ability to be an adult now hung on the horror of visiting a grocery store? How is this a criteria of my mental health? People have been getting depressed since Aristotle was writing (and possibly much longer) and yet, because grocery stores are institutional in that they replaced marketplaces in providing food, and because they went from experimental business model to thriving economic beacons of vulgar opulence, they must be good for people.

What I’m getting at is this: Just because something is part of our social fabric does not mean that those who deviate are the unhealthy ones. Nor am I casting a condescending scowl at the entire social fabric. I am entreating you, the reader, to perhaps think of mental disorder itself as a symptom of an increasingly lonely, disconnected, harsh, environment. And if you do think this way, remember, your love starts to matter. In fact, all your efforts to be good to others start to matter. That one smile to the person across the street brightens things a bit, things are stitched a little closer. I know it would help me, wouldn’t it help you?

[i] Info taken from this excellent Salon article.

[ii] AKA CBT, Cognitive Behavior Therapy claims to change the neurological wiring of a person by instantiating more “healthy” practices. It often includes exposure therapy, in which a person is exposed to an anxiety inducing stimulus enough times that they become desensitized to the stimulus (e.g. I’m afraid of snakes, I look at pictures of snakes until they no longer cause anxiety, then look at a real snake until there isn’t any anxiety, then maybe I can touch a snake! Boom! Cured!) Don’t get me wrong CBT can be very effect, but I do have an axe to grind with it. It seems to have its roots directly in ole’ BF Skinner’s behaviorism. I find it dehumanizing. It says, this person’s fears, anxieties, where they came from, what they represent, do not matter, we must program the person so as not to fear the thing, with little regard for what the thing is. It is also the most cookie cutter of the treatments. Work one way with all patients and it will work with all patients. But that’s my own axe don’t take it as truth.

[iii] The technical term for this is depersonalization. But that term does nothing to convey the surrealism of the state.

Boredom and the Dry Imagination

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.

Anger, Anger Burning Bright

If variety is the spice of life, frustration is the spice of depression.  While variety offers new experience and sensation; an epicurean promise of a greater self, frustration allows the depressed person to get up and do what they need to. It is equally myopic as depression, but allows one to live with just a little bit more verve. This is not really a good thing, but in the maw of depression it’s not always bad.
In terms of gender identity and emotion, our socially constructed expectations for “man” or “woman”[i], it’s common knowledge that the acceptable masculine emotion is anger. In fact the first time I can remember feeling proud of myself was as an eight year old soccer player (I’d never really tasted pride as a demonstration of desirable social traits in a social environment until then. I was not aware I was filling a gender role. I was, until that point, only aware of the social world insomuch as someone was nice or funny or mean or an adult [and thus wielded a kind of primordial authority]). I was a gawky little kid that had a gait similar to a spider monkey and the best I could do for the team was run fast and try to kick the ball towards the other goal. No sports IQ (still no sports IQ). During one practice my coach had yelled at the team about our lack of hustle and lack of toughness. He yelled at a couple kids that started crying. I got scared and mad. In one drill, snorting in and out like a crazed horse, I slide tackled a friend and he fell over. He was dazed and bleeding as my coach looked at me and told me that that was a good job and I wanted to see a lot more of it.[ii]

But in terms of messages that one was much more overt than other ways the rules of gender are passed on. Usually it’s by role modelling. For years I never saw my father cry. A basic and important method of grieving and I did not see him cry. Even when he lost his father I didn’t see my dad cry. I think that if he did, he hid it from me because he didn’t want to scare me. His desires were noble but they were perverted by notions like sadness scares kids and has to be hidden from them (some kids get scared, but others are innately caring and empathic and wish to sooth anyone that’s upset. What is this invisible wall that leaves us mourning in separate cubicles?).

Unfortunately, there’s a great circular logic that underlies men and anger. Anger, more than sadness, seeks to act. Anger simply wants to get angrier until one acts. Anger is also a drive that tricks us into thinking we’re holding the wheel. Action is the province of masculinity (just see what a big deal people make out of women heading action movies. Is it seriously that difficult to imagine a woman being decisive that it’s a big shock that has to be rabidly covered and commented on? I know plenty of decisive women. There are no “strong women,” there are women who, due to their character make tough decision with integrity. Just because your genitalia lives inside you or hangs outside or something between says nothing of how “strong” you might be. This might have something to do with violence being equivocated with strength, but it’s so silly to be shocked by a woman portrayed as strong that frustrates the hell out of me) Anger in action falsely sooths and covers an insecurities. Action and decisiveness are the provence of men. Why? Because not acting is for girls and pussies (just look at Hamlet). Why? Because men get angry.

There’s a hidden trap here: emotions need practice to stay immediate and vital. The more someone shuts of their desire to weep or laugh or feel, the less these things live in them. The person’s capacity is reduced. It can get to the point that someone becomes unknowingly dysthymic. They can laugh without feeling the joy of humor, cry without feeling true sorrow. This is what men do to men when anger is the pinnacle of masculinity: we rob each other of simple humanities.

But depression, as usual, turns the tables. One of the easiest ways to get a depressed person out of bed is to make them mad. In fact, in Freud’s famous paper “Mourning and Melancholia” he sees anger as the vital difference between the two states. Anger is turned toward the ego (or inward) during Melancholia. Even in depressions most sluggish moments, the moments where someone can’t get out of bed/off the couch/out of the chair there’s a low fever of anger (along with a slew of other unpleasant emotions). In an “activated” major depression the depressed person is anxious and irritable. It’s also in this state that the depressed person is most likely to commit suicide (or self-murder).

I could tell you that it feels better to be in emotional pain and mobile rather than emotional pain and bedridden, but that’s not entirely true. While we tend to talk about people being “overcome” or “overwhelmed” by anger most of the time angry people[iii] are aware they are angry and may fight desperately with their angry urges. I’ve been in that place. It might go something like this:

I’m getting in the card to drive to work and a can feel a thrumming in my chest that’s tight and energizing and wants someone to hurt. I’ve gotta buckle my seatbelt but I hate the fucking zipping sound it makes and who the fuck is anyone to tell me when to buckle my fucking seat belt? I start the car up and the radio doesn’t work and any little corner that can catch me up now gets all of my attention instead of 10% of it. And who broke my fucking radio. Some schmoe walks by and I wish it was that dirty piece of shit. And another lighter voice asks: why am I so mad? And I feel a little ashamed and then fuck that I’ll fucking feel how I’ll feel and then there’s an automatic and involuntary picture of me sinking my thumbs into that guy’s eye sockets and I feel revulsion and release and some part of me is saying I need to stop while the other part starts driving me forward. And after a few hours of this I’m terrified of myself and just want to be alone so I don’t hurt anyone (but I know if I’m alone too long this might all turn on me and anger is okay with that; it just wants to devour) but I’m eating dinner with my family and my dad starts talking about Ted Cruz and that thrumming erupts inside and I snort and try to hold it back but it feels so right so fuck this “Ted Cruz is a piece of shit” and now I’ve offended my dad but who cares, I said my truth and Cruz is an asshole and so on and so on until the mood ebbs on its own and I sit back and pray I didn’t do anything irreparable.

Anger may bring action, but it’s also a constant cage, and deeply difficult to tame. And remember what’s on the line: suicide, the ultimate endpoint of untreated depression is self-murder. It is anger-run-amok turned inwards. [iv]

You can tell the merit of an emotion by how it ages. Anger does not age well. I mentioned this to a friend/former professor who responded: that’s quite right, whereas some emotions are like wine, breathing, deepening becoming richer anger is like milk; it spoils quickly when left out and becomes hard.

The first step is breathing, the second compassion, the third and fourth and fifth and so forth are time/practice.

Thanks to Gina Barreca and Mark Hengstler for their helpful discussions and wise input.

[i] I am not claiming men or women are the only gender identities. I don’t want to ignore trans either, but I don’t feel confident in my ability to speak to the pains and trials of someone who identifies as trans. I’m sure it must be difficult just trying to be recognized by some, and traumatizing when others act with repulsion. As much as I wish I could write about this, I can’t do it yet. I have no real experience with a trans identity and should not speak for the community.

[ii] But he really was a good person. A few years later I was at a track meet and he was reffing. I was perched on the track line with five other boys ready to run a spirit. I was also jittery and nervous as hell. He blew the whistle for us to run and the five of us took off. Except, I lost my balance and crashed into the track’s grits shoulder first. I got up, and instead of running I just looked around plaintively at the parents on the sidelines. After a few cold moments he blew his whistle again and said there’d been a false start. There hadn’t been a false start. We restarted the race and I came in some position (it doesn’t really matter). The point being, he did not have to do that, but he saved me a whole lot of embarrassment. And even though this seems trivial, a less sensitive person might have ignored it, said tough luck, not even realized they were in a position to save a clumsy kid from some humiliation. He did realize this and he acted on it. It was a thoughtful, generous thing to do. He was just as capable of sincere generosity as he was imposing angry cruelty.

[iii] People who are consistently angry are not always categorically depressed, but they do have what’s called a “mood disorder” in which their basic state has somehow (read somehow as abuse, whether physical or emotional [although all physical abuse is also emotional abuse] and years of others modelling anger as an agent of action etc. everything we’ve talked about so far) has been rooted in a single basic emotion that is limiting to them in some fashion.

[iv] I’m not saying it should be controlled. The way I try and help my anger is to treat it with compassion (as I’ve mentioned in the post “Hot Glued to the Cold Screen.”

The Horror Pictures

I think in pictures. That means, as I write these words here I see and hear them but I relate to them, or make sense of them, first through somewhat amorphous shapes that are specific to the words and at the same time unintelligible outside the confines of my head. For example, the word “word” often appears in me as a long white bubble made of chewing gum. When I read a sentence it appears as a growing structure, each word both an instance on the structure and part of its essence.  This is actually pretty common. There are a few terms for it, “visual thinking” being among the more popular. However, I do it for everything. Images in front of me automatically and subconsciously become mental images as well. For another example, Darth Vader appears as a black hole vortex, spinning inward, sometimes strobing light. I can watch a still image and see a laser light show, for better or worse.

Emotions also render themselves this way, so while the bodily sensations accompanying fear and the word fear are entirely different they have a mutual language of hermetically sealed hieroglyphs that grow and swirl. I had no idea if this had any value or significance until I realized, like most things, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

Because sometimes if I’m in a just-bad-enough mood that mental landscape is stormy. It’s hard to get out of my own head because I’m always picturing those pronounced abstract images (a room with white walls spilling out fungal fingers that make me feel sick and claustrophobic) and thinking about them only makes them more pronounced. But in calmer tides it’s a way for supposedly divided realms of sensation to find a solid middle ground.[i]

When I’m depressed I might have a whole greenhouse of wild flora growing and twisting in me, but it always seems dark. I can never pay attention to it. I need atavistic emotions to distract me from my deadness. It’s why I like watching horror movies.

I do not watch Saw, Hostel, or any torture porn. While I can understand the sick thrill one gets from it, it’s just a wolf I don’t want to feed. The less gore, the more it relies on sustained tension, the better.  Unlike thrillers or dramas, horror requires a specific mood to be created and slowly notched up. Silence of the Lamb in all its brilliance and splatter, is not a full on horror movie. Lambs still relies mostly on its plot point to bring the audience through (what will Hannibal Lector do next? Will they find the killer?). The tension and fear of the movie are byproducts of a tightly knit plot. Good horror, on the other hand, uses plot points to intensify an atmosphere of dread. This is one of the reasons a well laid out setting is so key to horror. We have to be familiar enough with the mansion in The Shining or the Nostromo in Alien (remember that both films very quickly give us a tour of the setting through characters placed in various important locales that the film then cuts to) so that the setting itself can turn on us. Like the castle in A Turn of the Screw, it must invite us only to devolve into something Other. A place we are introduced to and familiar with must reveal its hidden deviance.

It’s this emphasis on setting as emotional place that I find so appealing about good horror. It gives me a mental image that is also an emotional blueprint that the movie will be walking around, pinging specific areas with specific emotions. It’s easy to imagine The Shining’s Danny big wheeling down the long corridors of The Stanley Hotel as a dotted line extending on the 2-dimensional floor plans of the building itself, each hallway he turns down building tension and anxiety, the map warping a bit before he witnesses something truly frightful.

Horror movies in general often look the way depression looks: a black hole with the unknowable at the center. And in a weird way this mirroring of images often helps me cope with my depression. One of my favorite horror movies plays with setting in a really interesting way. In The Blair Witch Project we’re given multiple shots of the map which doesn’t matter because the victims don’t really know where they’re headed, and when they do circle around onto familiar terror it yields to fear rather than relief. They know they’re trapped and have to live another dark night of the soul. The only way they can make progress is by encountering areas that are terrifying in context of where they’re been. A bunch of stick men hanging in trees is not in itself creepy and, with a different emotional context, be sort of magical. But when they find the hanging stick figures its throat chokingly creepy. They’ve been here before only now some other intelligence has left behind some unknowable ritual. The three documenters circle the dark noumenon that seems to be at the center of the forest. The whole movie hangs in me like an old, yellowing projector screen. A dark nothing at the very center surrounded by footsteps that weave in and out of the blanks arms reaching out of that center. Depression often looks the same way. For a brief while I’m able to watch, from a safe distance, that haunts me. And for a brief while I feel like can understand something that can’t really be understood. For a brief while I feel like I have knowledge over depression; I can learn its shape and texture without having to delve into it again. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it’s not.

But the further point is this: finding patterns in myself that are out of the way and difficult to get to can help me. Even if it’s just a bit. I have a feeling that if I only thought in sounds there would be some way that could help my depression. My point is one has to be resourceful when looking for ways to cope. I’m mostly sure that no doctor would have recommended a dash of self-obsession with a whole bunch of horror movies as a way to deal with depression. But it is something that works, if only for an image or two.

[i] Thinking in moving objects is one thing that’s always made it hard for me to buy into the Kantian Post-Romantic divide of emotions and reason. For myself they’re always overlapping, interwoven, sown up into one and the same. The urge for anger is accompanied by a maroon slush that bursts forth, just as the internal self-talk “Hey buddy, calm yourself” is a crack of bluish light that wraps itself around said slush and sooths it.” And that’s the most pronounced and stereotypical reason-as-master-of-passion that I could think of. Moreover, thinking compassionately requires us to use emotional reasoning. A step by step assessment that engages our feelings of empathy, care, understanding. Notice that understanding is both emotional and not. The point being there is a place beyond the dualistic thinking of the self as divided.