It’s 2016, a new year, all the platitudes have been thrown in the air and trampled into the concrete and brushed away by janitors and street sweepers, and I’m sitting in my truck listening to the rain hit the roof at 2 a.m.
It’s cold and late. Too cold and late to be sitting in a truck unless you said the word “ICU” in the last hour, and even then you should let the thing warm up first, put some music on the radio, prepare a thermos. But I consider this an exercise in budget shock treatment. I can’t make my brain work. The only thing I want to do is finally stop existing somewhere. I don’t want to actively die, I want to passively evaporate.
Here’s what happens, when I go into the real lows of depression. All my thoughts get trimmed into completely unvarnished statements of needs or wants or likes. “I need water.” “I want a coat.” “I like pianos.” That’s because if I get any more complicated with my thoughts, my brain will spend all its energy coming up with reasons people will hate those thoughts, and why it would be actively harmful to have them or say them. People will hate them so much their days will be ruined.
If I say, random example, that I enjoy Elmore Leonard’s dialogue, my brain says “great, you’ve said something everybody said already in 1997. You added frivolous information to this planet that people have to sift through to get to what matters. If you can’t think about things that matter, if you’re not thinking about just and unjust laws, if you’re not dedicated to altruism in quantity sufficient to give up all your excess time to the homeless, you’re not worth my help. And I know you’re not dedicated enough, you’ve failed every day you’ve been alive, so it’d be better if you died. People physically lose energy when they hear your name and your useless thoughts. Why are you upset? Why are so weak? Quit being weak. Bury all that weakness, every single sign of it, or go into exile right now.”
That’s the essential pattern of my internal monologue when depression gets darker than usual. It takes up one hundred percent of my energy. I start to destroy old work, even work that was special to me once. I start to believe that everyone else has a brain just like mine, that they think I should disappear or die for essentially the same reasons. That they know as well as I do that I should give up everything I have and learn everything I can to make the world better while remaining invisible and perfectly quiet lest I reprise that frivolous noise about Elmore Leonard. On these days, shutting out the progression of this monologue is the only thing I’m really capable of doing. The goal is to break even by performing the miracle of working my mind up from self-destruction and toward nothing. Anything more arduous, standing up for example, would completely exhaust me.
I get so caught up in my brain eating itself that words don’t mean anything. I can’t take in any new information. On a good day, words are a decorated house, with furniture and vanity mirrors and wood floors and warmly cluttered desks. On a bad day, all the decoration is removed from this house, and words become a maze of bare drywall, something for somebody else to see potential in, but not me.
On these days the brain also puts up bulletproof barriers to keep me from seeking too much solace in other people. It tells me that people I can phone aren’t actually friends, because when did they last phone me, after all, and not only am I inconveniencing them, but their reassurances won’t be trustworthy because they’ll be motivated principally by social norms of politeness; simulated empathy. If they say something nice, there is absolutely no way to prove they aren’t lying. And only fools make assumptions about the truth of anyone’s character. The only way to actually deal with this fight is a therapist, where you enter into a financial contract to hear the right lies delivered the right way. But I can’t afford to enter into that contract. I don’t have the money or the time. There’s always work to do instead.
And if I were to drink or do drugs, well, these comforts would also be lies, and I would be attacked with doubled intensity the next morning. They are escapism, another form of weakness.
That’s why I’m sitting in a truck watching rain hit the windows. I’m trying to inconvenience my brain, to deny it the leisure it needs to strangle itself. And for now it works, but the next time it gets bad, I’ll unlearn everything I learned. All the barriers will still work, because they’re too loud and comprehensive to refute at 2 a.m. when my shoes are clear to the other side of the room.
What a demoralizing way to exist, you know? What a stupid life you’re stuck with when the first thing you have to do in the morning and the last thing you have to do at night is not die. And what a stupid life you’re stuck with when you have to concentrate wholly on yourself just to get off the floor and put one foot in front of the other. All the automatic motions have to be done in manual with this damn thing.
I’ve fallen into an old vain trap here, I know. People hate reading about a writer’s Journey With Depression. But I made a New Year’s resolution to be more forthcoming about this bullshit, and maybe once on paper it’s more manageable. I guess if there’s a point other than dragging a fight from a bedroom to a barroom, it’s that I hope you think about how hard it is to be alive before you make value judgments about others. Most victories against ourselves aren’t clean. Compromises get made. Sometimes you come out real ugly when your main priority is to buy a stay of execution from yourself. Anyway, I’m going inside. It seemed like this was worth doing at the time, but I’ll probably regret it tomorrow. Here’s to another year on earth.