I have been reading Stoner by John Williams. The book is written with such heart, such honesty, I find myself gasping at times. I found this one paragraph that seemed to reach me, especially now, as I deal with a bout of depression:
During that year, and especially in the winter months, he found himself returning more and more frequently to such a state of unreality; at will, he seemed able to remove his consciousness from the body that contained it, and he observed himself as if he were an oddly familiar stranger doing the oddly familiar things that he had to do. It was a dissociation that he had never felt before; he knew that he ought to be troubled by it, but he was numb, and he could not convince himself that it mattered. He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.
I have felt this sort of dissociation and it has terrified me. I wrote about it in one of my novels:
-->An eye a
few inches above my head monitors my existence, the large white blocks of the
classroom wall, small patches of writing, names, phone numbers, craggy hearts
and penises, the blemish in the scalp of Patrick Nealy's too short hair. The eye spies white underwear against the
metal lockers, and the fluorescent light flickering above the bodies. There was once a curiosity of who's got what,
big boobs, birthmarks, a patch of unruly pubic hair but even this has become
ordinary. The eye follows the dirtied
snow on the side of the road, flecks of sand caught in ice and spots the dead
squirrel curled in the debris of candy bar wrappers, Coke can tabs, chrome
shards. Decay marks time passed; a once
fleshy thing becomes a mass of fur and white bone picked clean.
Where does this dissociation come from? I think when you are depressed, you are exceptionally inward. You send out a periscope from inside yourself to check out the world. You can view yourself from this periscope, this eye, and it is a surreal experience.
I'm not particularly sure I should be writing about depression. I don't want to delve into it if that's going to put me in deeper; it's weird and scary enough. But writing has always been a way of exploring and exploring is a way to learn. If you can debunk something by writing about it, you are less afraid of it. Knowledge is power.
One night, in that half way house between sleep and consciousness, I wrote this:
This is what boredom and depression do to the mind; it ostracizes itself. Thoughts are irrational and negative; they are feverish exaggerations to keep oneself occupied during the day. I want to be a part of the human race, not an anomaly, as my mind tells me I am. I take care of the babies, I float, I spin in high anxiety. I listen to other people talk about their lives and become jealous. I knock myself, feel pangs of ineptitude. I am overly self conscious. The garbage of the mind, irrational fears, has a putrid stench. It sours my gut. Do something for others, says a voice. Distract that inner child from her fears. You could go back to school. You could study for a PhD and become an important person. School has always given you a focus and has eradicated some of the anxiety and existential angst. Here little kiddie, kiddie, go get a degree. Amuse yourself with that for awhile. I pick through my negative thoughts, reprimand myself for having them, hold them closely to the light and berate myself for doing this as well.
And I contained that irrational, negative thought in my mind in a small cage as if it were a viper I had to protect myself from and had to watch intently for fear of its escape. And the thought was of fear and I how I feared the fear and this put a tightness in my throat that I could not rid myself of. And this tightness was terrifying and titillating because at any moment I could panic, but I didn't. I told myself before I went to my therapy session, if she tells me this is no big deal, that this is the greatest complaint of people with anxiety- fear of the fear of the fear of the- , how fear and thought bring about sensation and it is normal, then I would not be the anomaly that I am. I would be just as other humans are, vulnerable to their minds. And this is just what she did and I felt better. Now I must find a way to continue to believe her.
The problem is, I don't think that a depression can be debunked. You can't think it away. You can't reason with it; most of it is unfounded and irrational. You just have to live it away, if that makes any sense. Yes, take medication, talk therapy, blah, blah, but I think to truly do away with it, you must want to be engaged, wholly engaged in your life. I can't say that I am right now. There is a lot of busy work in taking care of babies; there are moments of pure tenderness, but there is a lot of space for the mind to play with while the rest of me caters to their every need. This gets me into trouble.
I told my therapist I saw the depression inside me, when I was out for a run. It was a fat, Buddha-like demon that was laughing at me. Laughing, because everything it says is a trick and I fall for it all, take it all so seriously.
When I should be laughing too.