Every few months, I get into a rut of depression. The world is bleak, drained of color. It’s a series of black and white photos, and not in the artistic way. Grainy stills of a somber expression, thinking of nothing but the emptiness that my life has become. Smiles take effort. People are irritating. I want to be left alone and also not abandoned, simultaneously.
Like I said, this is pretty standard for me. Afterwards, the ice melts, the mood fades, and I’m bright and cheerful, witty and creative. But like summer thoughts on a winter day, it’s hard to remember what reality once was. And what it will be again.
I hug the walls in hallways to avoid other people, eating my meals alone. Depressive behavior is often satisfying to the depressivist, in a curious way. I want people to notice because I want help, but there’s a vindictive side to me that gloats when nobody does, saying, “See? You don’t matter to anyone. You could drop dead and nobody would care.” Is it true? I know I’m only seeing everything in a gray filter because of how I feel about things. Lift the screen and there are bright colors hiding underneath. I know this. This is not new to me, it’s familiar territory. But each time feels like the worst. “It’s never been this bad,” I insist to myself, quelling optimistic thoughts. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel; it’s a dead end and we’re all going the wrong way. Every path in life’s forest in fraught with danger and evil beasts, and I don’t understand how people manage to go through it.
I can’t see myself working a 9 to 5, I lack the confidence to be an entrepreneur or freelancer, and I lack the vision required to live as a hippy. In short, I’m a regular average Joe, without the skillset to cope with an average life. By that I mean patience, acceptance, integrity, work ethic. Instead, it’s easier to imagine that I’m a genius, on the brink of a discovery or written work so game-changing that I can sit back and reap the rewards for the rest of my life. But I’m not that special. No more unique than anyone else. I’m just a dude. A dude with a scowl on my face and bags under my eyes. A denier of truth, a blasphemer with a poor self-image. Oh, I have virtues, yes. Skills, abilities. But in times of trouble they sound trite, an agreed-upon joke for others to laugh while I roll my eyes or wait for an awkward silence to set in and dispel the joviality. Life becomes a Great Conspiracy, and I must keep my wits about me, lest the rug be pulled beneath my feet. I’m on guard at all times, and my vigilance is rewarding but taxing, and I tire of it. It follows me through my sleep, poking at me in my dreams, using old fears and new simulations to play out in four dimensions.
A writer. That’s what I was. That’s how I defined myself. The sure craftsman of words, the expressionist. The Thought Technician, the Mood Weaver. A master of simple arrangement, compiling one word on top of another, assembling sentences and building paragraphs out of thin air. Not creating in the conventional sense, just utilizing what’s been created before. But when your hand trembles and you obscure the light from the streetlamps and plunge your composition into darkness, doubt rises up like a drunken ghost, bobbing and weaving, hissing, accusing, “Who do you think you are?” And it’s right, you realize, not aware that you are talking to a phantom, a mirage, a reflection of your worst parts, the negative of your full spectrum, the shadow of the flesh and blood. It can only thrive where light has been banished, and when you are in the dark you see it has multiplied and become an army of ghosts that are real, with sharp swords that slice and poke and cut, but never do enough damage to kill. They leave that for you. You forget the world outside; instead you pay homage to the enemy and promise to do his bidding. You awaken to another day with the shadow in your eyes, lurking behind every exchange, casting doubt and paranoia into the mundane and simple, complicating the ordinary with webs of intrigue that trap the unsuspecting, including yourself, despite your knowledge of the plot.
Your art’s no good anymore. It’s all been done before and you haven’t trained enough to put it into practice. All you can do is criticize, because you have a critic perched on your shoulder, digging its talons in, whispering in your ear. Harsh judgment comes easily because it’s ever-present in your own work, and it’s exhausting to apply a brush to canvas when you’re reminded that you don’t have the necessary background to mix paint. The canvas remains blank, the mind is driven to distraction. Food is a fickle comfort, both dispensing and denying reward at intervals like a sadistic teacher. At first it’s appetizing, then abruptly repulsive, and thoughts lead to guilt, and inevitably, hunger again. There’s no music that truly connects with your plight so you borrow the gloominess of others, pretending that their dark thoughts are sympathetic to your own.
Physical exercise is a saving grace. It clears the mind for a few minutes, letting the body take over, surrendering intellect to instinct, cognition to reflex. The second it’s over, vanity and second guessing resume, the mind returns with a vengeance. The futility of life is as apparent as ever. We are locked in a revolving wheel of tedium, doing the same things again and again for the same results. To break the routine of what’s known is to jump out of a tall building, so nobody cares to. We don’t know the consequence, and the only ones who have done it aren’t telling. We retrace footsteps that have been worn down from repetition, deep as canyons. We hold onto the walls of the past for support, watching the trailer of Life before the movie begins so we know when to expect all surprises. Novelty has been replaced by cliché, coincidence by careful calculation, adventures of being lost ruined by GPS and a phone call. Experience has been cheapened to a series of taps and beeps. We are a simulated people, the holograms that visionaries of the past had romanticized, and we’re it. The product. A billion Patient Zeros of Yesteryear’s experimental innovation. And where has in led us? To Escher’s Staircase of Disaster.
And yet, we’re told to marry. Told to go to college. Think of your future, consider the life ahead of you. Ignore the drumbeats of doom pounding in your ears. Plan out your retirement. Work on getting good credit so a bank will look on you with pity when you come to beg for a car loan. Pretend away the shackles you clamp on your wrists, forget the heavy chains that will drag you to the bottom of the harbor when they dump your body. Define yourself with your so-called freedom. Choose which jail to lock yourself in. Pick an Instagram filter to color your life with artificiality so the graininess looks intended. Don’t just accept your fate, pretend to have chosen it. Perpetuate the illusion of control until it blows up in your face, and at that point you’ll be free to accept the reality with equanimity, just a bump on the road. Stagnant water under the bridge, festering with malarial mosquitoes and the sewage of denial. Put a cheerful smile on your face, walk with a swagger, and do kind things for people to avoid the lightning bolt with your name on it. The hourglass trickles on by, waiting with more patience than you can muster at a doctor’s office. The results are in, and you tested positive for a terrible life, just like the rest of us. We all suffer, but do we suffer needlessly?
Never mind. Tomorrow, it will be different. You’ll banish these negative thoughts, hitch up your tunic and embrace the crumbling world with optimism. You’ll take an inventory of your skills toolbox. Photography is still in there, and the budding flower of Graphic Design. You’ll go on, forging through the swampy muck, smiling a Prozac smile, carrying your head high with your chin up, back straight and jump shot intact. Onwards, to the Same Old, the Familiar Battleground, with as many enemies as there are allies, victory on your mind.