The title is from Sister Golden Hair:
Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed
That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed
The only part of that that is unfamiliar is, “I got myself undressed.” I have a feeling it might be giving up and going to bed. That's not unfamiliar it's just that I happen to sleep with my clothes on. The only exception being if it is absurdly hot.
The rest of it seems just about right, You have a goal, your mental state prevents you from completing that goal, you set a new goal. The new goal will fail to be met just as the old goal did, but if you didn't have hope that at some point you'll succeed at something I don't know what you'd have left.
That might not be entirely true, I've had times without hope, but that lack of hope wasn't so much based on a belief that things would never be better as it was based on an inability to look beyond the present. It wasn't because the future seemed endlessly bleak, it was that the future was outside the realm of contemplation. There's nothing good about that, but in such a situation the lack of hope really isn't really that much of a problem. Hopelessness is only problematic in those situations where hope matters, after all.
Hopelessness coupled with foresight is something I've never really had to face, a fact for which I am grateful.
Mostly I have trouble feeling for the future. Dread I can do. If something bad is coming I can muster dread, no matter how much I might wish I couldn't. Dread doesn't come up that often though. I live in a relatively safe place in a relatively safe state in a relatively safe country in a relatively safe time to be alive. Dread is not a frequent feeling.
Most of the time I feel nothing of the future. I have no sense of expectation. I've heard people talk about this as a horizon effect. Even if you know that something will make you happy it's over the horizon and you can't feel it. It's dead to you. It works in reverse too, say something good happened and I was happy, really truly happy. There's never an afterglow for me. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of negative feelings.
I remember when my mother and I got tickets to see Obama speak. She was happy as can for days in advance of the event. I felt nothing. I felt bad for what seemed like forever afterward when it turned out they gave more tickets than they should have and we couldn't get in (and rather than tell us that they just left us standing in line unaware that this pause in the lines movement was any different from the other ones, still thinking we'd get in because we were within sight of the damned entrance and look at all of the people behind us who also have tickets, they couldn't have overbooked it by that much, could they? All it would have taken was a simple, “We're sorry, but there's no more room,” but no, that was too much for the bastards. Sorry. Where was I?) That pretty much sums up how I feel about things with respect to time: I don't have any feelings in the lead up, I experience it in the moment, bad feelings stick with me, good ones do not.
The hope aspect of setting sights on Monday isn't really about Monday, if I stopped to rationally consider Monday then I'd probably conclude that on Monday I'll set my sights on Tuesday and so forth and the end result will be that nothing good will happen ever. Instead it's about dealing with the now of Sunday. Now I simply don't have it in me to do it, but I'm trying to comfort myself with idea that I'm not giving in completely. It's a delay, not a cancellation.
Anyway, that horizon thingy has very strong effects on motivation. It may be possible to mechanically motivate yourself to do something with no feeling whatsoever, but I've never found out how. If you don't feel then you don't care, and -speaking for myself and no one else- if I don't care then I find it nearly impossible to make myself do something.
Usually, thankfully, that doesn't result in me spending all my time staring blankly into space. More likely it will result in me doing something I don't care about very much which has instantaneous results. Say watching the same movie over and over again. I haven't done that lately. Lately it's been more of a reading on the internet sort of thing. There's always an unending glut of news stories. (Did you know that China may have a giant housing bubble on the verge of catastrophic collapse? No it doesn't! Yes it does! And so on for hours.) It requires the investment of almost no emotional or intellectual energy, and it occupies you for hours and through it all the gratification is pretty nearly instant, you don't need to feel for anything more than a few seconds in advance.
There are almost certainly many other things I'd be happier if I were doing, but I can't feel anything about those because they're too far away whereas an article on the fact that even millionaires want millionaires to pay more taxes, that I can actually do something with because it's close, it's seconds away. It takes many times longer than that for me to get a glass of water.
The immediacy allows me to feel something where when it comes to something more complex, something like setting up a meeting with friends or applying for a job, it's simply not there, I feel absolutely nothing. Apathy is very hard to deal with, but it may very well be more difficult to describe to someone who isn't experiencing it. I've certainly tried, but I don't think I've ever succeeded. If you can't point to a something that's stopping you from doing something that's easy for them, most people don't get it.
I've never tried this before, but here's my latest attempt:
Try to imagine something that you couldn't care less about. It doesn't need to be something that you actively dislike, it just has to be something that doesn't interest you in the least. Say you don't have any affection for mountain climbing at all. Then your thing could be climbing Kilimanjaro barefoot. (This will not work for anyone who finds that idea the least bit interesting.)
Think about everything that would go into doing that. You'd have to learn to climb mountains, you'd have to toughen up your feet to build up callouses, you'd have to figure out some way to deal with the fact that I'm told it's damned cold at the top and you don't want to lose your feet to hypothermia. Perhaps designing an entirely novel foot heating system and learning the techniques from that guy who made it on TV for becoming as close to immune to hypothermia as a human being can be. Once you've worked out all of that, you'd still have to get to Tanzania and climb the damn thing. That means funding a trip, making whatever arrangements will be necessary given that you won't be at work or at your home during it, so on, so forth.
Ok. Have you thought of all of that? Good. Now do it.*
If I've successfully communicated the feeling then you should have absolutely no interest in doing even the preliminary steps in this process. You should not be looking into whether or not it is viable to climb that mountain barefoot (nor should you be checking to see if anyone has ever tried) you should not be making travel plans to Tanzania. If anything you should find the entire exercise pointless. You're not interested in doing that, you don't care about doing that, what would possibly make you spend your time preparing to be doing that?
If I offered some reward then that might give you some kind of motivation, but for this to work as an analogy you need to assume that either there is no reward or you have exactly zero interest in it. You're not in it for the fame or for the barefoot hypothermia avoidance patents. There is absolutely no result of taking on this project that interests you in the least at this time.
Would you do it?
If I've done the analogy right then the answer is no. It is my understanding that most of the time when people do something the don't want to do it is either to get something they do want (I don't want to study, but I do want to learn Latin) or to avoid something they don't want (I don't want to go to work today, but I really don't want to lose my job) the motivations I have heard of always have their roots in not-apathy. You do a thing because there is something somewhere you care about in some way related to doing that thing. Take away all incentives to do X and people don't do X, they find something else to do.
That's where I'm at with most things. Applying for work, setting up time with friends, doing almost anything with less immediacy than my internet connection. It feels like climbing Kilimanjaro barefoot. I can't make myself want to do that. I cannot work towards that goal. I wish I could find a way to push myself to get a job, but I can't. I haven't found a way. I've been looking for at least a decade now, close to half my life. I haven't found it yet.
That's not the only concern I have about finding a job. At some point, last week or the week before I guess, it took me an hour to brush my teeth. Not an hour of actual brushing. I use an electric toothbrush and it has a built in timer so the actual brushing takes a couple of minutes. No. The hour was like this:
Look at my watch. I meant to be in bed by now. I've got to stop sitting here and just get up and brush my teeth.
I manage to get up and walk to the room with the toothbrush. Now I have to put together the two parts of the toothbrush (the electric part is the expensive part, the part that goes in your mouth less so. Thus by having two parts that go in your mouth you can have two people using the same expensive electric part. The only down side is that every time you brush your teeth you have to assemble your tooth brush. As downsides go it is a very small one.)
Time passes while I stare into space.
Tooth brush is assembled, now I need to put toothpaste on it.
Time passes while I stare off into the mirror.
Toothpaste is on, now I just need to pick it up.
Time passes while I stare off god knows where.
I brush my teeth.
I look at my watch. Fuck! It's been an hour since I last looked at my watch.
That's brushing my teeth, a simple task I have a lot of practice doing. I shudder to think what I might be like in a workplace.
I get by mostly on inertia these days. Habit can make me do things where otherwise I would not. So I go to school. I attend classes for Latin and Ancient Greek and I struggle to keep my head above water in them. I mentioned elsewhere that I've been feeling under the weather since September. Less energy than usual by a wide margin, sometimes too tired to concentrate. As if I hadn't slept in days even after a full night's sleep. No insomnia, no missing sleep, just tiredness. I think I'm coming out of that but now, before I could fully finish with that, I've come down with something else: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, my voice is at half strength and I'm generally not good. I think the headaches came before the new thing.
Halfway through a semester and I haven't been healthy for any of it. I go into school, try to concentrate enough to prepare for the class that day, fail for four hours, go to class, and then do my damnedest not to show that I'm totally unprepared. Walk home. Find I don't have the energy to make myself ready for the next class be it the next day or the next week. Repeat. Over and over again.
There's a fair degree of shame there.
Someone else who is in both classes is pregnant. It's a tough pregnancy. It gave her diabetes, something I might have known was possible before but it never really registered. It has also meant she's been otherwise sick (vomiting and the like) for much of the pregnancy. She's keeping up in classes. I'm not. And she's raising her first child at the same time.
By now I've known my teachers for years. They put in the work to teach the class, I feel like I owe it to them to be a good student (especially since one of them isn't being paid for her work since that class is classified as an independent study, stupid penny pinching university don't you realize what these people are worth?) but I'm not doing that. At this point I'm not being a classicist so much as trying to fake being one to avoid shame and avoid disappointing those who deserve a better student.
Even so, it's a good thing I'm there because if I weren't I'd have no in person human contact outside of my family at all.
This is my life.
I wish I could close on something hopeful. Unfortunately there isn't an obvious solution in sight. Long ago, back when I had insurance the first time, we tried treatment. We tried everything short of electroconvulsive therapy. None of it worked. I suppose I could hang all of my hopes on ECT, except that I have no way to pay for further attempts at treatment. (And I find the prospect of memory loss deeply disturbing, but that's a concern for when it's actually an option.)
It was recently suggested to me that a state run medical insurance thing in my state might cover me even though I previously looked into it and, as near as I could tell, it wouldn't. So I'll be looking into that. My hopes are not high but it will be looked into.
Still, “Maybe if I'm lucky I'll find a way to get someone to pass electricity through my brain,” does not sound like a positive note to end on.
One of the things that spurred me into writing this is to say something for any reader here who might know someone who is dealing with depression. That is this:
Don't make it sound easy.
If you're ever tempted to say, for example, “This is why you need to get a job, then you'll have health insurance,” don't. Just don't.
I can't speak for anyone else, but for myself if it were that easy I would have done it.
I've been hearing from my family for years, “You really need to get a job,” and while they're generally pretty understanding, and certainly their generosity is the reason that I'm not living from soup kitchen to homeless shelter, the implication that turning my life around is simply something I can just decide to do with a simple, “Yes, you're right, I'll do that right now,” is painful. It hurts.
I don't mean emotionally.
The body is an interesting thing and it's possible for it to produce a feeling very much like physical pain in response to certain stimuli. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that all of my muscles tense up and my joints don't know what to do when being pulled both ways. There are various possibilities.
If it were as easy for me to do things as some make it sound I would have done them. Years ago.** When I'm told that I need to get a job my response isn't, “Oh, new information, I should make use of that.” It's a strong desire to scream, “DON'T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT?”
Of course I don't. I couldn't handle the conflict it would produce, and at the moment I doubt I could produce a scream anyway. My voice is unhappy and the loudest sound I seem to be able to produce is a fairly pathetic sounding cough.
So wash your hands after reading this, you don't want to get sick.
* Except don't, because then you'll never finish reading my post. Besides, if you're on the way to Tanzania at this point my analogy has failed anyway so there's no point in actually going on my account.
** It's been a while since I've mentioned how my brain works in ways not related to depression and headaches. Everything is connected to something else.
This idea is not new. Whether you think of it as Platonian forms or the fact that a Tabula Rasa can contain nothing not connected to a previous external stimuli there's a long history of us thinking of things in terms of connections. Language requires it; TV Tropes revels in it.
For whatever reason my mind seems to do it more than most. Intertextuality is something that just happens for me. Everywhere. It isn't just when I read an ancient Roman poem and realize that it says they beat their plowshares into swords (don't they know it's supposed to be the other war around?) right after hitting us with fair is foul and foul is fair. It is also when I speak
Often times I'll say something and realize as or immediate after I say it that it's calling back to something else. Sometimes what makes me realize it is that the inflection isn't mine. In this case it's calling back to, “If Victor were so easy to dispatch you'd have done it yourself. Centuries ago,” spoken by Lucian to Kraven in Underworld, the film from 2003.
Almost always I let such things pass without note, but for some reason when I finished writing this long, long post, I guess I felt the need to tack something more on to the end.