Saturday, August 7, 2010
I am depressed. Mildly depressed. Depressed in the probing, essayish manner I am accustomed to. Not "sad," nothing to be sad about. Not "bleak," or at any rate my worldview at the moment is no bleaker than it is even in the midst of euphoria. Not even--though I feel my body losing gas, the essence of depression, as I experience it--not even "dread of death"--quite the opposite, in fact, rather a mild apprehension about the many many many classroom lectures still left to prepare, papers still to grade, bills still to pay, meals still to eat, miles still to drive, awkward silences still to clip short out of some sense of obligation to the comfort of others.
I see depression as a natural cycle of the emotions, just as sleep is a natural cycle of the body. The unrelenting cheerfulness that Hollywood, the pharmaceutical industry, coffee commercials, cruise lines, and some insanely inhumane religions promote is, to my way of thinking, a nightmare. Animals are not built for perpetual motion, which includes e-motion. Mammals, in particular, are not built for the constant busyness of bees or the hyped-up lightness of hummingbirds. Sometimes we just have to sag. I see my dog sagging as I write this. Think about all the indolent lions, tigers, hippos, and apes you have seen in nature documentaries. In fact, the makers of nature films frequently complain about the difficulty of capturing wildlife on film actually doing something. Pep is just not an important commodity at our end of the biosphere.
For the past several weeks, on vacation, I have been a slug, and now with the fall semester fast approaching I am experiencing a certain self-awareness I call "depression"--the follow-up of hours on hours of restful, restorative sloth, mixed with an agitating consciousness of impending outside obligations. The self-consciousness of (perhaps even embarrassment over) one's propensity for slackerliness and slovenliness and one's acceptance of a set of life circumstances that are, let's say, usually unstimulating is what ordinary (i.e. nonclinical) depression is.
Reading Tom Hodgkinson's nifty little book How to Be Idle several years ago was a small transformational experience for me. I started interpreting my life a little differently. Like teens and other immature adults I used to panic when I felt that my emotions were depressed ("on pause," so to speak). I feared boredom more than cancer. I thought I had an obligation to have a stimulating life--the kind of life that was in a constant state of excitement, even turmoil, which is, after all, the soul of drama. I even wanted--or thought I wanted--to have a "rollercoaster" life. I thought I should want--though I never really wanted--to be a "mover and shaker." Though I never would have put the idea in so many words, I must have thought that "war" is preferable to "peace," as well--how interesting is peace?
This is not to say that I live an uneventful life. I have my fights and triumphs, my turbulent romances, my agonizing losses--consuming perhaps as high a percentage of my overall life as my dog's playing fetch or a lion's stalking and killing an antelope (which is to say not much, as dogs sleep for half their lives--and stare lazily at their masters for another quarter of their lives--and lions are known to sleep, just sleep, for up to 24 hours at a time). I even found out recently that peasants, the hardest working social class of the Middle Ages, worked no more than 88 days out of a year ... peasants!
The panic over the apprehension that one's life is being "wasted," which nonhuman animals apparently never experience (not even goldfish!), is what, I think, ordinary depression is. Depression is perhaps a distinctive effect of American-style workaholism--that neurotic "drive" that causes us to take fewer vacations than most other cultures do (cultures which are, by the way, no less productive than ours) and, when we do take them, to plan them expressly to minimize any idleness--or "rest." This is why so many teachers believe a heap of homework is the secret to education, why so many parents believe continuous "planned activities" are the secret to happiness, why so many business people believe "efficiency" is the secret to success. Small wonder, then, that, for the past 30 years, America has been Prozac Nation, the cradle of "cosmetic pharmacology."
I am depressed, as I said before. Don't worry about me. I'm dealing with it.
Posted by Joe at 11:09 AM