Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Restless Depression

[I wrote this in the summer of 2015. I am no longer depressed like this, but I'm perhaps still project-obsessed and maybe always will be. I spent Summer 2016 learning German, studying for my PhD exams, and spending all the summer money I don't have on my kids. But I wanted to publish this now because I found it abandoned in my list of drafts, and thought some of it was important to share.]

I would like to hear about it if you experience this affliction, fellow grad students, project-obsessed moms, workaholic creators, etc.

I am only fully functional when I am stretched to my limits of time and energy. I thrive then. I'm not necessarily happy. But I'm "on." I get amazing projects assigned to me, I travel to conferences, I work hard for my students, I learn ancient languages... and I never stop working at music.  This is all very stressful, but I do it anyway.

After a 35 mile bicycle ride
But when I am not very busy, every little task becomes difficult. I leave dishes for days. The stinking dishes are like the inside of my mind! I can't remember to eat. I sleep in and then feel guilty about it, and my head pulses and I feel swollen.  I don't even do the little bit of actual work that I absolutely need to do. I tinker on projects and stay creative. But I languish otherwise. Summer is so hard. This stillness is infinitely more stressful than being busy.

Do you feel this too, friends? I know some of you do. Why can't we relax? What is this crap? Will we ever retire, take a vacation, or rest on the laurels of a finished project? No.

When I see pictures of people on vacation, legs on the beach, couples' vacay selfies, I think they must be faking it. No one can relax that much. Can they?

The only way I've been able to relax is to ride my bike. Constantly. And at the risk of doing even less of anything else. [Editor's note: I rode 1500 miles last year.]

This year's transition to summer shiftlessness has been complicated by a bad depression. I recall times of stress and anxiety and sadness throughout my life, but nothing has ever felt so needlessly and irrationally miserable as the days when this depression grabs hold of me. This is something new this year. A novel experience. It's heavy and suffocating and stinging and it has no locus.  Things trigger it, for sure. Reminders of past misdeeds or of abuse at the hands of others, getting behind on work, over-drinking on a night out. But those are not the cause. The thing is the cause of itself. The depression is the depression. (I need to understand that as much as I need to understand that sadness doesn't define me. It's not a personality trait. It's a big dumb thing I'm dealing with. And maybe it's worth experiencing.)

A similarly depressed friend told me it won't help to dwell on the depression this way. I can see that. So I only bring it up as it ties into this summer's malaise and inability to do shit.  Or inability to feel like I'm doing enough shit.

So, sad disease aside, I wonder about this need to be DOING things all the time. For instance, even if I had the money to take a vacation, I would probably only go somewhere that I could make a project out of. The trip would have to accomplish something. Is that sick? But if that's what I want, then why not just live that way?  I won't relax. I won't.

I can't figure out if that's a tragic life or not. It feels really good to achieve and to create. And my obsession with that feeling makes my current depression, which is partly from not having anything to do in the first place, all the worse. You can see how this compounds. I don't really know the feelings of relief or rest. Maybe someday I will.

And maybe on this leg of my journey, rest is a thing I truly don't need.