alive for the last time / it takes such a long time

Monday, December 9, 2002
@ the dorm room and Ruta Maya | 12:16 AM

“To live is to fly,
All low and high,
So shake the dust off of your wings,
And the sleep out of your eyes.”

— Townes Van Zandt, “To Live Is To Fly”

It’s probably been two years since I last listened to Teenage Fanclub’s “I Need Direction.” The song title (and recurring lyric) returned to mind this afternoon while sitting in the new Ruta Maya watching the weather outside reflect my mood so clearly – gray skies, wet streets, and drizzle in between. I remembered writing “I need direction” on the back of my hand one evening during the highest (lowest?) point of my depression in 2000. Then, here, today, again. The inert potential bounding around inside my physical being causing an ache that felt as if it were trying to rip the skin and veins and bones that hold the system together apart and finally, once and for all, free itself. A strange sort of restlessness.
A restlessness I knew had no cure. Grin and bear it; weep and bear it. Matters little which one does: There is no escape. I wished to sleep even though I knew I slept for eleven hours or more last night (a symptom). I knew I could sit there and read my copy of Franzen’s The Corrections or I could stare off into space or I could step outside and smoke a cigarette, but the haze and the ache and the discomfort of an unsolvable restlessness would remain. That’s the best I can describe it: Restless, stir-crazy, but more. I saw little point in trying to hold a conversation with anyone while this disinterested.
I sat at the table reading while Brian and Rudy, another old Ruta Maya regular that’s now moved over to the new Ruta Maya, discussed light rail and such. I had opinions and points-of-view, but they seemed useless; involving too much of an effort to expend in transforming my thoughts into pictures and ideas orally describable in as few as possible words. I read and wrote and stared off into the middle distance allowing my mind to register the rhythmic quickening and slowing of the leaning Christmas tree’s flashing colored lights. The word “pagan” popped to mind and I commended myself for remembering, though not caring, even this deep into the funk. Had I only noticed the recurrence of this depression earlier, then I could say I was really bright.
It seems the way these things work is that you notice the first time the recurrence starts. You think, “Hm. I feel depressed,” but you write it off as a small sample of what you’ve experienced before, probably just a weekend daytrip your mind has taken into the depths of Hell without notifying you of its plans first. You don’t think about it any further, really. You adjust, go about your day and weeks. Not until you start to bottom-out does it finally really strike you that it didn’t stop or go away after that first weekend, it just kept building slowly and silently upon itself, brick-by-brick, while you turned your back and went about your days. The anxieties and paranoia and dreams of a dreamless sleep gather until you’re faced with the fact that, even if you turn around now, the roaches and spiders of your mind’s chemical imbalances (or whatever the hell it is) won’t scatter. Oh no, they’ve been constructing a giant black mass thirty times as tall as you and so packed together that you can’t even see any space between the bugs.
And this is what you do: You disassociate subtly. “This isn’t me. It’s my depression.” But you know that it is you. No one else can tell. This is the you that’s most you. It’s the only you others can see.
Two nights ago, I returned from an evening at Ruta Maya to find five or six girls outside the front of Doyle Hall ‘shrooming. One girl said, “Can you hear a person’s sadness in their voice? I can.” She’d been calling all her friends’ cell phones and listening to their voicemail messages. Her comment regarding friends’ sadness being audible in their voices struck the others as quite deep. I said, “Hell, I’ve been talking to you all semester and you haven’t noticed that yet?”
It has it’s extremes, too. One day (or hour), you’re over-sensitive to others’ opinions of you, voiced or (especially) not. Others, you couldn’t give a rat’s ass. On those latter days, I couldn’t care less whether the feeling ever leaves. If it came without the skin-itching side effects of incurable restlessness, I’d pay good money to no longer care about others’ thoughts of me. My worries of their thoughts are inescapable, too, though. “In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
I do still care about my mental health, of course. I still plan to see the doctor as soon as finals week is over and probably try Wellbutrin again. Not so much for the mental health benefits (I know it will wake me up at three every morning for no particular reason), but for the stopping smoking help. A lack of smoke-filled lungs and breath and smoke-smelling apparel is at least a sign of outward self-improvement. I can never be sure that my mental state will be cured, nor am I certain I want to be another of the drugged masses who take a pill (I know I’m only perpetuating the stigmatism with this phrasing, but be assured that I completely respect those willing to augment their livelihoods and improve their moods by giving away a piece of themselves to the medical establishment each morning at eight) to reach a smile. I like my depression and my happiness wholly organic, thank you very much.
There is a high percentage of depressive recurrence, that much we know, but still I look for a causal instance or event that forces these effects. So I look back over this semester and its outcome for clues (or lack thereof):

A semester of deliberate no’s conveyed by seemingly indeliberate means.
A semester of courage-extracting libations (the last refuge of the morally righteous in search of enjoyment and physical honesty).
A semester of worry and want, of desire and denial, of hope and happenstance.
A semester of subtlety and in-your-face lies and of need; not want.
A semester of convictions and failings and moments to focus spent twirling pens, flipping pages, and any other activity with the purpose of blasphemy.
Of need-based rather than want-based interaction, a truly awful system of economics; of the lack of reciprocity that entails.
And cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers and cheeseburgers punctuated by brief flirtations with oatmeal and stir-fry. Mainly cheeseburgers, though, twice daily in the campus coffeeshop after I tired of the high school atmosphere of the cafeteria.
Hours of waiting for inspiration and thinking . . . thinking, thinking. Recurring desires of becoming desireless.
A semester of flowery words never reaching the finite world; thoughts fading away with wakefulness and clear eyes.
Twinkling lights and the constant return to repeatedly used images.
And the perpetual feeling of fauxness after completion.
Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming . . .
“What do you want to be?” Who says I want to be?
Resurgent depression gone unnoticed, unbelieved, unassuaged, and unconfirmed for quite a while, now admitted.
Spent kisses given in want and taken in times of need . . . moments later, unneeded, brushed aside. The reaction invariant among all recipients.
Earlier, a striking thought: The knowing (or unknowing) of so many acquaintances – how are you? what have you been up to? (meaningless questions with answers soon forgotten) – happens to be quite nice. Like the foundation we build other relationships upon. The slight enjoyment of this sort of knowledge. Can/Should this be extended to a different sort of relationship? (Oh, the barbarity of the thought, you say. But better to think it than to live it without acknowledgement, I will reply and point at you.) Rather than rely on an out-of-style concept of courtship and relationships, have we moved on? Have so many faceless economic transactions culminated in soulless intimate transactions?
A semester of doublespeak and ill-conceived plans. Monkeywrenches.
Stolen ideas and lost knowledge. Unsought after knowledge. Humoring words with no true action.
The continuing realization that Action is Character – realized and realized and realized.
A semester of intimidation? “You are really intimidating,” two girls told me last night. “You’re brilliant,” one followed-up with later. Hardly.
Continuing social ineptitude, fear of dancing, and the ache to impress first and maintain.
And an unwavering desire to sleep – long, deep, dreamless sleep void of any sign of living reality. Sleep that passes obstacles and anxiety. Sleep until everything has worked itself out and the clouds have broken.
Not knowing tied up with knowing that nothing one does, no achievement is great enough . . . the solution too ethereal.
Just a vast foreknowledge that all has been and will be for naught. [De javu: a thought about profit not being sought, only fair trade. It can be bought in any reputable coffeeshop.]

But this myriad of rather specific incidences is of little help. I say that I take myself too seriously, but I also know that I’m as much a walking joke as any other person, possibly more. I say I’ve tried to cultivate the intellectual, but I know I’ve got a long way to go. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “You’re not a bad looking guy,” but then I discount this appraisal by surveying my (romantically) lonely landscape. Then, I think, most of the time, I walk around believing I’m nothing more than one big cliché; one grand assimilation of everything I’ve ever read or heard or seen that a writer and intellectual and philosopher and hopeless romantic and et cetera should be.
How to break out of this cliché? How to attract? How to become myself? I ask myself these questions and find only the urge to give up completely. But giving up, I know, is death.

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