The onset of darkness

The morning after the New England 3-Day, I find myself feeling tired, depressed, and kind of pathetic. I worked my tuchus off all weekend and now it’s over and I have nothing to look forward to for a very long time.

This year has been kind of about

Trip to NC over Memorial Day Weekend
Trip to NYC to see “Hamilton” and “Wicked”
Walk Twin Cities 3-Day
Crew New England 3-Day

but now the foreseeable future for a long way out is:


No vacations planned, no special events to look forward to, just a long Vermont winter and the onset of my usual I’m-so-pathetic-and-everyone-hates-me blues.

Major depression is a real illness and mine happens to be drug-resistant and very hard to treat.

Past experience has shown me that the smartest thing to do, when my depression starts to get bad, is to simply delete/deactivate my social media accounts. No one ever notices my absence, no one ever reaches out to say “hey, you’ve disappeared, how are you??” And that’s perfectly understandable. People are busy and have their own lives, and no one would put me on their list of top ten (or twenty, or fifty) friends.

And pulling a vanishing act has one major thing to recommend it — if I don’t even have a social media presence, I can’t use it to do pathetic, lonely things on those days when my depression is really out of control. And that means “fewer things to regret doing later.”

So if I do kinda drop off the surface of the Earth here in a few days or weeks, it won’t be because I’ve cried “goodbye cruel world” and jumped into a pond.

It’ll be because it’s the easiest way to avoid embarrassing myself worse.

Battles With Depression

The last seven years have been very bad ones for me, mentally speaking. I’ve been so depressed for much of that time that I’ve done a lot of stupid things, from procrastinating on things that matter, to putting on weight and not getting enough exercise, to spending money unwisely, to taking people for granted, to not saying “thanks” where thanks are due.

In that time, my father died and that didn’t help with my depression. My wonderful cousin Anne took on the vast, vast majority of the work involved with settling the estate, and I basically just let it happen and periodically wrote to say “Any word from the attorney?” And I’m sorry for that — for taking her for granted and for not doing more to help.

I have an aunt in Putney, Vermont that I grew up not knowing (my mom’s youngest sister Eva) but that I made connection with when Carole and I moved up here back in 1998. And even though Putney is only three hours (at most, depending on traffic, weather, and moose) away, I never, ever get around to reaching out to her. And I’m sorry for that.

Carole and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last fall but I can’t say that things between us are great, partly due to my travel schedule having been extremely busy in 2018 (I was basically never not on the road) and partly due to communication problems. Carole loves to interrupt and talk over people and I’ve gotten so sick of that that I don’t even try talking to her some days. I kinda wish we could go to couples counseling, but one requirement of counseling is being able to attend counseling sessions and when you consider how much I travel for work, well, that’s a problem.

I’ve had a much harder time mustering the same balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm for the Susan G Komen 3-Day, and that’s sad too. I used to be so utterly gung-ho; raising money for the fight against breast cancer was practically intoxicating. And now I’m just mailing it in. I still care deeply about the fight against cancer, but I find myself going “I’ll compose a cool fundraising letter tomorrow. Maybe.” And now, today, I found myself thinking “Maybe I’ll take 2021 off.” And that’s especially sad, when you consider that I’ve … on so many occasions … sworn to never stop.

Some people drink when they’re depressed. Some people smoke. Some people binge eat and sleep a lot. I’m one of that last group of people. I’ve started working on the weight and have gotten myself down to the high 220s from a high in the mid 250s, but with the rainy weather we’ve had lately and everything else going on, I haven’t gotten in as much exercise as I’d like, and my weight loss has slowed somewhat.

I also have the problem of thinking that buying stupid-ass stuff off — usually books and things, sometimes food items that look particularly tasty but that I certainly don’t need, sometimes really impractical stuff (I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the 8′ Olmec stone head I ordered one day. It’s taking up half the garage1no, I didn’t really buy an Olmec stone head, although they do sell them.). I went kinda berserk recently buying new birdfeeders and stuff to put out on the front porch for the cats to look at. I didn’t need more birdfeeders, but as Carole has so often noted, one of my guiding principles in life appears to be “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” I also went seriously berserk this year on gardening supplies: new planters, new raised bed setups, lots and lots of tomatoes and pepper starts, you name it. And I’m sure it’ll all look marvelous for a month or two along about August when everything’s bearing, but did I really need all that stuff? Did it make me happy long-term? Answer: not so far.

One thing that cheers me up — temporarily — is taking fun vacations. We just had a mini-vacation to central North Carolina to revisit old haunts from when we lived there in the mid-1990s and to see friends, and that was fun while it lasted… but now that it’s over, I’m back into my funk. We’re taking another mini-vacation over July 4 weekend to go down to New York City to see a couple of Broadway musicals that have been on Carole’s bucket list for some time, and I’m looking forward to that… but at the same time, I’m absolutely not looking forward to all the frustrations involved. (Carole is sort of the human embodiment of inertia; it is very hard to get her organized and out of a hotel room in under two hours.) And while I hope that the balance of accounts on that trip is weighted toward the fun and away from the “OH MY GOD WILL YOU STOP DOING THAT” I tend to do my share of the squabbling and sniping. It’s wrong of me to do so much finger-pointing and not look in the mirror from time to time as well.

Bad habits are hard to break and depression causes me to do a lot more bitchy, petty stuff than I have any right to do. When a computer doesn’t work reliably, you reboot it or power it off and back on, and a lot of the time, everything starts working just fine. I wish there was an equivalent for the human brain.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. no, I didn’t really buy an Olmec stone head, although they do sell them.

Holding Back The Years

I have been feeling pathetically old lately. I’m actually only 51, but the gray-haired stranger that stares out of the mirror at me is someone who (to me) looks far closer to joining Marley (who was dead, make no mistake about that) than I’d like.

I need to arrest my slow decline by becoming much more active, one freaking way or another. There are folks my age who are out running sub-three-hour marathons. No, I don’t expect to do that. But when I was running regularly I had gotten my 5k time down to 28:00 or so. Then my doctor added metoprolol to my high blood pressure medicine regimen, and anyone who’s ever been on a beta blocker knows what those do to your metabolism. But I’m not on metaprolol right now and the beta blocker I am on (carvedilol) doesn’t seem to leave me as tired as metaprolol did. Perhaps I can regain lost ground. (Perhaps I can dig a hole through the Earth to Madagascar using a soup spoon and go off to live among the lemurs, too!) But I’ve got to try something in that regard.

Piddle, twiddle and resolve. Sigh.

When I’m home, I need to stop letting Carole dictate whether we go out and do things. Carole is God’s gift to “I don’t wanna” regarding any plan she didn’t’ come up with.  As a result of my trying really, really, really hard to avoid fights and arguments with her, I’ve spent a ton of time just lolling around the house when I could have been out doing things I enjoy. (This is not character assassination, by the way. Carole knows she has problems with oppositionality. Big honking hairy problems. With googly eyes and fangs. That doesn’t make it any easier for her to overcome her passive-aggressive resistance to any plan I come up with. The point is, I’ve got to take responsibility for my own fitness, whether Carole wants to come along or not.)

I can’t do a damn thing about one particularly depressing aspect of aging — the realization that Carole and I are officially too old to have kids. I had been holding out hope, year after year, that we might still decide to have a kid or two, but as I’ve said before, even if Carole could conceive at age 48, I don’t want to be the guy getting mistaken for a grandfather at my child’s high school graduation. And besides, Carole says the question is now officially moot, time-of-the-month-wise. It depresses the hell out of me that I have no one to pass things on to. We achieve immortality through each successive generation of our families; when I die, the world ends.

Short-term — well, that’s where Garnier Nutrisse Medium Natural Brown comes in. (I hate dyeing my hair. I used to do it fairly frequently, but got out of the habit. But as a short-term mood improver, perhaps it’ll help to see something other than steel-gray hair in the mirror each morning.)

I Hate My Brain

My brain lies to me all the time.

Right now there is nothing wrong with my life. Everything’s okay. Work is fine. I’m not over my head in debt. The weather’s fine. I need to lose about 40 pounds (okay, that’s one major dissatisfier), but otherwise I’m not in desperately poor health or anything. To the best of my knowledge my wife isn’t planning on leaving me any time soon. Things are actually pretty good.

But I feel mentally awful.

Imagine that you can’t stop worrying about your overdrawn bank account and about all the credit cards you owe money on. But then imagine that you’re NOT overdrawn and your credit cards have zero balances. But you can’t stop worrying. Even if you log in and look at your balances in the bank and on the Chase and AmEx websites and see that everything is just fine, moments later you go back to fretting about how you’re going to make ends meet.

That’s kind of what my brain has been doing to me lately.

know I’m depressed. I know that my brain is lying to me. But that doesn’t help me deal with the malaise and the angst. I can remind myself every five seconds that everything’s okay. I can soldier on rather than crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head. Yes, I can get by.

You ask: are you taking antidepressants? Yes, I’m taking antidepressants. Perhaps it’s time, in theory, to revisit which ones I’m taking. But right now my MD and I are playing a balancing game with my high blood pressure meds and we really don’t want to screw around with multiple things at the same time.

You ask: am I seeing a therapist or counselor? No, I am not seeing a counselor routinely. There are people that talk therapy simply doesn’t help. I’m one of them. (If you have the urge to hit the ‘reply’ button and tell me I’m wrong, spare me. Five minutes’ Googling on “talk therapy clinical trials’ or ‘talk therapy doesn’t always help’ will show you that I’m not talking out of my hat. If you want to seriously cheese me off, tell me that my depression is due to my not seeing a therapist regularly.) I am acutely aware that the feelings I’m experiencing are not based on actual life experience. I am aware that my brain is like a computer pre-programmed to see every glass as half empty. Knowing that your bathroom mirror has been replaced by one out of a funhouse arcade doesn’t automatically help you see yourself clearly.

And for what it’s worth, I’m a former board member of the Vermont affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’m not an uninformed goober who prefers to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.

I think the one thing that would probably help is “getting a lot more exercise”. Sweat the crazy out, as it were. But there’s the rub: my brain is very very very good at saying “Tomorrow.”

I hate my brain.

Marching Toward Oblivion, Part 1

In a few short years I won’t exist anymore.

That’s true of everyone, obviously. To the best of my knowledge, everyone dies in the end. Some of us are fortunate enough to die happy, surrounded by family, secure in the knowledge that those they love are provided for and that all will be well. Lots of people die alone, sad little pathetic deaths, and are remembered by nobody.

When it became obvious to me a few years ago that there was no way I would ever have children — when it was absolutely clear that that ship had sailed — I started to see the world differently. I know that Carole and I might live for quite a few years more, or we might die in an accident tomorrow. Either way, there’s no one to remember us. No “next generation” to pass the baton to. When we die, the world ends.

When my father died (Mom had died years earlier), my siblings and I had to empty out his house down in Florida, take what we wanted, donate the rest to charity, and get the house sold and out of our hair. It took years. Thank heavens for a cousin who lived across the street from Dad, and an unusually helpful local realtor. Without them on the scene to take care of immediate nuisances as they arose, we’d probably still be tearing our hair out.

Well, when Carole and I die, there’ll be no one to do that for us. There’ll be no one to sort through our stuff and go “I want this, but I guess you can have that” and so forth.

That’s why I kept telling my siblings, each time the question arose of “who gets the silver, who gets the jewelry, who gets this, who gets that” that I didn’t want any of it. If I inherited Mom’s silver, it’d just pass out of the family for good when I die. If my sister, the only one of us with children, got it, one of her kids could inherit it. I know that when I’m dead I really won’t be in a position to care where some old shiny eating utensils wound up, but right now, it’s vaguely comforting to know that in a strange sense, there’s still going to be some continuity from generation to generation. Mom’s stuff to my sister. From my sister to her kids.

But as far as my stuff goes, there’s no one to leave any of it to. I’ve sort of figured that at some point I’ll write up a will. It’ll be the usual thing — Carole gets everything, of course, if I predecease her, but if I’m the second to go, I’ll probably just leave everything to my sister or her surviving heirs. Let them empty out the house. It’ll be good for them.

In the meanwhile, though, I’ve started looking around the house and going “that brings me no joy, it’s just clutter and in the way” and getting rid of things. We have a local community mailing list network here in Vermont that comes in handy for saying “hey, anyone want X?” (I will never hold my own yard sale. As far as I’m concerned, when really bad people die, they’re sentenced to roam the Earth attending yard sales.)

I no longer have a lot of unrealized ambitions. I’m really, really good at my job and have about as much job security as one can have in this day and age, but … famous last words, right? I’m very happy with my house and don’t feel a need to pore over real estate listings in Hilton Head. I have no urge whatsoever to spend a chunk of money on a fast car. I know that nothing I can do at this point is going to get me into the history books.

I have a few simple desires: provide for Carole and make sure that she doesn’t want for anything, take a vacation every year or so to someplace fun that I’ve only ever read about in books, and if I can, not make the world a worse-off place before I go. Anything else is gravy.

Well, okay, that’s not 100% true. There is one thing I’d really like to accomplish before I die, but it’s hard to explain without sounding like a complete wack-job and it’s extremely unlikely to come to fruition. Forget I mentioned it.