Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dipping My Toes

I'm not particularly good at titles.  In fact, I'm lousy at them.  A more honest title for this blog post would be "Dipping My Toes in a Sea of Despair:  A Melancholy Contemplation of a Depression Realized Incrementally."  But that doesn't fit into the little space the blogger designers allotted to me.

I'm also not particularly good at cheerfulness and positive thinking.  I am not incapable of joy, but I do tend to anticipate troubles and tragedies.  From childhood, I have found negativity to be a good personal policy.  As a perfectionist, I would study for four to six hours for every test I took.  I'd all but memorize the readings assigned to me by reading each of them five to ten times, and I'd check and recheck my work.  So great was my fear of making a mistake that I would jump up in the middle of the night to check my work one more time.  Yet, even after all that preparation, I always expected to fail and find myself humiliated.  I figured that to expect failure and humiliation prepares one for that horrid eventuality and if, for whatever reason, one did not fail and was not humiliated, one could enjoy one's non-failure as a lovely little surprise.  Of course, I should point out that "failure" to me was any grade lower than 97%.  100% or higher was good.  98%-99%  was a B (and a bit of a disappointment).  97% was a C and anything lower made me so ashamed I could hardly stand it.

Adulthood changed some of this obsessive brooding over grades.  In adulthood, I became a mother, experienced the deaths of loved ones, and learned that I too was vulnerable to illness and accident.  My tragedy-focus has shifted to the fear of death rather than to the fear of failure. I still fear failure very much, but I fear death and disability much more.  It seems that now I'm also beginning to fear the aging process.  I've begun to realize that when someone mentions "the young people", they are no longer referring to me.  This is astonishing and upsetting.  I no longer look at myself in the mirror when it can be helped because the person I see there is decreasingly recognizable to me as myself and I'd rather not look at her until through diet, exercise, and some miraculous lotions, she gets herself back in shape.

But all of this is not what I started out to say in this blog post.  I meant to discuss despair and how I've recently begun to dip my toes in a pool of it.  Usually it is just my toes although occasionally I get lazy and my whole foot slips in as well.  When such a thing happens, I try to back away and have a snack or watch some Star Trek or Doctor Who to reset myself through distraction.  This is a quick fix and like most quick fixes, it doesn't last for long.  Soon enough I find myself inching back toward that dark pool and itching to slide into it.

It is a terrible temptation, this pool of despair.  I want to dive into it headlong.  Very much.  I'm so tired of fighting that temptation.  It would be lovely to just relax into those waters and allow myself to be carried away.  It takes ever so much energy to keep my game face on and pretend that somehow, in some way, I am not being broken bit by bit by all the horrors around us all the time.  Do you suppose there is some committee of demonic people in a room brainstorming new varieties of fantastic injustice?  I'd like to think there is because to believe that normal, mundane human beings are this cruel to one another is just too heart-breaking to contemplate.  Yet, try as I may, I find myself doubting that there is a demonic committee bent on manifesting the heights of human despair.  Instead, very sadly, there is just the human race, just the lot of us, contributing a vast diversity of crappiness to the human condition.

I am very tired of straining against the brute force of injustice, nastiness, violence, and cruelty.  I often feel like I'm struggling alone.  Perhaps you know the feeling.  Have you ever read something especially despicable and wondered if maybe you were going crazy?  I try to remember, even as my mouth soundlessly forms the liberal lament, "What the f@ck?!!", that others share my morose and outraged assessments of the loathsomeness of the human condition.  I try to remember that just as I am not alone in my anger, neither am I alone in my attempts to struggle against what seems like the inevitability of our own self-destruction.  Lots of us are straining and we're all pulling together in that giant tug-o-war over that dark pool. 

I try to remind myself of all the activists, intellectuals, artists, teachers, healers, parents, lovers, and humanitarians who are struggling along with me.  I try to remember, but it is hard.  I keep reading about arrests and intimidations, beatings, dismissals, and demotions.  I continue shouting out the truth to which I've committed myself.  "Love! Love! Love!" I keep calling out, and "Justice, Compassion, Peace!"  I don't know if anyone is listening.  My students seem to appreciate the message in the days that they belong in my classroom, but their ability to carry their own messages into the world is doubtful.  They are working class people and already pretty disempowered and vulnerable.  I don't harbor any delusion that I'm teaching a new generation of activists.  If they can keep a roof over their head and find money to feed their children, it is about all they can expect.

The pool of despair beckons because it would be nice to just lose myself in it and surrender to a certain knowledge that there is nothing I can do.  The news is full of horrors so insane and absurd that I often think they are some kind of joke at first.  "Is this a real headline?" I ask myself hopefully.  "Maybe this is from one of those fake news sources that publishes absurdist stories for comedic effect."  Except the fake news stories are no longer as absurd as the actual news stories and no one seems to be laughing anymore.

Sometimes I stop watching or reading the news to try to save my sanity.  That is only partially effective because I continue to run up against injustice whenever I speak to acquaintances, friends, and relatives.  It seems that every single day I hear another story of the petty humiliations and discouraging injustices that are the regular fare offered up by both public and private institutions.  Being alive in the western world seems to require immersion in a Kafkaesque nightmare of paperwork, regulations, debt, and broken dreams. 

I won't get into my own personal stories of grinding, debilitating, petty injustice.  My own troubles, though interesting to me, would probably be tedious to you.  I'll just say that I'm an adjunct and as such, I believe there is a special place in hell for college administrators.  Also, my husband has just learned that he will be laid off from his dream job (or rather the crappy entry-level seasonal job that might possibly turn into his dream job)-- on his birthday.  So that's a bit of a bummer too.  We knew he would be laid off, but they had assured us that he would be able to work through the winter.  Now they tell him that the money in the budget allocated for allowing low-paid guys to clean toilets and paint fences is needed elsewhere.  Similarly, it is apparent that my college does not have enough money to pay their adjuncts a salary that allows us to make payments on our student loans.  Certainly, there is no money for adjuncts or seasonal federal workers to have health insurance.  Colleges and the governments have so little money.  That's why they can barely afford to invade multiple foreign countries and give tax breaks to billionaires or build useless stadiums and hire more college administrators with enormous salaries.  But I digress.

We were talking about despair.  It seems that fish and aquatic life are dying off enmasse.  And so are little kids in many parts of the world.  Hell, the entire effing planet is burning, baking, drowning, and withering.  Where climate change isn't picking us off, crazy men with automatic weapons are.  Or maybe you'll be lucky and survive all that and only have to worry about poverty, homelessness, or a lifetime of debt slavery. 

Why can't I stop brooding?  It could just be my age.  I've been reading up on the topic and it seems that Gen Xers are more likely to be despairing and to commit or attempt suicide.  My sister and I have always referred to our generation as "Generation F@cked."  Our parents lived in difficult times, but believed they could usher in an era of peace, love, and progressive change.  I grew up on those promises and was nurtured on my parents' faith in the principles of equality, justice, and compassion.  But I matured into a world marked by recession, warfare, climate destruction, and the rise of the Religious Right. 

So, I'm tired.  I think I've always been tired.  I can't remember a time when I was not tired.  It feels like we are slipping into Hell and I'm awfully exhausted by clinging to the precipice.  Wouldn't it be nice to just let go?

What does this have to do with Paganism or Quakers?  I don't know.  I guess they aren't helping me much.  In fact, both groups are currently on my list of "Groups of People Who at One Time Offered a Sense of Intellectual and Spiritual Promise in an Otherwise Degrading Life, but Who, In My Current State of Despondency, Disappoint Me So Much That I Feel Like Crying When I Think About Them:  A Topic for Future Blog Post Discussion."  See?  I told you that I'm lousy with titles.

(Also, here's a video of a song parody and accompanying article that is slightly related to this topic inasmuch as it is about people my age feeling bitterly disappointed and angsty.)


BlackberryJuniper and Sherbet said...

I don't know if anyone else has left any comments yet - I've had this page up for a bit and only just now got the chance to read this post.

I agree with everything you say. All except one small thing.

I've been swimming in the pool of (the docs call it depression, they call it medicine resistant recurrent depression, it has a big arse name and I am too bored by that to remember it)...I have been swimming in my perception, my reality = my personality, for years and years. I have good days. Once I had a good 6 months. That was amazing. (When I say good, I mean I woke and my head was relatively quiet and didn't tell me how crap I was all day, didn't commentate over every single - sigh - tiny blessed thing I tried to do until I was crying.)

I disagree that its easier to let go and be depressed. I don't think its the same for everyone (course it isn't) - but it isn't easier when I stop trying to climb out. It just makes it harder when I do try.

What does help a bit is saying to myself that I feel crap today and just accepting it. Accepting that huge horrible tired disappointed feeling. (In this state Quakers and Pagans do nothing for me either: they are too positive to get where I am in my head.) Oddly, once I accept it, and stop berating myself about it - as guilt and blame make it all worse, and just say, 'I'll do my best for this minute, this hour, this day - and my best will be a bit crappy, but I'll give it a go...' things get a molecule easier. I disappoint myself all day, but I try to keep going.

These are horrible times for thinking people with principles. Keep reminding yourself you don't feel crap out of nowhere: you feel crap because you aren't stupid, you can see what's going on everywhere and all around you, and you can't fix it all by yourself. That makes perfect sense - its scary, overwhelming, and what the hell to do about it?

Just your best for whatever moment of the day you are in.

And you *aren't* alone. I FELT what you said. From far far away - but I felt it, too. And I'm so sorry about your husband's job, and your job and all the money sh*t (not to mention all that other stuff, too).

Just keep talking here, that's all. Just don't stop, let your brain come here and think in good sentences when you're sad. Not alone, never really alone, when someone understands what you said.

Hystery said...

BlackberryJuniper and Sherbet,

Forgive my metaphorical language. I have always had what medical types call "depression" or "anxiety" "disorders" (Note that I place them all in quotations to indicate a certain level of discomfort with this medicalized approach which in my case endangered my well-being). I know that to to wade in the shallow waters of fear and sadness, though difficult, is never as terrifying as when your foot slips off that rocky ledge and you find yourself in the deep waters. Having been over my head, I didn't mean that it would be literally better to be in serious despair. But serious despair is very, very tempting for so many of us who are bone-weary from treading water. (Gosh, what's up with all my water metaphors?) To put it another way, you're so right. I'd rather deal with dysthymia or generalized anxiety disorder than the more acute forms of major depression and panic disorder. Any day.

RantWoman said...

Holding you in the Light and your husband and all your / our stresses!

It's not as if I am not tempted to riff and riff and riff on many of the same themes worrying you but I have a broken arm. So for now I get to put up with serious spiritual constipation and to grab onto comments like Blackberry,...etc's one little bit at a time thing. And I can hold you in the light.

Plus when you get your sense of the meeting opinion fully posted I will be VERY eager to read it.

Lone Star Ma said...

I'm so sorry about your husband's job. I hope he is able to find something else soon.

It is hard to keep fighting in these dismal days.

Hystery said...

Dear RantWoman and Lone Star Ma,

Thank you both for your words. I think this is a well of feeling that is necessary for many people. I know that I have felt this way on many occasions just before I begin to do more serious work. Oh, to be one of those lucky souls who is motivated by spiritual carrots rather than by spiritual sticks!

As for my husband's job prospects- He has achieved another job albeit another seasonal job that requires him to be enrolled in college. We should be good for another three or four months so we are much relieved.

Morgaine said...

I love your relationship with despair. I don't verbalize my own nearly as well and often, simply go silent, but you show the beauty of it, Hystery. Not sure if it was your toes dipping, foot slipping or other watering what sent me to sea with the ancient mariners for a moment:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink!

Amanda said...

This is a very old post, but I just wanted to say Oh! you speak to my condition. I know you haven't been blogging much lately, and I know what that's like too. But I wanted you to know I am reading your blog through at the moment, and in every post I find beauty and truth and sympathy and the comfort of another soul out there who walks the same paths as me, and that's such a gift. Thank you.

Finally Spring

My kids and I planted bulbs today.  What a difference one week makes!  The spring warmth has brought everyone outdoors.  People are walking ...