Depression is familiar to me and no longer holds much terror for me. This lack of terror may be as much the result of my genetic coding as my experiences with depression. During the worst of the times I was depressed, for example, I never considered ending my own life. Killing myself always struck me as useless, worse than foolish, even when the world looked bleak, pointless and hopeless to me. I understand suicide if you are faced with a painful terminal condition with no hope of cure, but outside of that, I do not understand it at all. I can imagine other rare scenarios, about to be tortured by some powerful psychopath who has you chained up, with no way to escape or call for help, but with a cyanide pill in your false molar, OK, it might be reasonable then. I never suffered a depression deep enough to make me feel suicide was the only way out. I guess that’s the easiest way to describe my lack of terror about the Black Dog. Having experienced a fairly mild form of depression makes it easier for me to be philosophical about it, for sure. I recognize an element of pure, dumb luck in that.
All that said, the mechanism of depression, the complete loss of hope, is clear to me now, which also helps diminish the fear of it. You get sucked down into a low energy state where not only is everything hopeless and grim, but, on a fundamental, undeniable level, it’s your own fault that everything is hopeless and grim because you are a colossal asshole. I’ve heard, and it seems true, that depression is rage turned inward. Your imagination, along with all the hope it contains, turns to mud, to quicksand, no productive or hopeful thoughts can bubble out of depression. You cannot lash out at the oppression around you, which may be impossible to do in a productive way in any case, or at least unimaginably difficult, so you turn the whip on yourself.
Learning to stop whipping myself was a major change for the better in my life. It was a promise I made to myself about thirty years ago, during a very trying time in my life, when I faced the prospect of prison time (during the endless months before the charges were finally dismissed). Scary fucking days, The People of New York State v. Me. A little voice, my own, told me one night when I was quaking in my bed: whatever happens, I will be there with you, do not worry until it’s time to worry, and remember, add nothing to what the world is already doing to you right now. We will face whatever happens together.
I was, naturally, also filled with anxiety, biking twenty miles or more a day, up gigantic hills, lifting weights, got into the best shape of my life, against the day when I might have to fight for it in the narrow hallway outside of the exercise yard.
That little voice reassured the hell out of me. If I was a different kind of person that voice would have been a come to Jesus type moment, the voice of God, my Creator. In my own case, it was the voice of the best and wisest of myself, my internal parent, the voice I had nurtured every time the world made no sense to me. The world had often made no sense to me as a child, for reasons I was only able to fully grasp starting about forty years later.
Depression is familiar, anxiety disorder (as common an affliction, I read, as depression) is alien to me. Anxious as I was in those days when my higher voice had to reach down to pull me out of panic, constant anxiety is a different animal entirely, I think. Just as the depressive way of life is to accept a shit situation as something impossible to change, the way of anxiety is always churning along. Anxiety, I am pretty sure, never stops. The ceaselessness of worry, being on the edge of panic at all times, fearing the worst and taking measures always to avoid it, makes it a full-time job just to get through the day.
The only way I can really picture anxiety disorder is to imagine as my permanent overarching feeling the moments when I felt close to panic. Whatever else is going on, behind the scene terror is doing a mocking dance. The person is reassuring you that everything is fine, you see a sarcastic demon behind the person doing a grotesque, leering pantomime, waving hideous fingers in “air quotes”, as the reassuring voice drones on, almost unheard. That is my image of anxiety disorder, which I will refer to as anxiety for the remainder of this short piece.
As I recognize features of anxiety in old friends I learn new things about it. One complaint I’ve long had about one old friend is an inability to remember many of the specific, specifically troubling, details of a difficult discussion we’ve had. The troubling section of our conversation is erased, like an incriminating tape. This constant partial erasure appears to be a mechanism of anxiety. The things that make you anxious must be continually repressed, it seems. The strategy doesn’t really help in relationships, unless the other party is willing to simply accept that any emotional difficulty will be resolved by pretending everything is fine. Like the depressive’s neurotic willingness to accept the intolerable as the best the person deserves, the anxious person’s over-riding desire is to avoid anxiety. Anger? OH FUCK, NO!!!!! ARRGGGGH! ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!
Anger is a common and natural emotion. It is arguably the most difficult emotion we regularly have to face. Some unfortunate people face it by turning that supremely threatening shit on themselves. Can you look into the barrel of your own gun and say “fuck those fucking assholes!!!” and shoot yourself in the face if you are not full of irrational, inchoate rage? Let’s be kind, maybe the rage is neither irrational nor inchoate– does anyone but a nut shoot himself because he can’t deal with his own anger? (And, yes, for the gender pronoun police, part of that vast force of politically correct over-reactors who helped get the cruel Trump elected, He is more prone to shoot a gun in rage than She is, at least statistically).
Anger to a depressive is turned inward, a kind of self-torture. Anger to an anxiety prone person… I don’t know. I guess it’s pushed away, denied, buried under constant frenetic activity. It’s compressed, shoved down somewhere, rationalized, stored away as fodder for future anxiety — I literally have only the foggiest idea. It’s the same exercise to me as trying to imagine the quiet, inner life of a devout Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Jain. I have only the faint outlines, the imagined idea of what it might be like in the quiet heart of someone truly imbued with holy beliefs and living a highly moral life in accordance with those beliefs.
Living with anxiety is like that to me, a world I can only imagine. The full-flight pattern my father used to complain about his old friend running, in hindsight, is the perfect indicator of anxiety disorder. The day was divided into a highly scheduled series of tasks, each one allotted no more than the actual time it was supposed to take. In the real world, this ideal schedule is almost impossible to carry out, so the full-flight pattern requires constant triage, cutting corners, cutting short one thing to have the time to do another– the whole planned enterprise impossible, but, nonetheless compulsory. The anxious person is unable to be fully present because… already running late, late, got to get to those next things, shit, things are falling apart, goddamn it…
Time is all we really have here. Elmore Leonard has his idiot criminals and smart cops alike, in every book, “taking their time.” This shows that they are cool. What is cool but doing things the way you want to, not the way others demand? So a guy asks an Elmore Leonard tough guy “what the fuck?” and glares at him, waiting for an answer. The tough guy turns his head toward the window, through which a strip of the ocean is visible, takes it in, breathes the salt air. Reaches into his pocket, takes out a cigarette, reaches for his lighter on the table, lights the cigarette slowly, draws in the tobacco smoke, taking his time. “You know what?” he finally says, taking his time, “fuck you.”