18 March, 2005

The Vague-aries: Dour Times

A chance meeting recently between my wife and stateside friends in an airport prompted queries into my state of mind as I had "sounded depressed," my last few emails were around the election, go figure.

OK, those of you who've known me a while know that I may have a morbidly depressive slant on occasion. But, I've only contemplated suicide three times in my life 1) for about an hour when I was a Sophomore in High-School, due to a frustrated obsessive infatuation (which oddly led me into my only need for therapy eight years later) 2) about five minutes when re-tiling my bathroom in my flat in London, 3) for a few milliseconds during protracted battles with Microsoft operating systems. OK only the first one was at all serious, and I took a week off from school, decided it was stupid, and decided to take some positive, if ultimately pointless, steps to address my obsession problem.

I once read that a "study" showed that depressives "reality test" better than every one else, this is because they filter out less of the bad stuff that we train ourselves to ignore. I'm possibly on the more depressive side of this continuum, but I'd have to say it's what you do about it. Really, in my own estimation I am an optimist. But maybe that's based on the morbidly depressive thought that to cherish life in the horrible universe of the damned, is optimism. OK, I'm kidding, but I've never been a goth, so that must count for something.

When I was in therapy, are you bored yet? any sentence that starts with that usually has the self-congratulatory air of a Sylvia Plath survivor, no, hold on, just listen, when I was in therapy for a year and a half in the late 80's, ONLY a year and a half you say, you neurotic tourist you, SHUT UP! When I was in therapy, I was told categorically that I did not need anti-depression medication. Consider this was during the worst period of my life, I'd alienated half my friends (some of whom I was living with) by introducing them to that woman I was obsessed with and then freaking out when she started dating one of them, I'd left university without any direction and aimlessly rode the inertia of temping into computer programming, my father was in his worst condition in his (and my mom's) battle with his Parkinson's, and Michael Dukakis was the Democrat's presidential candidate, and I'd only gotten laid twice in two years. I did not need medication, I was depressed, but with a few good reasons.

OK, when I get bad days, a few times a year, usually there's a good reason, not something like "it's Tuesday," "there's suffering somewhere in the world," or "the voices in my head have taken a vote and have decided to kick me out."

The last few years I have been unemployed, or perhaps better to say under employed. I started a contracting business in 2000 which had a good start and then got hit by the tanking of the contract market post- 9/11. I spent nearly two years chasing the thin on the ground contract opportunities, I did work a few days here and there, but nothing to stop me draining away my savings or becoming financially dependent on my wife.

Even on the worst days I get up and get on with things, I spend between 6 and 9 hours in front of my computer. Some of this is writing, some keeping up with my computery skills, some is playing with video processing and editing software. I don't play games, apart from a daily crossword or sudoku logic puzzle, I do the shopping, walk the dogs.

There were some periods when I was a bit low and lethargic in the mornings, which experience has taught me can be a sign of depression. During these times I did try to take St. John's Wort (hypericum), an herbal remedy. This did relieve the lethargy, but if I didn't halve the dose I found I became irritable and tetchy (I know... how can you tell? I was snapping rather than grumbling). I've found that increasing my exercise and slightly adjusting my diet (slower burning carbs, less red meat, more fish, more veg) has really made a difference to my energy levels. I now only experience lethargy when I've missed a lot of sleep (less than 4 hours), say after pulling an all nighter during the election last fall.

This may be a drawn out explanation that I'm not actually depressed. It's probably easier to say that I'm not completely happy with my life, and can't be until I can at least finish one of my novels, and/or perhaps make some money from any of my writing. I should say that I am very content with my life. I feel very lucky that I have a wonderful partner in Finuala who is supporting my writing efforts, and otherwise rounds off many of my rougher edges. I have great daily companions in our dogs. I live in a part of the world that I absolutely adore (The New Forest, the partial subject of one my novels in progress). I have friends and family all over the world who care despite having had to occasionally put up with me at my worst.

Life is good. I'm not particularly great at shouting about it. A lot of what I try to write is comedy, there's very little humour in joy. Don't worry about me, it's those cheerful bastards you have to watch out for. The one's the neighbors say, “he was such a nice guy”. If I did anything strange, my neighbors would say, "we're not surprised, he was such a miserable git."

In my book that's a bill of health. You see, I am an optimist.



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