Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Should I stay or should I go?
I couldn’t make decisions when I was depressed. Should I write this memo? Work on the first chapter of the book? Or the last? Should I pay the bills now or finish mulching the garden? Should I go shopping or cook dinner? It was as though all the tasks of my life had a constantly revolving and capricious importance in relation to each other. The only problem was this: As soon as I started on one thing, I became quite certain that I should be doing the other.
“Ah, Jeez,” Agnes moaned as soon as I cranked up my laptop. “I can’t believe that you think this is how you should be spending your time. Go get a regular job. Tom's not going to carry you forever.”
I opened up the draft of an article I had started working on the week before. At the time, it had seemed to flow and even most of the research had fit together easily. This week, according to Agnes, it was drivel.
“The time for that article is dead and gone,” Agnes said emphatically. “You should be working on this. The rest is just shoveling shit onto a page.” She pointed her bony finger at another, completely different article outline. I felt all the enthusiasm I had come to my desk with drizzle away into a fine, invisible mist.
Some days, heading out to meetings, to the gym, shopping, or for whatever else was on my schedule for the day, I would quite literally change direction two or three times. I might be suited up for a workout, but turn around and come home, convinced that I couldn’t waste my time on exercise. I'd call from my cellphone and cancel the meeting. Work was more important. Other days, the quandary of “what comes first” was so overwhelming that I didn’t do anything at all. And those days were the worst, because then I would fall behind and feel guilty and even more self-loathsome.
“Sometimes I think all you do is drive around all day,” my husband blasted at me one night. He couldn’t figure out why I couldn't finish a seemingly simple list of home-related tasks. I didn’t blame him; I couldn’t figure it out either.
This inability to make decisions also made me engage in a long string of unrelated life decisions that would be better categorized as swell ideas. I began to reformulate my life and work in ways that most people pick up woodworking or macrame --- as hobbies.
“I think I’m going to take that job at the knitting store,” I told my husband one night over dinner. “They only pay $9.00 an hour, but I could learn a lot more about knitting and then maybe start teaching some classes.” I noticed how carefully my husband put his knife down on his plate.
“I thought you were a writer,” he reminded me quietly. “Aren’t you writing a book?”
“Well, yes,” I explained. “I would still do that in the early morning, but I’d work in the store after that.”
“That’s right,” Agnes concurred, surprisingly supportive. “You should really do something that requires a lot less brain power. You really don’t have much to say anyway. Why impose yourself so much on others?”
“I never knew you had this burning desire to knit,” he pointed out.
“I didn’t either,” I admitted. And as soon as I did, some small part of me sat up and took critical notice – and action.
I called a friend of mine the next day who has – through wisdom, good psychiatric care, and sheer courage – whupped down on her own bipolar dragons to a point where she is one of the most well-balanced, successful people I know.
“When you are depressed a lot of hooey will start to look good,” she explained, relying on her clinical knowledge. “It’s a ‘one week I’ll be an electrical engineer and the next I’m going to palm reading school’ kind of thing. Don’t make any decisions for a while. Stay on your usual schedule.” I promised I would. She didn’t buy it.
“And when you think you will start driving trucks next Thursday, call me first.”
Now that I am on the anti-depression program (mentioned in previous post), one of the first things to amaze me is how easily I can make decisions. This morning I dredged up a “problem chapter” from my book – one that had seemed to suffer from the same inability to decide where it was going as I had. After an hour, paragraphs were fitting into place, dead end sections were cut, and I added a different ending that worked. After another hour I paused. I braced myself for Agnes, telling me I was back to my old, worthless shenanigans. The only sound I heard was my old, black dog rolling over on the sofa across the room. He let out one satisfied sigh and went back to sleep.
Just the metaphor alone was good for a laugh.