Day 20: Selfish

Photo: “Navel gazing” by Jonathan Cohen on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

What is going on out there? (Gestures toward the world outside my apartment.) Who knows? Not me. For the first time in my adult life, I’ve become one of those people you’re never supposed to be: uninformed, disconnected, largely oblivious and unmotivated to do much about it.

This is a frustrating and downright embarrassing feature of depression. Things matter, now more than ever, but my brain stopped caring some time ago. The walls fold in, the world fades out. I haven’t decided if this is a helpful protective mechanism or another shitty symptom. Maybe both?

I used to be — I hate this phrase, but I’m going to use it anyway, I deserve it — plugged in. You should’ve seen my Feedly! I absorbed news and information like it was my job, which it was, and even when it wasn’t, I loved knowing what was going on. I come by it honestly. My family shared the paper in sections every day, the Morning Sentinel on weekdays, then the Sunday New York Times, which we paid for in advance so we could be guaranteed a copy since the local bookstore only stocked a few. My parents drove me to school with Morning Edition and served supper with Peter Jennings. In kindergarten, I got in a fight with my best friend because she didn’t share my views on nuclear disarmament (I was in favor, because I’d become convinced that rural Maine was a top-secret Soviet target. Only ’80s kids will remember, etc.).

Now there are mostly blank spaces where the news of the day should go. I’ve turned off my alerts and deleted all the apps. I haven’t read the papers or listened to the radio in months. Occasionally my husband will start a conversation with, “Did you see the thing about…” and the answer is always no. I did not see the thing about that. I’ve tried to keep up appearances by going on Twitter every now and then and finding something relevant-seeming to retweet, not because I have lots of followers who anticipate my input (I don’t and they don’t), but because it feels like a gesture toward normalcy. See, I tell myself, it’s me! An informed person who participates in important conversations! It never works. I’m never convinced. And then I get tired and close the tab.

Intrusive thoughts have a lot to do with all this. If you’ve never had intrusive thoughts, imagine having an earworm, except instead of “Uptown Funk” it’s 🎶 terrible violent death murder ti-iiiime, someone on this A train is going to stab your babyyyyy, terrible violent death murder tiiiiiiiiiiiime🎶. I started having them soon after the baby was born — classic postpartum stuff — and retreating from external news sources felt like a way of minimizing triggers. If you don’t read about all the terrible violent things that happen in the world, surely your brain can’t use them against you, right? Well, wrong. The thoughts kept coming, and then the depression settled in for the long haul, and it was hard to be genuinely interested in anything, let alone a list of terrible, violent or otherwise stressful headlines.

It’s hard not to feel guilty about being disconnected, especially right now. There are a lot of people for whom disconnecting isn’t an option, because the terrible stressful stories aren’t just headlines, they are reality. There are people working hard to face the things I can’t, in order to make the world a better place, while I sit here under a coffee-stained blanket and try not to think. My Jesuit college called students “men and women for others,” which is such a useful foundation from which to see the world: you’re not just in it for yourself. I’m not doing a very good job of living up to that motto now. Even guilt is selfish, if you think about it! Me me me me me. Me and my dumb brain.

But look, at least I’m annoyed with myself. That means I have some perspective, which is another thing that’s easy to lose in depression. A little perspective must mean I’m swimming higher in the muck — not above it, at least not yet — just enough so I can look around. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s there. So let’s hope the world can hold off on imploding, just for a while. I think I might like to have time to rejoin it.