Whaddaya Wanna Do?

What do I want to do? Nothing. Not a damn thing. There is nothing whatsoever that I want to do.

You ever been there?

If you’ve ever been depressed enough that you literally don’t want to do anything at all, nothing in the universe, you will realize what a tremendous luxury it is to want to do something. For reals. “Wanting”might seem like “breathing,” if you think it’s something that just happens as long as you’re alive, no matter what. I’m alive, so I want stuff. Except that isn’t how it works. I learned this some years ago, and get helpful echoes of the lesson from time to time.

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I don’t want to make a list. I don’t want to cross stuff off. I don’t even want to think about lists. Or not-lists.

Normal folks who are feeling okay want stuff all the time. They want to be entertained, and they want to eat, and they want to drink. They want to sleep, and they want to make money just enough that they “want” to go to work.

But there’s more.

They want to watch their favorite TV shows, they want to check their social media, they want to watch a basketball game, they want to go out of town on the weekend, they want to have sex, they want buy some stuff for the house, they want to visit with friends, and they want dessert.

And and and…

 

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What I imagine everyone else is doing right now in Normaltimes-Funville. It’s in the Midwest somewhere. All I know is that they have a Jimmy John’s and a Tastee-Freez.

Because they want things, they do things, which is awesome. But what happens if you don’t want anything anymore? What happens when depression settles in your bones and nothing is good and nothing appeals to you and nothing is worth getting out of bed for?

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Not gonna move. Blinking is iffy. Adulting is right out.

I looked into this about thirteen years ago–you’re welcome–and you wanna know what I found? You do nothing. You go to bed, because that’s ground zero, and you stop doing. You stop planning, you stop caring, and you stop thinking. It’s like dead, except dead supposedly doesn’t hurt like depression does. (Depression feels like a broken heart all over. That’s my best approximation.)

It has a word, which makes it feel all medical. Anhedonia. Without pleasure.

If your brain has too little want-to-do-stuff juice, you don’t even want to eat. That’s the weirdest thing. You literally do not want to chew food and swallow it. No appetite. No desire for food. Eating becomes an imposition, an intrusion, an annoyance. I ate a handful of saltines each day because I retained enough humanity to realize that this was literally the least I could do. I also drank a glass of water because I was only mostly dead.

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Very, very slightly…

Life went on in the house around me. I was the ghost in the bedroom. I forget how long. A month? Six weeks? I came out a couple of times, play-acting at “living person,” all plastic-faced and dead-eyed, but would go right back when I was done with whatever human interaction had been forced on me.

I had the TV on even though I couldn’t stand to watch any shows. I didn’t want to be entertained. But noise and movement was good, for some reason, so I watched every second of the French Open tennis tournament. I didn’t really watch; it just played in my general direction. I think it kept me from thinking. I didn’t want to do that, either.

The French Open lasted a while. When that ended, I endured this and that until the British Open golf tournament came on, and then something else after that. If I had had an “ocean wave” channel, I would have put that on.

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Looking for a “white noise” equivalent for sight, taste, smell, and touch. Wait–is there an off-switch for your brain? (Other than sleep. I broke that.)

Eventually, with a new doctor, some meds, and slow, incremental improvement, I started to do some things again. I went to other rooms in the house. I started to see other humans again. Nothing was fun for a long time, but I ate food again. I actually wanted food. I kinda needed to put back on the 25 pounds or so I had lost on the saltine cracker diet. In time, I’d go way past that, but them’s the breaks…

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And everything else.

 

I got better. Not everybody does.

So here’s the moral of the story, boys and girls: go do stuff. Have fun, and notice that it’s fun.

Because if you feel like doing something and then do it, and you feel the least bit of joy in doing that thing–whether it’s eating a snickers or watching the Kardashians or petting your dog–you’re alive, and doing okay. You need to appreciate that moment, and the fricking chemical in your brain that made that moment possible. Tell the chemicals thank you. Wanting is awesome. It’s human and happy and absolutely not to be taken for granted.

Then go do something else that you want to do, and enjoy the hell out of it.

Rinse and repeat.

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Bad Day

Smokey Robinson famously boasted, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day; when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…”

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Which looks better: 1…

That sounds great! But now I have questions. (Somehow, he knew I would. He anticipated.)

“I guess you’d say, ‘what can make me feel this way?'”

Exactly! Hook me up, man.

Country road in the mountains
…or 2?

“What can make me feel this way? My girl…”

Fine. If you don’t want to tell me…

I’m not trying to be cynical. What I’m saying is that trying to “feel this way”–sunshiny and springy–is a sore point with me, as well as a matter of particular interest.

And Smokey leaves me hanging.

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Smokey, bogarting the sunshine.

A couple other singers took up the torch and sang the songs of my people. But I didn’t want to hear them.

You see, back when I was younger and depression was all exciting and new, I lovehated anything that had Smokey’s sun and clouds reversed. The first song I recall fitting that category was “Bad Day” by Fuel.

bad day fuel
I have nothing ironic to say about this song. Or the people who made it. I actually found it very touching–if a trifle too real once.

The singer repeats what his troubled girlfriend says to him:

“I had a bad day again
She said I would not understand
She left a note that said I’m sorry, I
I had a bad day again”

I understood. I liked it because I understood it. But I didn’t want to hear it because I understood it too well. Lovehate.

“And she swears there’s nothing wrong
I hear her playing that same old song
She puts me up and puts me on
I had a bad day again”

This song fit into the category of “freaking me out because it reminds me how fragile and confusable brains are.” That’s totally a thing. Look it up.

For a period of time, I hated to see dream sequences or representations of drug trips or depression or even sadness, anything that showed normal perceptions being altered. The clinical term for the feeling I got whenever I saw something psychedelic was “icky.”

Super “icky.”

Like when the memory-impaired Dory tries to motivate the grieving and depressed Marlin with her creepy little crackpot song. (See my homage to that moment in “Shut Up, Dory.”)

That’s why I liked the next song “Unwell,” by Matchbox 20, even more, and far less. (And not because I have anything against Rob Thomas.)

“All day staring at the ceiling making
friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices
telling me that I should get some sleep
because tomorrow might be good for something”

Okay. I did some ceiling-staring. I’ll own up to that. That’s on me. But I made no friends there.

Still, too real by lots.

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Giant toilet. You see it too, right?

Does he leave it there?

Nope. He keeps going. He goes so far as to enunciate the fear I carried around unsaid.

“But I’m not crazy I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
a different side of me”

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Totally normal image. Nothing Twilight Zoney about it at all…

The song hits all the right notes: uncertain hope, fear of abandonment, hallucinations, paranoia, stigma…

This is cheery.

“I can hear them whisper
and it makes me feel like there must be something
wrong… with me”

big feet
Super icky.

I liked that the song existed, but I turned to another channel whenever it came on. I did not like how it felt to hear it.

On the one hand, I was relieved that I was not as bad off as the people in the songs. On the other hand, I felt bad that I was callous towards the suffering of others. And after that I suspected I was looking for ways to beat myself up….

I just got dizzy.

Whew. I want me some sunshine.

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My view, on some days.

I Don’t Wanna

Okay, you’re at work. Normal thing on a normal day. You’re getting through it, thinking that when work is over you’re gonna do some hobby/sport/funtime thing–bike, craft, book, ball, whatever. Something you enjoy. I don’t know what that thing is for you, but I’m guessing it takes at least a tiny bit of energy to start. Then, once you get started, it’s fun, and you like it.

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Finish a few potholders for my etsy… maybe collect beetles in the park…

Work gets over, you get home, you look at that thing you’ve been planning to do for hours, and you go…

Nah.”

Aaaaand… you sit down in front of the TV.

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The nope is strong in this one…

I’m pretty sure that’s a human experience, not unique to any group or person. But as laziness goes (or discouragement, or weariness, whatever) it’s stupid.

Here’s a f’rinstance. I like to read. Very much. But I haven’t read nearly as many books as I would like to, or as many as I would like to have already read. For every book I’ve read, I’ve got probably five more I want to read. Many of those are on my overloaded shelves. Beautiful, shiny books… And yet, it’ll take me a couple weeks (sometimes months) to read a good book that I could have/should have read in days. I should totally be reading right now.

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Oh, no. You just shoulded all over yourself…

That next book, and the one after that, has to wait for me to get around to finishing the one I’m on, and at the end of the line are a thousand books I will never get to. That’s regret. And yet–there I go, sitting in front of the TV. (Bet you’ve done it, too.)

That’s a lot of happy happy funtime joyfulness I’ve traded for BS TV. (I apologize for employing so much technical language.) And that’s just one example. I also want to learn to play the banjo, and study Chinese, and write poetry, and redo the kitchen, and publish a comic book, and… Seriously, I’m getting tired just thinking of it.

Here’s why we sabotage our joy:

There’s a fragile fucking flower that grows inside each of us, and it’s a bitch to cultivate the damn thing. Scientist types refer to this flower as ego (but not the same ego that Freud went on about). Here it means the energy to go do stuff or control one’s volition.

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An ego in bloom. YMMV.

It is this internal energy that, for example, keeps us focused on a task that we don’t really want to do. It is ego that makes us get out of bed to go to work. It is ego that makes a student finish homework that is tedious and stultifying.

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Yes, I said stultifying.

It is the energy of ego that makes us plan and work painstakingly toward a future that is more rewarding than this one. Or do the dishes, or mow the grass, or clean out the garage… or do whatever task we would really rather not do but want to have done.

ganas
Ego! Ganas! Zeal! Gusto! Verve! Ambition! … Or sleep. Sleep is good.

It is “ego depletion” that makes it less likely to do any of those things. You wear it down at work. You use it up on the commute. If you have difficulties in your life (and who doesn’t?) you spend ego there. If you are improving yourself through diet or exercise or study, you are spending ego to achieve it. You drain it doing laundry and dusting your valuables. (I’m lying about the dusting. That’s just good fun right there!)

Even if you want to go do something fun–your sport, your crafting, your reading, your working out, or whatever–the energy to do it is gone. Ironically, it’s probably that activity that would replenish your ego. I’m not sure, though. It’s a theory. (See below.)

According to a study I don’t want to look up right now, if you have to do a hard math problem, you’re less likely to persevere and finish it if you first have to resist the temptation of a sweet treat. Those two things use the same type of energy. And you deplete this reserve of ego every time you exert willpower. Your store of ego, or ganas, or get-up-and-go, is finite, and refills slowly.

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Do not do this.

Depression multiplies this problem. Depression is where somebody has pulled the damn ego plug and let it all drain out. No more energy for doing things. None at all. Gears are grinding. Axles are dragging. This feels bad. But the hopeful news is that recovery has two very easy steps:

  1. Put the plug back in.
  2. Refill your inner reservoir with high quality ego.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to accomplish these steps. If you know how to do either, please write a book. Make a million dollars. Help a lot of folks.

In the meantime, I’m gonna go do all those things I’ve been putting off in a big way.

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Not my image. Buy this artist’s stuff.

I guess I’ll go eat some cookies.

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Krispy Kreme. Even better.

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