It happens around the same time each morning. I’ve bounded out of bed, placed the glasses on my face and made my way into the kitchen after carefully disarming the house alarm. I’ve had a healthy breakfast, read the papers, watched the local news, answered emails. Maybe an hour has elapsed, maybe a little more.
I review my day’s commitments listed on the small yellow lined pad in front of me, seeing I have no place to appear that morning. I push myself to the realization that, yes, I do have to get up off the couch and clean and dress myself for the rest of the day. There’s a familiar repetitive aspect to these tasks and it seems as if I have just done them hours before.
When my life seemed to collapse around me after a series of personal reversals six years ago, I knew what I had to do to survive. The importance of structure was paramount – getting up at the same time, putting together a routine, a to-do list each day. I needed to eat regularly and healthfully, continue my exercise program, stay in touch with other people – even if it all seemed like going through robotic motions.
In the middle of this adjustment, my beloved dog died so I got another. This one, with whom I quickly bonded, developed rare rage seizures after one year and growled at me, escalating into a threat of imminent attack that frightened me so much I reluctantly returned her to her breeder. This additional and exponential wave of grieving laid bare the reality of just how much of my resiliency skill I had lost over the past decade. There had been too many losses and apparently insufficient reserves in the tank to stay too far above water. Walking every morning on the treadmill became an ironic and symbolic ritual.
And so I went underground. It wasn’t really a classic depression but more a growing absence of meaning. Whatever mattered no longer did. But I fully understand the importance of existentially treading water. The structure, long in place, has continued. The activities buy me time, keep the engine tuned – because I haven’t given up the thought that “something” could happen to bring my life back. In the old days, I would have jumped-started myself and I have certainly tried.
I continue to travel, for one, seeking distracting experiences. And last year I was admitted to an MFA program in creative writing and writing for the performing arts. The decision to do so was ridiculously ego-syntonic, a natural fit. I’ve always been engaged in creative pursuit – at least, until six years ago. But writing anything, everything – the essays, the memoir, plays and now short stories – all feels, well, pointless, the literary equivalent of the treadmill.
It’s all place-holding, like doing a time-step before breaking out into some showy syncopated number. At the same time, I understand that the extensive choreography is behind me. It’s not so much related to age, though that would be a convenient explanation. I think the culprit is a lack of interest and involvement in my own future. Too many blows to the head. The present seems difficult enough without looking too far ahead. I function like a recovering addict, one day at a time.
This is now apparently a permanent part of who I am, living a sort of a has-been life. I once was an interesting person and now I am not. More to the point, I don’t find very much about myself to be compelling in any way, other than my personal history. And so I live below the radar, off the grid.
Husbanding my slim reserves, I have kept friends at arm’s length. Much of my interaction now is done via email, a convenient and sanitary tool for preserving the illusion that I am still of value as a person, that I have something to contribute. I am no longer interested in making new friends or deepening the relationships I now have. I’m not sure my safety net would hold should they disappoint me as I am guarding what’s left of myself as a sentry patrols the moat. There is room for acquaintances in this scenario, people with whom I can practice my humanity.
Is this enough? It has to be. Ratcheting down my life has been surprisingly easy and lacking in surprise. There is no sadness. Of course, there is not much of anything here now, just a quiet sense of nothingness. I just don’t want to bother. And yet, there’s still something in me that wants to get to tomorrow, just in case.