Where to Focus Attention (?)

There are a lot – and I mean a lot – of things in the world that vie for our attention on a daily basis. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (if we’re lucky enough to be able to sleep, what with everything grabbing for our attention), there are a million and one different foci demanding we consider them first, and if I’m honest, it can feel incredibly overwhelming at times.

For example, right now I’m writing a blog post, having spent around an hour pre-scheduling photo posts for the next couple of months. But here are a few of the things I could/should/would have been doing instead:

  • Clean the back yard
  • Go shopping
  • Write more of my novel
  • Finish the symphony I started four months ago
  • Spend time with my wife
  • Eat lunch
  • Have a shower
  • Read about racism
  • Read other blog posts
  • Read a book of any kind

And I could go on. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ll likely spend the rest of your life not doing things that you could have been doing instead of whatever you are doing at the moment.

This becomes an overwhelming mental burden, and comes with a great deal of guilt associated with the things you don’t actually manage to get done. When I was younger, I used to break down and often actually collapse in a pile on the floor, unable to cope with the demands of life, and totally incapacitated from the pressure of trying to decide what to do next. In fact, I’ve ended up building a life around the concept of actually just doing whatever I want to do, rather than worrying about what I might have to do, just to avoid this sense of crushing turmoil.

I don’t necessarily think this is a healthy way to look at life, but it’s the only way I can often make it through the day. I actually had a conversation about this (closer to an argument, if I’m being honest) with my son the other day, with respect to the different views my wife (his mother) and I have on this subject. My wife is the kind of person that just does; if something needs doing she’ll just get it done, regardless of whether there are things she might rather do instead. Perhaps to a fault herself – sometimes she’ll get so caught up in getting one thing done that she lets other things slide out of focus, even if they might have needed doing, too.

On the one hand, this mentality of doing what I want to do is what’s allowed me to write three fantasy novels and a YA novel whilst working a full-time job and dealing with depression, bipolar breaks and general mental ill-health; I’ve often spent a great deal of time writing that I could have been doing dishes, working in the yard, or any number of other inane – but important – tasks. On the other hand, it’s what’s led me to still not understand how to do my taxes, or keep my car clean and well-serviced, or check the sump pump in the basement before a storm.

And this is all relating to the little things in life – the things that we all have to do just to survive each and every day. Never mind the big things, like tackling social injustice and racism and misogyny and poverty in third-world countries; how can I possibly find a way to commit to acting on these kinds of things, when I can’t even remember to brush my teeth in the morning? There are things in the world – great big things – that give me great cause for concern, such as climate change and the deaths of hundreds of thousands from COVID-19, but dwelling on them seems a fruitless endeavor when I struggle to find clean socks because I never got around to doing my laundry. All that happens is I once again get overwhelmed, depressed, and end up wanting to sleep it all away.

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to finding balance in this respect; after all, if we all spent our lives only doing what had to be done, we’d want to shoot ourselves out of tedium. Yet if everyone only ever did what that wanted to do, none of the actual important things in the world would ever get accomplished – like finding a vaccine for COVID-19, or putting a human being on Mars. (The US president seems to do what he wants all the time, and look where that got us.)

Of course, there are days that I feel better than others, where I can put aside the wants in favor of the musts; at the start of quarantine, I think I might have been going through a manic phase and was cooking every night, cleaning up after myself, getting my work done, blogging at the same time, and actually managing to balance all the things in life that I wanted and needed to do. But those phases never last (at least for me), and eventually I come around to a point again where I either just want to write or play video games, or else watch South Park and drink myself into oblivion.

Perhaps finding more a structure in life would help some; I know there are people who set aside time for their passions and hobbies, but after that time is up they return to the grindstone of work and chores. Something in me – something childish, perhaps – rebels against that notion, arguing that creative pursuits can’t be contained or boxed in; that when the inspiration strikes, you have to attend to it no matter what. In reality, of course, I recognize that most of the time inspiration doesn’t strike, and I end up just twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to come to me; wasted time that could’ve been spent productively, if not enjoyably.

Maybe the problem is that, after two-plus decades, I still don’t really want to be an adult. Adulting is hard, filled with inane tasks and boring, challenging responsibilities, and I’d much rather spend what time I might have on this earth enjoying life (ironic, I know, for someone plagued with depression). Whether that be writing, listening to good music, or just dozing in the middle of the day, I just can’t face the idea that if I did all the boring, important stuff, I wouldn’t have time left for the stupid, fun stuff.

How do you cope? How do you make time for what you enjoy doing, without it coming at the expense of what you know must get done? Or, like me, do you kind of just … not care?

What’s It Like to Not Be Depressed?

The fact that probably very few people will ever see this post doesn’t help, of course, but I’m very, very depressed at the moment. As in, to the point where I can barely function day-to-day, and the smallest of chores seem overwhelmingly impossible. I can’t even watch TV or play video games to zone out, because they seem pointless and inane. And for some odd reason I’m having trouble sleeping during the day, so all that’s left is to stare blankly at the wall.

I’m not necessarily concerned; I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again, and it’s something I know all too well will pass in time. But that knowledge doesn’t alleviate the immense weight that is bearing down on me, making me feel like my life is meaningless, worthless, and destined to end in a pitiful whimper of existisitential boredom.

I think a part of my depression is coming from a deep social isolation as the world locks its doors and I stay home day after day; even for an introvert having limited human contact is psychologically harmful, and I’ve gone from a job where I interact with dozens of people a day to absolutely no one (at least not in person). It also doesn’t help that I’ve been riding a bipolar high for the past few weeks, and I know that this is a natural aspect of the downside of that high.

As I often do during these periods of affliction, I wonder what it must be like to not be depressed. And I don’t mean what it’s like to be happy, because I know happiness; I know joy, and the buzz of the bipolar high and the anxious, burning desire to create. But even in the whirlwind of emotions that come with that high, there’s a trace to depression. There’s a knowledge that the deep, dark despair is just on the other side of the coin, a hair’s breadth away and waiting eagerly to consume me. I can’t ever, ever escape depression, even at my happiest, and I wonder: what must it be like to simply not have these feelings?

I imagine, I suppose, that it must be a little bit like being high, or really, really drunk. A subconscious thread of uncaring, of believing that a better day awaits tomorrow. Sure, you might get sad, you might even feel depressed, but it’s because of something that happened, and eventually you work out how to handle that problem, put it behind you, and move on.

I wonder if living without depression is easy. I mean, I can understand that everyone faces struggles in life, but maybe it just boils down to the age-old glass-half-full mentality: perspective is everything. Is life a road with obstacles to be navigated, or is life all obstacles, and you somehow have to find a road between them? Imagine believing that there’s a road; imagine knowing that there’s a destination, and that it’s good. Imagine, if you can, a world where current events are just a stumbling block, and that the world might actually return to normal. Imagine a world of hope, and not one of despair.

You see, that’s the problem with depression. It’s all-consuming. There is no escaping it. Therapy, counseling, medications … they all do their part to alleviate the symptoms, but in the end it’s always there, underlying everything you think, say and do. I’ve lived with this for nearly twenty years, and despite my mental state’s mutations and changes, it’s one thing that has remained ever-constant.

I wish I could not be depressed. And I don’t mean now, in this moment, the feelings of drudgery and despair that are filling my head because of whatever chemical shift happens to be occurring in my head at the moment; I mean, I wish I could know what it’s like to just … not have to live with it. I suppose, really, what I’m asking for is to know what hope is.

Oh, fickle hope – between that and despair the world teeters. Some of us cling to one, and the rest can’t escape the other.

And in the end, what is there to do but trudge wearily through the snows of life? We can believe that there is sun to be found over the horizon, or we can believe that we will die before the day breaks; it doesn’t really change the realities of the world. The world is indifferent; the world doesn’t care.

But to think that the difference between hope and despair is a choice … that’s a belief I can’t hold. Ask yourself, truly: regardless of your own personal outlook, could you choose to be the other way? If you are depressed, can you choose to be happy? And if you’ve never known the cold, wretched clutches of despair, can you choose to feel that iron grip on your heart?

They say life is about choices, but I don’t know if there is such a thing. After all, you can’t ever know what the other outcome would have been, so what difference does any choice really make? I don’t know if there was ever a choice I made that led me to where I am now, how I feel; in the end, life is just what happens to you, and you can try to make the most of it all you like, but in the end – how much does it really matter?

Like I said, I’m very, very depressed at the moment. I’m not looking for sympathy, or consolation; really, just a way to say what I’m thinking. I know these feelings will pass, but even as I know that, I know they’ll one day return. Is life happy with bouts of depression, or depressed with bouts of happiness?

Who knows; who cares. All I know is that tomorrow is another day; that isn’t a statement of hope, nor of despair – it just is. I’ll probably make it through it, just like I did today. How I’ll feel at the end of it … that’s really anyone’s guess.

Here’s to hoping it isn’t in despair.

The Complexities of Human Interaction, or, How to Know Your Friends

A thing happened recently that put my connections with other people into question. Unfortunately I can’t go into specifics, but it brought to light a few different things in relation to my personal relationships with quite a number of people, and made me wonder exactly how strong the bond between people is – and what kind of tests those bonds can withstand.

To put things into perspective, let me offer an analogy. Imagine, if you will, that you are a doctor. One day, a friend tells you that someone you both know has cancer, but doesn’t want to talk about it. They’ve refused to see a specialist, haven’t started any treatment, and don’t have a plan to deal with it – but they are telling everyone around them what’s happened. (If this seems an unlikely scenario, I actually have an uncle who once did exactly this.)

As a doctor, you feel a responsibility to help this person, but you’re not an oncologist, and don’t have the knowledge or skills to treat them. Instead, you approach someone who is a cancer specialist, and describe the situation to them. You don’t tell them any names, and you don’t give them anything that could identify the person you’re talking about – you just provided a general idea of what’s going on, in order to gain advice and perspective on how to help.

However, after you see the specialist, word gets back to the cancer-sufferer that you spoke to a specialist about them. They accuse you of name-dropping, going behind their back, and suddenly cut you off almost completely without giving you an opportunity to explain what actually happened.

This is the scenario I find myself in today, not with someone I know suffering from cancer, but rather with an extremely toxic work environment. A number of people at my place of work have started ostracizing me for sharing their feelings with managers, despite having done so anonymously, and with the sole intent of trying to lessen the toxicity of the atmosphere and make it an enjoyable place to work once more.

It’s particularly frustrating because virtually no one who has behaved like this has actually approached me, asked me what was going on, or even shown the courtesy to judge me based on what I’ve actually done, and not on what they’ve heard second-hand.

It’s also fascinating from a human interaction perspective, because it has really highlighted to me just how easily people can fall into a dark place of mistrust and paranoia, just from a few tidbits of misinformation. Quite suddenly rumor becomes fact, and in the space of a few moments, someone who was once trusted and liked becomes a pariah.

The most hurtful part is the fact that these are people I trusted myself, people I connected with … people I thought of as friends. For my part, of course, I still do, but I don’t really know what they all think.

There are couple people, however, who didn’t buy in to the hype; a couple of folk who either trusted me as a friend, or at the very least approached me to know the truth of the matter. Some of these people I would have expected; others were a little bit of a surprise, but a welcome one, naturally.

Fear and mistrust are terrible things, and lead to toxic, destructive relationships. I don’t know whether these broken relationships will ever be repaired, and if they are, if they’ll end up as strong as they once were. I understand that this is how people feel, and I understand that I might have done things that, on the surface, appeared to support those feelings of mistrust.

However, the one thing I’ve learned is that a person’s feelings, thoughts and emotions can override logical observation – but in people with a higher level of emotional maturity, they don’t allow it to. To those who came to me, and those who trusted me, and those who stopped to ask what was really true – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the reason I can still face going to work.

For the rest of my friends … I still love you. I don’t blame you, and I hope we can soon mend the rift between us.

And for everyone else in the world, please remember: things are not always what they seem. Someone who might seem detrimental might actually be trying to help, and those who profess to help might not be so altruistic in their motives. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your friends – only that, if you actually value their friendship, provide them the courtesy of asking them the truth directly, rather than relying on second- and third-hand rumors.