the diary thing 
THE HEAT HAS COME AND GONE AND COME AGAIN. It's a nice year for tomatoes -- the cherry tomatoes on our deck are sweet, thin-skinned and luscious -- but thanks to a plague of soybean aphids that swept over the city from the farms to the north, the scarlet runners are stunted, the leaves green but shrivelled at the edges. Two whole bean pods -- with one bean each in them. That's all we have this year, after last year's cool summer and bumper crop. Nature is mean and capricious. Never trust nature.

I'VE BEEN FEELING LOW, LATELY. Well, let's not be mealy-mouthed about it -- I've been depressed, well and truly down in the dumps. I'm better now -- I think -- but last week, the whole week, was a write-off. The funny thing is that it seemed, like a winter cold, to have been going around.

It was a week where I couldn't seem to get anything done. K. would leave in the morning and I'd pick up e-mail, poke around the web, then collapse onto the couch, reading fitfully, wandering the apartment, bugging the cats, talking to myself in a disjointed, mocking mumble. At lunch, I'd slice some turkey kolbassa into some toast with mustard, maybe have a beer, walk around the deck inspecting the plants, then collapse back down onto the couch. A few pages into my book (a biography of Sergio Leone, Luigi Barzini's The Italians, a hardback novel I bought based on a New Yorker review) my head would droop and I'd nap for an hour or two.

I'd wake up with the phone, or the doorbell, or when a cat (Tado, naturally) knocked something over. My head would be hot, a headache brewing, under the reading lamp, my shirt soaked with sweat, pooling on my back. Swinging my legs onto the carpet, I'd slap them to get them awake again, and limp to the bathroom. A quick pee, some water on my face, then another wander around the apartment, past the sleeping cats.

If I was just killing time, procrastinating on a deadline job, I'd have probably been downstairs, watching the t.v., or checking out the local hardware stores, pricing wood for the bookshelf I have to build. This was different. I really don't have a deadline at the moment, or much coming down the pike, work-wise. Sure, one paper I work for has five or six book reviews on hold, but they've had most of them all year, and won't pay till -- that's if -- they run. I'm not hopeful. I'm labouring on a pitch for a new "neighbourhood" feature, but with my editor going on vacation this week, there's no pressure. There's another piece, but I have to interview city bureaucrats, and it's August -- tradition vacation time -- and no one is in the office.

I'm broke and I'm panicky and maybe that's why I'm depressed. I can recognize the signs; the faint whine of anxiety in the back of my head, the pressure on my chest when I lie down, like a fat pole is pushing me into place, like a bug on a specimen tray. My feet are heavy and my limbs are sluggish; even my thoughts, thick and dull and repetitive, are lethargic. I keep skipping the gym, unable to summon the energy to leave the house, nevermind spend a couple of hours pushing and sweating in place.

"Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact."
- Bertrand Russell
The Conquest of Happiness

A low point.

PERHAPS IT'S CHEMICAL OR CYCLICAL; I don't really know. I'm not much of a medicator and I don't trust the psychiatric profession, so I suffer, quietly, at home, alone. I try to muster some energy for when K. comes home, but near the end of the week I mention, in passing, that I've been feeling down lately, in the context of the anxiety and depression that have afflicted my brother-in-law and her stepfather recently. K. asks me why. I honestly can't tell her; I'm not sure myself.

It can't really be so severe a depression -- nothing life-threatening, except in those trough-like moments when I idly entertain thoughts of suicide, knowing perfectly well that I won't do anything. I'm sure it could be worse. Perhaps if I was alone, feeling abandoned, overcome with some personal tragedy, or at the whip end of a streak of bad luck; perhaps then I'd make the next step, wondering how I'd kill myself, when, coldly mulling over the logistics of the business, or rushing into the act, desperate for release.

This isn't one of those moments, and when my thoughts turn to suicide, I quickly scatter them, disdaining  the notion as a symptom of mere, childish, morose self-pity. In any case, these dreary episodes are inevitably over in a week or less, at least in my experience, and could be dispelled by something as simple as a decent meal, a phone call with a job offer, the sudden arrival of an overdue paycheque.

MY INSTINCTS ARE CORRECT, and a week later I'm out with my friend Scott, doing a casual post-mortem on my depression, receiving the appropriate, implicit expressions of sympathy. Scott's also a freelancer; he understands the risks of solitary, unpredictable work, the constant hiss of anxiety in the background, the uneasy knowledge that security, the slow but sure increase in earnings and seniority, the promise of comfortable retirement -- the basic signposts of success for most people -- are essentially beyond our grasp.

Today, I'm feeling better. I've been assigned a book review by one of the national dailies. I'm making headway on a couple of pieces, and the film festival is in a week, along with the promise of a few days' work. K. and I had a nice day -- our annual, ritual fun day -- at the Ex. I'm expecting money, any day now, in the mail. Life is good. Not great, but good, and that's the least I can expect.

writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
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