Thursday, January 7, 2016

Anatomy of a Descent

The problem with getting depressed in your Third Third is that you’re missing the guard rails that keep you on track. There is no job where you have to be at the desk; no kids you have to get up for school. Even your volunteer teaching is on winter break. There is nothing forcing you to suck it up: you are free to fall into the abyss with no hand holds.
On Monday and Tuesday, I felt the mood descending. I was like a balloon slowly deflating, air leaking out of me, but I had some scheduled distractions and engagements to keep me afloat. But Wednesday, there was nothing on the calendar.

The night before, I’d posted the blog about my travails with the Internet and drawn the picture of a hysterical me. Immediately, regret and panic took over: I re-examined every sentence, positive they were signs of a woman too desperate, too over the edge. Positive I’d missed the humor entirely, that I’d gone too public with my craziness. My God, I’d even given her crazy eyes.

I worried about this all night long. I never went to sleep. I tried reading, but the woman in the novel wasn’t in a good head place either. Besides, my whirling thoughts were drowning out any thoughts the author could possibly have put on the page. At 5, I decided I had to turn on the T.V. It’s in the living room. I got out of bed.

Evidence of descent #1: Watching T.V. in the daytime. (I have never done this before in my life. This is a really Big Sign.)

But at 5 a.m. in an Alaska winter, you could still count it as “night.” Thank heavens for Netflix. I discovered Blacklist. Not only does it have mysteries and twists in the plot, but it has a zillion episodes. After each, Netflix gave me a few seconds and then would automatically feed me another episode. I chain-smoked Blacklist episodes. When Netflix was worried I’d left, it asked if I was still watching, and I told it to “continue.”
Evidence of descent #2: I did this for 13 hours straight.

My mother battled depression most of her life. I think her solution was to stay busy, mostly cleaning, dealing with four kids, working till she was 72. She did things to make sure she was “up and at ’em” – she always made the bed as soon as she got out of it.

Evidence of descent #3-6: I never made the bed. I didn’t even brush my teeth, comb my hair, or put on a bra.

I didn’t have to be anywhere, didn’t have to look presentable for anyone, didn’t have a reason to engage. This was my Third Third: I could create my own dungeon.

Evidence of descent #7-a million: Whirling thoughts.

In between Netflix episodes, I thought some more. I thought about how I’d gotten off track in my Third Third, how I’d abandoned my future of worthwhile employment. How this blog idea was an egotistical amateurish pursuit. How I was looking flabby and old. How my daughter made such thoughtful, measurable resolutions for her new year and how I didn’t even make resolutions because I wasn’t going to fulfill them anyway. How we’d had people over and had a great time, but it was over and now seeing friends again would take Effort. Mostly, about how my “otherly-mental,” double-edged sword of a brain would always betray me eventually.

Evidence of descent: You don’t even muster movement when exposed.

Tim came home for lunch. Now it really was daytime … and I was still watching T.V. Even embarrassment didn’t move me. Tim said the freezing temperatures had refrozen the lake, there was ice skating again. What I suspected he was really saying: “What’s the matter with you? Get up and get out, get some exercise, see some daylight.” I went to the bathroom and then back to the couch.
Evidence of descent: refusal to take remedial steps

You think, “Go ahead, force yourself, put on your skates,” but you don’t. And then you decide you’re sabotaging yourself and you’re the problem. Which you already knew.

Towards evening, the phone rang. It was a friend.

Evidence of recovery: I picked up the phone

I’m not sure if our conversation cured me. I honestly think 13 hours of T.V. did it. (I did finally turn to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries for some fluff so I could eventually sleep.) I think I had to get my thoughts out of my head. That night, I slept soundly and thoroughly. I went to a morning meeting and luncheon, had a great time with friends, went ice-skating.

The freedom of our Third Thirds is both liberating and terrifying. Mostly, I have quiet, non-busy times when I can feel content and reflective, letting my thoughts drift pleasantly without the constraints of Job or Kid. But I also have unquiet, non-busy times when my thoughts – unconstrained by the usual “guard rails” of Job or Kid – drive over the cliff.

Moral of this story: this Third Third is a new road under construction. Just as I’m laying the route and building the road, I have to include new guard rails, new structures that work for me personally. (Not to include 13 hours of T.V.)


  1. Binge TV watching is something we've all done. I think there should be one day every dark winter dedicated to either binge TV or movie watching (though the latter would require you to be dressed to go to the movie theatre). The fact that you are still writing a blog means that when depression hits you are functioning much higher than the common joe!

  2. You'll notice there was no blog post yesterday.... I must admit, having now discovered binge TV, I could find a reason to do it again -- but not because of a bout of depression!


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