Six weeks ago, I became depressed. Usually, I’ve heard, depression is something that consumes your life, but mine is different, occupying only the hours between my return from work and my bedtime, typically. I did not know that this was possible, to become a completely different person for a few hours of the day, every single day. This new ‘afternoon self’ is very depressed. I think maybe there were younger versions of that self that I had become before, years earlier, but never just for afternoons.
I wake in the morning. The egg pan winks at me and I give it two bright yellow eyes, I grind the coffee with joyful, mechanized fury in my little coffee bean grinder, I boil water until the kettle yelps and I fill the French press. I press down the plunger with an unabashedly sexual relish, feeling its’ slow compliance. I am a palette. My cat wraps around my leg, vinelike, and I purr. The morning rolls majestically over my city and the day unfolds with possibility.
In the afternoon I crash to my bed like a hip-shot beast. My wrinkles aren’t age-related, they’re from lying on my own face for too long while awake. In actual, healthy sleep, there’s some shifting that inevitably occurs, which lessens the severity of the pillow imprint. I lie there completely awake, watching the blackness behind my eyes, and I don’t really move because technically, I’m conscious. My cat checks my pulse, and comes away confused when he senses that something inside me (the muscle of my heart) is still alive. These wrinkles sometimes remain for alarming periods of time, but I apply two creams nightly (one with retinol and ascorbyl palmitate, one with aloe and pomegranate seed extract) that successfully combat the effects.
My neighbor, Debra, is very supportive. She is very attractive and young, with a tight black Afro and smooth, earth-toned dresses, or other fairly tight clothes. When I leave the house in the morning, I say “Good Morning, Debra,” in a cheerful voice, even if she’s not there, which is all the time, almost, I just say it to her stoop. I go to work, I come home. In the evening, I shift all my belongings to one hand and struggle the gate open, and, laboring up the stoop, I say “Good evening, Debra,” and usually her little white dogs bark at me from the window. I practice constantly for the real thing, (I think Debra has a social life, because I greet the real Debra not very often), and the practice has paid off, twice. Mostly, though, I made Debra up, but the greeting practice is still a form of support that I attribute entirely to her. She is there, and this fact is somehow comforting.
I made up her support like my body made up this depression. It feels like a rehearsal for the real thing. Sometimes I am sad, sometimes I’m tired and sad, sometimes I’m just tired, but I’m always confused. Where did this come from? What is it? I looked up all of the different antidepressants online. According to the site I looked at, there are twenty-five in all. I’m sure there are more. In my mind, there is a small arrow that points from the pill towards the thing that comes next; that is, the place the pill takes you. Just as Tylenol and Aleve and Bayer all have different light filters in their commercials and distinct personae for their anti-inflammatories, these antidepressants all have a different flavor of happy. It’s easy – you can tell by the name.
I started with one I knew intimately, Zoloft. I know people on Zoloft. It seems to work for some of them, but not for as many as the name would make you believe. ‘Zo’ as in ‘so’, ‘loft’ as in the heights of something, something above where you are now. Or a loft in which you scheme as a child. Also possibly the alien planet Zoloft, where everyone is happy. You need to go to Zoloft? Your spaceship is waiting outside/in this bottle.
Prozac. ‘Pro’ as in the positive side of something, or a professional, or a golf pro, who isn’t a professional, but has an eerie pharmacological zest that makes me associate them with high voltage, loud patterns, logos, and a formal happiness. ‘Proz’ as in prose, something expressive, which takes energy, which is impossible to have while depressed. ‘Ac’ is just ac – they needed a suffix. Or ‘active’, something all depressed people aren’t, except during busy days of projecting, blaming, rationalizing, and emotional hamster-wheeling.
I believe that you need to ponder and free associate intuitively and with diligence if you’re to find the brand of happiness that’s right for you. I went through them all, and through my search for a cure to my afternoon depression, I found a new hobby. I found a way to fight back. It also gave me a new, fake calling: becoming a pharmacist. I would have a snappy joke for every medication everyone ever wanted, and they’d get a well-timed, wry line just when they least expected it.
I discovered this secret life behind brand names when I saw ‘Smilin’ Bob’ on a commercial late-night. Smilin’ Bob only smiles, and waves, and does other things off camera that make him smile. He is a spokesperson is for ‘Extenze’, a male enhancement formula. ‘Extenze’ isn’t classy or subtle, but it get’s the point across all right. And people who would buy dick pills from someone named Smilin’ Bob don’t need subtle. It’s there, though, in every pill, even if you don’t think it. Viagra picked a great name that works on you in several ways. Vi. Viable option. No shame here! Vi as in the vi in ‘viva’, live it up/get it up. Or virile. Makes me think vitriol, which makes me think car oil/aggression, then pistons, on to heavy, pounding sex. Agra becomes agro, or stays ag-ricultural, fertile. So basically, use some car oil to fertilize your lawn – a bit unnatural – and you’ll have impressive results, and streaks of blue light coming out your pupils.
But back to the SSRI’s. Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors. ‘Surmontil’ – surmounting your challenge, or a ‘mont’, really gets the French demographic subconsciously visualizing snowcapped glory. ‘Pamelor’ – I can’t figure out this one, but Pamelor might be the alien sex deity you’re visited by each night after you start popping. ‘Endep’, as in, ‘you really wanna end up like that?’ Fatalist and dishonorable, praying on the hopeless and fearful. ‘Pristiq’ evokes the pristine emotional state of pre-depression, but reminds one too much of Compaq, a computer, which is what you don’t want to feel like, so I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t heard of Pristiq.
I read through them all and began doing watercolor/collage art pieces on news print, free-associating across the pages while meditating on each brand name, dowsing out how it feels to be on the drug. For a while, at least, I’d feel as if I was actually on it, so I circumvented seeing my doctor by going through the entire list and hanging the watercolors on my wall. Vestra and Serzone and Remeron and Sinequan, Vivactil, Buspar, Desyrel and Norpramin. I plumbed the occult depths of Edmonax, the musical Cymbalta, the bi-lingual possibilities of Serzone, scoffed at the elementary Elavil and Wellbutrin, but painted their tapestries just the same. The names made things simple, like a comic book, and sounded like heroes and villains and planets of some extraterrestrial robot universe where the rivers bubbled with dopamine. I would never, I thought, feel so beige there, on planet Effexor, in the Pertofrane system. But I am here, and this is my life, and I’m fantasizing about happiness by free-associating happy drug brand names. This pain might be fake, but this obsession is real, and thus I need to rid myself of the fake pain, before it spreads out of my afternoon and conquers the rest of my daily planner, covering it with beige lichen.
My art was prolific, when I managed to avoid the post-work crash. On my weaker days, I would come home from work and collapse. Sometimes I would have the energy to turn on Animal Planet and I would be able to see half the screen, the lower half obscured by blanket or sheet or pillow, as my head was sinking into it, and I would lie there, TV on or off, and feel empty. Once I go down I go down like a manatee on Quaaludes, and I am not budging. If I were to open a restaurant, I’d call it Inertia and all the waitrons would be crying. Sometimes ‘Meerkat Manor’ comes on as it’s getting dark outside and I see little meerkat heads popping up from beneath my blankets – vigilant, industrious little meerkats. Nothing makes you feel lazier than watching Animal Planet, because while you’re vegging and wasting your afternoon watching meerkats, somewhere there are thousands – millions of meerkats all operating at maximum capacity – all within a highly developed, hierarchical social structure, which is yet another thing you aren’t doing. Every time I turn on Animal Planet I instantly regret it but I’m too exhausted to reach for the remote to change it, so I watch the heads pop out of the blankets as they scan for danger, and I sob and sob.
I knew, though, that this wasn’t making me better. My watercolor/collage policy of appeasement wasn’t solving anything, it was distracting me from whatever the root of the problem was, whether real or fake. I could have gone back online and found more names to explore, but instead I chose to stop when I ran out of paint. I ran out on a Monday, right in the middle of Celexa. I seized the opportunity and convinced myself it was too great a task to obtain more, and thus broke the cycle of compulsion. On Tuesday, I came home, and couldn’t paint and circle words, I couldn’t chase an elusive pharmacological pseudo-rainbow through the margins of the newspaper, and my hands started shaking. I felt faint and my skin prickled, I thought my cirrhosis was flaring up again. I might be genuinely depressed, I thought, and so I called up the Care Response Counseling Center and told them I was going to volunteer.
This may seem backwards, the idea of a sick person helping a sick person, but in wilderness survival situations, people with someone to care for make it out more often than those just caring for themselves. It gives them a goal, it makes them feel like a rescuer, and not a victim. Lost in the wilderness of my own pathos, I resolved to be a rescuer, and thus rescue myself. Becoming a suicide hotline staffer requires a surprising amount of training. It takes more than an open mind and heart (and the rare intrinsic strength to inspire the will to live), but also about 60 hours of training. I felt confident that I would know what to say anyway, but I signed up for the next cycle of training, which began on Thursday night. On Wednesday night, I came home and grabbed the bottle of Vick’s I had set up that morning, and took a large dose to try to go to sleep and circumvent my afternoon depression (AD), but the cocktail of emotions and chemicals mixed and backfired – my hands felt enormous, like they were swelling and floating, and my scalp itched and my dry eyes burned with sleeplessness. I turned on Shark Week and didn’t cry, but watched; glassy, numb, blue.
On Thursday, I showed up for my entrance interview at 8:30 (thankfully, training was definitely in the night part of the day, to accommodate saints of all vocations), and it went like this.
Interviewer: “Good evening, Miss.”
Me: “Good evening. How are you?”
Interviewer: “I’m fine, I’m fine.” [shuffles through my application]
Me: “Is everything there? I can tell you whatever you need to know if there’s something missing that you’d like to know.” [stop talking suddenly, clasp hands, sheepishly hide paint-stained fingernails]
Interviewer: [looks at me over her glasses – classic!] “No, everything’s fine—tell me, though, to get us started out. Why are you doing this? What about it appeals to you?” [her crow’s feet grow claws during the word appeals]
Phew. I was ready for this question, I knew exactly what to say.
Me: “Because I’m depressed!”
The Interviewer looks at me over her glasses, then through her glasses, and then takes off her glasses.
Me: “Yes, really.”
Interviewer: “So you feel that, because you are depressed yourself, you might be better suited to understand [crow’s feet] the motives of our callers?”
Interviewer: “And, thus, you may be better equipped with appropriate responses?”
She really knew what she was talking about.
Me: “Yes, absolutely.”
Interviewer: “Well, good. So….tell me. What would your first step response be to a caller who calls, and says to you, “I’m thinking about killing myself.”
Me: [I sit up straight, clear my throat] “I’d say: ‘Me, too.’”
I didn’t end up volunteering for Care Response. I believe that I could’ve secured a volunteer position had I approached the interview more analytically, but I value honesty above almost all else, and I’m glad that I said exactly what I felt inside. According to my interviewer, if I expressed exactly what I felt inside to a potential suicide, they would probably kill themselves – I disagree, because people on psychological pain appreciate honesty above almost all else. In any case, I resumed my search for a new coping mechanism.
I developed some very creative activities to cope with my afternoon depression, and, had I not been horribly depressed for those 3-6 hours, I would have had a lot of fun. Did you know that you can play ‘Alphabet’ from your couch, just so long as your couch has a view of your bookshelf and coffee table? I would slouch into the cushions, making sure my neck muscles were dangerously limp, and let my head roll grotesquely against the wall, and then I would squint my eyes to see the titles and authors and the letters in them. After a couple hours of ‘Alphabet’, I had to consciously choose different books, because it had become less of an adventure once I knew where to find the letters like ‘V’ without even really searching. I forbade use of the discreetly placed Victoria’s Secret ‘Angel’s Collection’ 2006 Catalogue, or the dog-eared Victoria’s Secret 2007 Swimwear Catalogue to obtain the letter ‘v’, which is ironic, because they are my most treasured works, my desert-island literature that I return to when I emerge from my depression around 7-10 p.m. I do not know why I keep these volumes so discrete when I live by myself, but I can’t keep them in my bedside drawer – instead, I tiptoe from my bed to my bookshelf in the living room, then back to my bed with one or both catalogues, and then back to the living room some time later in the night to press the slim volumes back into their places, almost invisible against the left-hand sidewall of my historical fiction shelf. Anyway, I mostly used Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ for my V’s, and I could alternate citing the title and authors name as my letter source. When I triumphantly arrived at Z (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Jazz Age’[ also alternating the author/title citation for ‘z’]) for the third or fourth time, I was usually so horny from trying to not think about all of Victoria’s little dog-eared Secrets that I almost felt happy, and had a good enough reason to go to bed. This split brain activity of articulating new alphabetical maps along the collective spine of my library while allowing swimsuit and lingerie models to float Zenlike in and out of my mind’s other half was an excellent distraction exercise, and usually left me twisting inside my sheets, breathlessly touching my vagina as silently as possible, which was also great therapy.
I tried several other methods to deal with my afternoon depression. The only one that had any real palliative effect was baking bread. I have always resisted buying products that contain a large amount of air – such as marshmallows, cereal, cotton swabs, and bread. Balloons are acceptable, because you’re buying a concept more than an object, and usually you add your own air. Once, I squashed a loaf of bread down to a very small pat of matter for a camping trip, and ever since I have felt as if Arrowhead Mills is taking advantage of me, and I get angry when I have to buy bread. I enjoy toast, but hate to buy bread, and thus, maybe baking bread allowed me to pretend that I was taking action, that I was stopping up a real source of my Pain. Also, there’s a lot of waiting involved in bread making, which allowed me to make the dough, collapse from emotional exhaustion and sob while it rose, knead the dough, cry while it rose, etc. and then at the end, I’d have bread, almost for free. I couldn’t eat the bread fast enough, though, and giving it away negates the ‘value’ argument, so I once again found myself marooned. Then, two weeks ago, I had a strange dream. In my dream, which felt very real and displayed a sub-conscious knowledge of the industry specs on different electric cutting tools, I walked to the Home Depot down my street dressed in only my Victoria’s Secret PearlShimmer Satin nightgown, where I purchased a Fein brand ASTXE 649 24 Inch OD Max Cut Electric Hacksaw. I walked home with the hacksaw as the sun rose vermillion into the sky, and, standing on my bed, sawed a large circle through the wall above my headboard, with bits of drywall dusting my nightgown and snowing upon my pillowcases. I pushed the drywall, which swung outward into space like an oculus window. I leaned forward into the next apartment, blew some drywall from my bangs, looked down at the upside-down, smiling face on the pillow below me, and said “Good morning, Debra.”
I woke sweating, and on my computer, I found a window opened to AceTool.com describing a certain Fein ASTXE 649 24 Inch OD Max Cut Electric Hacksaw. This made me uneasy, not just because it was undeniable that I had been looking up hacksaws online while asleep, I had been….looking up hacksaws. This unexpected turn threw me. I decided to bake bread for Debra, and to bring it over to her, and to get to know her a little bit. Maybe showing myself that I could just walk out my door, down the steps, then over one stoop and up her steps, instead of sawing through our mutual wall. I didn’t think that I really wanted to know Debra all that badly, but maybe I was feeling a little alienated from humanity in general. I baked a three-seed raisin bread with a honey-and-egg wash brushed on top to make it shiny. This was a strategic recipe, because I made the dough early in the morning, let it rise during work while I was gone, then put it in the oven to bake when I got home, and by the time it was ready, I was almost done crying. I put some aloe-and-pomegranate-seed-extract cream on underneath my eyes to reduce redness and swelling, put on a clean blue dress that looked like someone you might like might want to bake something in, and carried my steaming loaf of bread out of my house and to Debra’s front door.
It was heavy, and I couldn’t take away one hand for fear of dropping it, so I carefully clunked the corningware dish three times against the door, and carefully means very slowly, which sounds ominous when you’re knocking on an almost-stranger’s door, and I immediately felt self-conscious.
The voice sounded like it was right behind the door, as in two feet away from my face, which was one foot away from the door. Her little dog barked once, and Debra shushed it. I freed a hand by pressing the corningware up against the door with my hip and stabilizing it, and it was really hot, so I opened the door fast and stumbled over the threshold, catching the bread before it crashed to the floor.
“Hello.” Debra was slumping on her couch, which faced away from her door, and was arching her neck back and looking at me upside down from not more than two feet away. She smelled like almond or some other expensive oil, and it was funny to me that I was looking at her upside down for the second time that day-and-night. She was wearing an old-looking white shirt with no sleeves with some kind of geometric windsurfer on it, but I couldn’t tell because this was also upside down. I looked at her face, which was smooth and smiling, and for a moment I had the optical illusion that it was a right side up face with an Afro-like beard obscuring the mouth completely, the eyebrows were two wings of a thin French mustache, with the nose and mouth just distant confusions stranded somewhere in the forehead. I must have looked strange at that moment because she smiled a little more and when her mouth moved, the entire face flipped over in my mind again and I could speak.
“Hello, Debra. I brought you bread.”
“Did you bake that yourself?” she asked.
This is the question you know you are definitely going to get when you bake bread yourself, because it’s completely obvious when you’ve baked bread yourself, and it provides a lot of satisfaction when you get to answer yes. Baking bread is one of those things that isn’t that hard at all, but requires some specific steps that aren’t completely common knowledge, like making an origami crane that actually moves, or windsurfing. Baking bread, shows initiative, and so does meeting your neighbor, so in Debra’s mind, I had some initiative, which gave me some points already.
“Yes, I just pulled it out of the oven.”
Debra rose from the couch and walked around it to stand in front of me. She was a little taller than me, and looked like she played sports, and moved like a dinosaur or a sand crane or something vaguely avian and graceful. She bent forward towards the loaf and wafted with her hands, rotating her birdlike wrists, and said mmmmmmmmm.
“I really, really love the smell of just-baked bread.”
Thus far our conversation would be the marketing-strategy-devised cartoon on the side of a breadbox, if there were still such a thing, and so I was very glad when she said “Let’s eat some” and got a circular cork-looking platform to put on the coffee table on which to set the bread. She got a plate with butter on it from her kitchen and brought it into the living room, and we cut thick slices of the bread while it was still steaming an explicit amount of steam, and spread too much butter on it and talked, and ate the bread, which was, she said, “really, really good.” We talked about our lives and jobs, and we talked about what we both liked to do, and I had to think fast and creatively during this section – I don’t often talk to people about what I do, and so I made up some acceptable activities, including ones I liked a moderate amount but never really did. I included a couple slightly outrageous ones, so I could show my potential for spontaneity, such as rollerblading. Debra said she thought rollerblading was pretty silly, but we both agreed that we both owned rollerblades, which seemed like an agreement to not tell anyone else this fact. We talked about books, and the neighborhood, and good vacations we’d been on, and all this time ate more and more bread, and after a little while I started to feel almost drunk on the butter, or the gluten, if this is possible. During a break in the conversation, Debra said she’d get me a napkin, because I had butter on my fingers from a reckless slice of bread, and I said I didn’t need it, and then we made love upside down on the couch, whatever that means to you.
The day after that, Debra came to my apartment, but didn’t sleep there.
The day after that, I showed her my catalogues, and she liked them.
The day after that, in the morning, I came clean about what it was that I actually did with my time, and she told me about her various obsessive-compulsive habits, which are evidence of a rich inner life.
Then came the weekend, and since we finally had time, we each went out and bought a large poster or wall hanging. I bought an imitation alpaca ‘tapestry’ that doubled as a poncho that was blue and red and yellow, had an alpaca on it, and looked Peruvian, roundabout. The reason why I picked the ugliest one is forthcoming. Debra picked a feminist-looking work of art, the kind where the women in the artwork are silhouetted and beautiful and have more or less stick figure bodies, except for ample hips and breasts and wild hair, which make you think of unbridled femininity. Have you seen ‘The Shawshank Redemption’? That’s what we had in mind.
The next day, Sunday, we went to Home Depot together, and then came home and sawed a circular passageway from my apartment to hers. Her dog hid under the coffee table, but we soothed it, cleaned up the bits of drywall, and stepped back to observe the circular opening. It’s strange to look at a wall that normally blocks your vision and to suddenly be able to see further. It’s like looking at a falling waterfall, and then looking at the trees at the top of the waterfall – no joke, they bend downward, as if preparing slowly to separate from the earth and plummet, but they never do. I felt my face moving through the opening in the wall into Debra’s apartment, though I wasn’t actually moving. My hands and forearms were still buzzing from the 115V vibration produced by the Fein brand ASTXE 649 24 Inch OD Max Cut Electric Hacksaw. I looked through the hole in the wall. I held Debra’s pinky with my pinky. There was a light creeping across the wall in my quiet apartment, a distinctly Sunday Afternoon light, and it moved several inches while we stood and looked. I thanked my subconscious for faking depression so convincingly, and we looked past the wall into the apartment beyond, into another life.