As soon as I got back to Korea, bad news was there to greet me. It was as though somebody was waiting for me at the airport with a sign that had my name and a big middle finger. Without going into details, I’ll just say that ever since Monday, I’ve been super depressed. I’ve been so bummed out I haven’t even been able to laugh when Mitt Romney talks about driving around with a dog on his roof. This post isn’t about the bad news I alluded to earlier (although I’ll probably write about it eventually), but instead about how a person handles stress and depression. It’ll probably come as a surprise that this post, given the subject matter, does not involve alcohol.
During times of depression, I’m a real kick-me-when-I’m-down type of guy. If I’m going to feel sad, I prefer to spiral downwards until it doesn’t seem like life is worth living anymore. I’m rarely satisfied with only a mild sense of disappointment, nor am I satisfied with the idea that only one aspect of life isn’t going well. When one thing goes wrong, everything needs to seem like it’s going wrong. Dealing with my life, at times, is like being the General Manager of the Buffalo Bills. What area of weakness should be addressed? Quarterback? Defense? O line? Who can say – they’re all in shambles.
And also, stupid little things must signify a greater sense of failure and imply that the world is somehow out to get me. For instance, yesterday I went to the store wanting to buy moisturizer. I thought I did, but later – to my horror – realized that I had bought shampoo for people with dry hair.
I was devastated.
Everything was going wrong. I checked my email and saw that I’d finally heard back in regards to a fiction story I sent off awhile ago. It was, of course, rejected. That came as no surprise, not because the story wasn’t good, but because of the timing. Say I’d heard back from the editor in early January, I would’ve been surprised to hear the story was rejected. But now, it made perfect sense that it was. I could imagine the editor and his crony discussing it:
“Hey, we’ve had this one kicking around for awhile, Mr. Editor. Are you thinking of accepting it?”
“Oh no no no. Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just that I’d like to really kick this guy in the nuts, and now doesn’t seem like the right time. I’m going to wait until I can sense that things are collapsing all around him, and then send the rejection email.”
“You know what would really get him? In addition to rejecting him, accept a bunch of crap that’s obviously inferior.”
“I like the way you think, kid.”
Perhaps that comes off a little bitter. For the rest of the day I couldn’t even function. Teaching was painful and exhausting. I was relieved when the last student left. After school I slumped back to my apartment and didn’t have the motivation to do anything. Watching a movie seemed like a lot of work. Making myself feel worse seemed to be the only thing that was driving me to do anything, so I did what was logical and pulled up Facebook.
Months ago, in the aftermath of my nightmare pseudo-relationship-friends-with-benefits-from-hell, I sent the girl a hate message (I like to handle things maturely) and then deleted her off Facebook (again, maturity). In addition, I blocked all her friends so I wouldn’t have to see pictures of her (maturity hat trick). Well, since I felt like crap anyways, it seemed like a good time to pull up those friends and do a little Facebook stalkin’! Into their photo albums I went, looking at pics of the pseudo-ex having all sorts of fun. She looked beautiful and full of life and it reminded me of how I saw her before everything went so wrong.
“She looks happy,” I thought. “This is awful.”
Seeing her all gorgeous and smiling made me even more miserable. Then a thought occurred to me: they’re pictures. Of course she looks happy. Everyone looks happy in pictures. What did I expect? Did I expect her to look all teary eyed and filled with regret? Did I expect her to be wearing an ‘I Miss Bill’ t-shirt, or standing on a bridge, ready to jump? I told myself that I couldn’t know for sure if she’s actually super happy unless I saw her in real life. She had to be smiling for the camera, I thought, and not smiling for the heck of it.
It dawned on me that, theoretically, she could look at pictures of me on Facebook and have the misconception that I’m really happy. I looked at my own pics and, in them, found the happiest little boy on the planet.
“What a ruse,” I thought. “I need to stop looking so happy in these pictures. I should look how I feel. Next time someone takes a picture of me, I’m going to look contemplatively off into the distance as if the great questions of the universe have weighed me down with exhaustion.”
You know that famous picture of the woman in the Great Depression? My profile pic should look like that. Maybe I could hold a desperate child for greater emphasis.
Even at times like this, I have a voice of reason that kicks in. “You should be happy for her,” it said. “Instead of being selfish and hoping she misses you, you should be happy that she’s living her life and having fun. You cared about her a lot and, honestly, you still do. Stop being a douche and be happy for her.”
That was a nice thing to think. After I thought it, my mind went back to my own pictures. “And why can’t you be happy for yourself?” it continued. “These pictures aren’t a ruse – you really were happy when they were taken. Life isn’t so bad, my brother. Stop beating yourself up so much.”
At some point in our lives, we all learn about something called Murphy’s Law. It famously says that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Who was this Murphy character? What a downer that guy must’ve been. I wonder if he had any friends, or if people avoided him like the plague. “Hey, don’t invite Murphy to the party,” they would say. “He’ll bitch all night and ruin everything.” The other guy would scratch his chin and go, “Yeah, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy. He really brings his law down on himself.” And then the night of the party, Murphy would stand outside in the cold, by himself, trying to get a peep through the window at what was happening inside.
I wonder if he’d feel pleased.