Years ago, I called my blog For All In Tents and Porpoises, and then, after I re-relocated to the UK, A Yank on the Edge of England. (A heap of mighty fine readin’ from days gone by awaits you, in other words!) When I resuscitated it last September, and rebranded it as Mendel Illness: The Online Magazine of Nearly Unendurable Despair, my tongue wasn’t entirely encheeked, as I was going through one of my little…episodes at the time. The funny thing is that between last September and a few days ago, I barely mentioned what Winston Churchill thought of as The Black Dog, but which I think of as a frigid, opaque gray mist. The realization that my work resonated with several thoughtful people had made me feel better. There were people who looked forward to my writing. I had a purpose.
Following my recent Major Surgery, though, I stopped feeling better, as the mist rolled back in, and I was beset by the ugly, too-familiar feelings of crushing boredom, purposelessness, and existential impotence that have plagued me since I was around six. Most people experience boredom as mildly unpleasant. How I envy them. I experience it as agonizing. Do you know the feeling, on a long transatlantic flight, of wondering, in the face of your inability to sleep sitting up, your not much enjoying the book you bought at the airport, and not liking any of the movies on offer, how you’re going to get through the next eight hours? That’s pretty much how I feel most of most days. I’m implacably creative, and could write another novel that nobody will ever read, or compose another song that no one will ever hear, and I do — I honestly do — appreciate that if the work itself is pleasurable, I should feel sufficiently rewarded. But when I’m in the mist, it so isn’t. I am strong-willed, and not nearly strong-willed enough.
Oh, the spin I’m in. I think about how people my age have begun dropping like flies, and that there’s a very good chance I haven’t much time left. But instead of savoring every hour, I’m trying frantically to figure out a way to fill it, and usually falling far short. I look at Facebook to see if anybody’s sent me a message, or commented on something I’ve posted. I check to see how many have read the latest Mendel Illness. It’s never nearly enough. I look at Facebook again. I check my email for the 90th time. I glance at my wristwatch, hoping that it’s close enough to mealtime for me to busy myself making something to eat. I feel my life slipping through my fingers even while I’m perpetually wishing it to be bedtime, when I grant myself a little reprieve and check out of the world for eight hours.
Behold the cruel irony. Well aware that I haven’t much of it left, I kill time. The hours go so slowly. The decades go so fast.
Everyone disappoints me. Instead of reveling in what they do give me, I am able to think only of what those dearest to me withhold. Pleasure becomes inconceivable, not that I’m foolish enough to aspire to it when I’m lost in the mist. At those times, the most I can aspire to is to feel just slightly less frantic with despair.
Those foolish or brave enough to enter my orbit encourage me to look at the bright side, and find it impossible to believe that I’m doing so already. I know full well that I was blessed to be the son of parents who loved me faithfully and generously. I know that my gal loves me, and some friends. I recognize the blessing of my very good health. I love the warm sunshine and gentle breezes of springtime in the city in which I grew up. I am well aware that, compared to most people on earth, I live a life of inconceivable luxury and comfort. But when the mist surrounds me, all of that only makes me feel worse. I’ve got it so good, and I can barely conceive of enduring another day of life. Not only a dire failure, I, but an ingrate in the bargain!
And an ingrate who derives some solace in the misery of others. Since I wrote the other day about how my bedroom window, 10 floors above Los Angeles, often beckons to me, I’ve discovered that a shockingly large number of people, some I’ve known for decades, others of whom I know only through Facebook, have their own black dogs, their own feelings of drowning from within. There are only a very few people in the world on whom I’d wish these feelings, but I won’t deny that I find it somehow reassuring to discover how many others are no less afflicted than I.
God bless us, every one. And God help us.