Ruth: Can you see me, crouched in the corner of the neighborhood coffee shop? God, I hope not.
I came slinking in, with my brand-new laptop, trying to look like I do this all the time. Trying not to advertise the fact that, Hi! I’m too neurotic to write at home, so this is one way of coping with the isolation: I will go out to write. I spent the first several minutes untangling the battery cord so I could plug it in. Then I had to figure out where to plug it in in my computer — all the time, trying to look casual and blase. Oh, yes, writing in a coffee house. I do it all the time. In fact, I may have started that particular trend.
Around me, everyone else looks relaxed and self-assured. They do do this all the time. They probably recognize the poseur in the corner. In fact, one guy looked shocked to see me sitting where I am. Had to think he usually sits here and now I’m hogging his seat. And I think, get up earlier, buddy.
Lots of the laptop people are wearing earphones. I think this is probably better than the alternative — trying to shush the people around you. Excuse me, but I’m doing something important here. Will you keep it down?
I’m hoping this will work. I got to feeling down whenever I thought of yet another day, sitting in isolation at home. I realized I needed to do something, anything, before I got mired in depression and couldn’t function. Sure, that hasn’t happened in years. But you never know. In our family, depression is always waiting around the corner, ready to pounce. You’ve heard of family friends? Well, depression is our family enemy — so familiar that we can’t even recall the time we first were introduced. Maybe no one ever introduced us, but he always seemed to know our names, our greatest weaknesses, our most painful secrets.
I write this and think, oh, hell. I’m supposed to be writing about starting a new segment of my life. I’m supposed to be funny and insightful and entertaining. But here I am, drawn back into great sadness that has no words.
Once, years ago, I argued with a woman who was some kind of expert on depression research. Yes, she told me firmly, so-and-so therapy works. No, it doesn’t, I kept insisting. Not for me. It just makes me blame myself more (always a boon for depressives, believe me) and feel even worse, since it doesn’t help me improve.
Verbal push-and-pull. Yes, it helps. No, it doesn’t. Yes, no, yes, no. Then I finally asked her whether she had ever been depressed herself. No, she had not.
Figures. Well, of course not. She, like so many people, had no earthly idea. I don’t care what her Ph.D was in, what her dissertation trumpeted, how many years she’d worked in what she might call the trenches.
Honey, I thought, you have no idea what the trenches are like. No, wait. I may not have thought of her as “honey.” I think bitch is more like it; it’s a word I don’t use that often, but it seemed like a perfect fit.
But the trenches, the hideous, horrifying trenches. Go there, even briefly, and you will understand what you’ve never understood before. You understand why people commit suicide. It’s not that you would ever do it or condone it; it’s simply that you understand it.
So, as I said, this isn’t what I intended to write about. But there it is. After years of struggling with depression, I do understand something about it. It does recede somewhat when you force yourself to work. And, in the corner of this cheerful, bustling coffeehouse — that’s what I’m going to do now.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)