Music

Photo from the days when I used to hang with the band.

Photo from the days when I used to hang with the band.

I’ve been depressed today. Not quite sure why, it just kind of hit. I first noticed it when some of the guys at work suggested a last minute outing for beer after work with the group. I’m usually the one organizing these sort of things, but I just didn’t feel like today. I went for a short while, but left when the majority of the group showed up. A friend in Chile e-mailed me last week to let me know that her husband had a seizure and it turned out that he had a medium sized tumor in his head and was going for surgery early this week. It’s been on my mind, and I’ve constantly been checking my e-mail for any news. I think the surgery was today, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, this probably has played some part in my depression today, but again I’m not sure.

The weekend went well. I took my daughter swimming which I really enjoyed. It almost didn’t happen though. There is a small wealthy town surrounded by our much larger and urban city. My wife heard that this town had a nice heated public pool about 5 minutes away from our hosue and had planned on us all going. My younger daughter was being quite fussy so I offered to just take my older daughter. We showed up and I asked how much non-residents were. I knew that it was more expensive for non-residents but I was flabbergasted when I was told that non-resident adults were charged $30 and non-resident kids $7. I was so shocked that I actually exclaimed “$30!?” out loud and made some comment about having to see if I had enough money. I was actually going to leave, which would have been sad for my daughter, but the guy was nice and gave me the resident rate of $15. (Seriously, $15?)

So I sucked it up and paid the $22 for my daughter and I to go swimming. I was able to put that aside and actually had a good time. The small pool was pretty warm, and for a long time we mostly had it to ourselves. I enjoyed playing with her and seeing her having so much fun. The pool was only three and a half feet deep, but I got her to go down the bottom and retrieve an object for the first time, and I even got her to put her face in the water without holding her nose for short periods. It made me wish that we lived in a warmer climate so that she could get more pool time. I think she is like me in that she really loves the water(now if I could get her to be comfortable in the cold ocean I’d be set). I’ve found that I really enjoy the opportunities to do an activity alone with her. I’m not good at the daily stuff around the house, but actual activities outdoors I tend to really like.

I also spent a lot of time over the weekend, starting on Friday night, watching a live stream of the Coachella festival (hooked up the computer to the TV and stereo). It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert, so being able to see these bands play live, even if it was on the TV, was fantastic. I gained new found appreciation for some bands I was already familiar with and liked (Café Tacvba, Blur, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and discovered some new music as well. I stayed up way too late for 3 nights in a row, but it was very much worth it.

Despite enjoying the music so much, I also found missing being around live music. When I was in graduate school a friend of mine from high school was in a fairly successful band in the same city I was studying in. Besides the small club gigs, they also got to open for major acts at big venues. During that period I used to go his shows a lot. I was kind of the unofficial photographer for the band so I often got backstage passes. Seeing the bands on TV/computer made me miss that period in my life. It reminded me of the excitement of live music and everything involved in touring and playing. I spent about 5 days at one point with the band on a mini-tour. Not that I needed an excuse (it was just the band members in their van), but I went along as the photographer. I still remember that week as one of the top 2 or 3 weeks in my life. It had been a long time since I had just spent time in a car with friends, or actually just spending so much time with friends in general (I considered the rest of the band friends). The time in the van on the highways, the small parties and BBQs at friends’ houses, setting up for shows and taking everything down, it was all great. I realize that this can get tiring if you are doing it all the time, but for those 5 days I had the time of my life.

Besides missing that time in my life, I also admired the musicians I saw on TV for being so good at something. Part of me had the normal reaction of wishing I could play music in front of thousands of fans, but I more regretted letting most of my musical training lapse( I was never a great player, but I enjoyed it) and I more generally lamented feeling like I’m not REALLY good at anything. This has been a problematic theme for me at work, but this week it has felt more general. I just honestly feel that I am not good at anything. It’s not to say that am terrible at everything, but rather I don’t have any skills that I can point to say “I’m really good at this”. This is also probably getting me down as well.

I remember one of my philosophy professors in Australia (an American ex-pat, probably depressive) telling the class a story about being on some bluffs overlooking the sea on the east coast with his wife (he pointed out to us that they had divorced) and being depressed because he had just read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and felt that unlike the protagonist, if he suddenly found himself in the past he would have no useful skills, for example making matches. I haven’t read the book but I completely understand that sentiment and I think that the memory has stayed with me for these past 17 years for that reason. I feel as if I have a bunch of small disparate skills that I’m okay at, but that in the real world (life or job-wise) I’m pretty useless.

Update Okay, I posted this about 10 minutes ago, then browsing the web(rather than going to sleep) ran across this, maybe someone is trying to send me a message?

Melancholy what?

manbagcroppdI’ve been depressed to some degree for a long long time. The severity has varied over the years, from what I remember as a near constant melancholy during my childhood to really thinking my family would be better off if I were dead after I had my first kid. These days I am doing okay, I think the depression is most present when I try to figure out what the hell I am going to do for a career after my grant runs out, and when my kids or family life gets stressful. Despite all the visible success in my life, I still feel like a failure. I feel too lazy, too dumb, too moody. I feel like something is missing in my life, a sense of purpose, or energy or excitement about something.

I first heard the term “depressed” associated with my state in grad school. During my first year of brutal coursework, I had felt stressed but I managed to do well on the exams. I felt I was learning something. After that, I found that I really didn’t do so well with the unstructured time I was supposed to devote to research. I was in the lab, but looking back I wasn’t all that productive. It was much more attractive to me to take classes, learn to surf, play in the jazz band, spend time with my girlfriend, etc. I found that I would feel stuck in research, not sure how to move forward or find it hard to focus enough to get anything done in the lab. It was much easier to focus on everything else. This worked for a few years, but eventually that inability to focus and complete lack of motivation crept into the extracurricular activities I was doing. That scared me enough to go to the counseling center, commencing what has been something like 10 years of therapy with various therapists.

During the course of this all this therapy an important theme has seemed to resurface time and time again (remembering it has been hard). It seems that I don’t let myself feel happy for very long.  I think I learned long ago somehow that it isn’t safe to let myself feel really happy or excited about something. It feels unsafe to me. I know that the happiness I’m feeling won’t last and that I will be disappointed and feel like a fool. I’ll probably be judged by others and made to feel stupid for ever being excited. This has been around for awhile. I remember in college, a girlfriend telling me that a friend had described me as never getting too excited about anything nor getting too upset. At the time I thought that was a good thing, but no longer.

Also affected by this inability to let myself feel excited about things is my assertiveness and inner sass/creativity/wild side. I was kind of a smart ass in early grade school. I remember talking back to teachers, particularly in 2nd and 6th grade. In sixth grade I really stood up for myself when I felt I was being treated unfairly (more details in a later post).

Sadly, that 6th grade rebel and person that stood up against unfairness and wasn’t afraid to be heard was crushed along the way. There was a brief visit of that person in 8th grade with a certain teacher, but she was smart and took me under her wing, and the need to rebel subsided.  The part of me who could get really emotional and worked up is also hidden or repressed. I remember my parents forcing me into a cold shower if I really got worked up. My poor girlfriend once told me to calm down while I was telling her about someone who had really made me mad, and I refused to talk about feelings with her for a long time.

I’m rambling, but the point of all this is to make the point that I’ve learned to repress any positive and generally really strong feelings.  To those close to me I’ve been able to express my depression and despair at times, but even to them it doesn’t feel safe to express too much happiness or excitement.

So, I’m proposing an experiment. I’m not a new-agey type, although I do appreciate mindfulness and meditation. By training I’m a scientist. The goal of this blog and experiment is to see if tracking the positive occurrences in my life and really celebrating them, no matter how small, will lead to a less “Depressed” state, increase my vitality and enjoy my life more. Even though I was moody as a kid, I still had hope and was excited about the future. Maybe if I can recapture that young spirit I can recapture that young hope and optimism.

I’m not sure what to expect here. I’ve seen enough happiness columns to understand that celebrating the positive is a helpful step, but the cynic and internal-happiness crusher(okay, a little melodramatic there) thinks I’ll probably screw this up and self-sabotage or something. But I’m pressing on.

If anything I’ve described here feels like something you are going through I invite you to join me in this journey. Perhaps this blog will help you find your way to what you want.

As for the Melancholy Manbag? Not sure where the “Manbag” came from. I could make up a bunch of reasons like issues of masculinity or this weird nostalgia for the 70s, even though I was born in that decade. Basically, I just liked the sound of it!