Thursday, April 21, 2011

Essay: Depression Through the Lens of a Geek

As a blogger and a writer, writing about the negative aspects of your life is tricky. On one hand, you want your post to be relevant and not merely an outlet for whining, complaining, and sulking. On the other hand--and this varies from blog to blog--you also want to share personal details about your life, showing that you're human and not invulnerable (and boy, have I made many mistakes!). Depression is a subject that occasionally crops up in my online life, but it's not a subject matter I tackle with depth mainly because it's complex and can't be explained in a tweet or status update or brief email. So there is this blog entry which is one part catharsis, one part personal writing exercise, one part confession, and hopefully one part relevant to my regular readers (although it doesn't directly deal with all things geeky so if personal stories don't interest you, you can stop reading now).

First, I want to preface that no one chooses to be depressed. It is, at best, a confusing experience that's full of mood swings and extreme emotions. I have a friend who has clinical depression and she has to take medication for it. I don't suffer from clinical depression so to put things into perspective, as bad as my depression is, it's nothing compared to my friend's. I'm usually a stoic person (as evidenced by the cold, efficient, and personality-less daily link list in my blog) but this is the one chink in my armor. Depression has many causes but in my case, it's always romance: the lack thereof or outright rejection. I don't have a "depression soundtrack" but two bittersweet short stories I keep coming back to are "Little Gods" by Tim Pratt and "L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)" by Dean Francis Alfar.

I've had this obsession with romance mainly because I always feel out of place and rarely developed deep relationships (platonic or otherwise). High school, for example, was a horrible experience for me. I was what you'd expect from a geek: interested in reading books and comics and anime and manga and video games. That wasn't the norm in the all-boys school I attended. Finding someone with similar interests was difficult but even when I did, they didn't necessarily accept me. My class had this clique of geeks but no matter how hard I tried to penetrate the group, I was, at worst, ostracized, and at best, reluctantly accepted in the same way that you're down to the last two people in Dodgeball, and there was thankfully someone else worse than you to pick. So most of high school was spent, ironically, with geeks from a higher batch, or social circles from other sections (and as much as I'd love to cultivate long and deep relationships with them, the distance of not being in the same class was too much of a barrier). Now I'm not blaming everyone else for my predicament: I was young then and I had my own set of shortcomings such as being selfish, clingy, and socially awkward.

During my freshman year in high school, we had an opportunity to interact with the all-girls school right beside our campus. It was called an Acquaintance Party and the freshmen from both schools were supposed to talk and dance with each other. A lot of people I knew came home from the evening either with new friends or phone numbers. I, on the other hand, cried in private and promised myself that it would be the last time I would shed tears (I was influenced by Filipino machismo at the time). One consequence of that is that I currently suffer from chronic blepharitis which significantly hampers my vision (we can compare medical bills...) and more importantly, I can't cry even if I wanted to as my tear ducts aren't functioning optimally. Now while that experience was traumatic and horrible, I wouldn't call it my depression. It's an entirely different kind of despair.

I discovered depression during my senior year in high school. It was then that I realized my attraction to the opposite sex was superficial: I was only interested in pretty girls. At the time, I always wondered how monogamy could work or how someone could remain faithful to just one individual for the rest of their lives. If you're familiar with Piers Anthony's Xanth series, that was the appeal of the relationship between Bink (the male hero) and Chameleon (his wife). Chameleon was a character whose looks and intelligence (hence personality) varied depending on the time of the month. To a teenager, that kind of perpetual variety was seductive and sounded reasonable.

My epiphany came when I fell in love with someone I never considered before. My first meeting with her was actually uneventful: I met her at a gaming convention as she purchased anime merchandise from the stall I was manning. At the time, I didn't really take notice and why should I? She was short, a bit chubby, and plain-looking. It would take a month or two afterwards before she caught my interest. I discovered that we shared the same interests: anime/manga, fantasy/science fiction, video games, etc. We interacted through a mailing list and through stories from mutual friends. I even gathered the courage to ask her phone number and called her at home. It was then that I realized that what was important in a relationship wasn't their physical attributes but their personality. I could imagine that I could spent the rest of my life with her, not because she was pretty, but because she was smart and intelligent and we could hold a sincere conversation where we understood each other. I started to appreciate the concept of monogamy, and realized how juvenile Bink and Chameleon's relationship was. Since then, I was always skeptical of physical attraction: am I attracted to this girl because of her looks or is it something else?

The epiphany was euphoric. But in many ways, this is also when depression starts to creep in. The moment you realize that you badly want to be with someone, you also become aware of the possibility of failure. What if she doesn't reciprocate my feelings? What if she rejects me? The most minute of actions is assessed a hundred times and interpreted in exaggerated ways: she didn't reply to my email so that means she hates me; she said thank you so she likes me. The process of courtship was an emotional roller coaster of extremes but there was always hope. Depression starts to overcome euphoria when you realized that the other party truly wasn't interested in you--and worse, there was no way of salvaging the friendship. She wouldn't return or answer my calls, emails, or handwritten letters. When we'd bump into each other, all we managed to speak were the most basic of pleasantries before she needed to depart. In truth, I was waiting for her to be direct with me, and tell me that she wasn't interested in me. But not everyone is confrontational and not everyone receives the kind of closure they expect. And so depression limbo.

The symptoms vary. There was a point in time where I subsisted on eating once a day and only catching sleep for a few hours at most. My dreams were nightmares, not because they weren't pleasant, but whenever my crush would appear in a dream, it was a stark reminder of how different reality was. Depression wrecked whatever hobbies I had at the time because there was much overlap between the two of us. Every fantasy novel I came across in the bookstore for example reminded me of how she loved those books too. The same goes for the anime soundtracks I listened to and manga I read. The constant reminders felt like it was myself inflicting the injuries, gutting my own intestines and clawing my own eyes. I couldn't concentrate on any single activity, and I couldn't rest either as time to think meant that I would eventually dwell on missed opportunities and what-could-have-beens.

And this is where the complexities of depression--or anyone who's been rejected or broken up with a significant other--starts to pop up. The first is the quandary of whether to continue pursuit or to move on with your life and give up. No matter which you choose, it's going to be painful, and the deliberation itself is excruciating, especially as you separate your motivations from the facts (and let's be honest, in romance, there's a lot of self-delusion and optimistic assessment of reality, as well as uncompromising selfishness).

As sad as it is to admit, there is a certain comfort in depression. You don't want to relinquish it because doing so means moving on to territory that's unfamiliar, new, and requires change. On one level, it feels like a betrayal of what you previously felt or represented. It's not that you're addicted to pain, but that specific pain came with a certain predictability and purpose. It might evolve into bargaining where you wonder what you could have done to change things (as if everything was under your control or your decision to make) and develop a level of masochism and deathwish that you justify as suffering for the sake of the other person. I've certainly thought to myself "Maybe she'll take me back once she finds out how much I sacrificed for her" which is, honestly, an undeserved form of emotional blackmail and coercion. (I also blame epic fantasy, wherein we are trained to accept the concept of a "quest" where much is sacrificed in order to obtain a specific item or person; but real life is seldom a good approximation of such a scenario, and the McGuffin is actually a human being who has their own complex set of motivations and journeys.) And I've seen this kind of motivation in other people, whether it's wives who return to abusive husbands, or friends who cling to exes even if it's the latter who's guilty of inappropriate decisions. Intellectually, we might be aware of this, but emotionally, it's tempting to choose the path of least resistance.

What doesn't get asked often--and this is because we can be too self-centered--is how the other person feels. It can be a painful decision for them to reject you as well, and it begs the question, what's best for them? Is courting them against their wishes good for them? How much do you truly love the other person: only as so far as to give you pleasure, or are you concerned with the other person's holistic health and potential?

Choosing to move on made me question why it was difficult for me to come to such a decision. The reason was fear: fear that I blew my one chance of finding happiness, fear that I wouldn't meet anyone else, fear that I would be lonely forever. When confronted with those fears, it's tempting to revert to my depressive state and resume the bargaining process but what kind of life would I be living to be dominated by fear? I wanted to live the kind of life a Green Lantern would, a person who overcame fear instead of being a slave to it.

The healing process isn't without its own perils. I started to understand why people who just broke up don't start dating immediately. Vulnerability came in all shapes and sizes: you could be attracted to someone because they reminded you--whether physically or some mannerism--of your previous love; you could be attracted to someone simply because they show the tiniest bit of interest in you (a stark contrast to all the effort you've been expending all this time); or you could be attracted to someone because the concept of being alone is horrible and being with anyone is better than the wrenching void left in the wake of your rejection or breakup.

Personally, I got over my first crush by creating and discovering a new me. I read different books. Tried new hobbies. Explored new locations. Or more relevant to this blog, I started writing and blogging.

I wish I could say that was the only time I got depressed but it wasn't. A few months down the line, I met someone equally as impressive as my first crush (and it's pretty much the same story, someone I didn't originally pay attention to the first time I met her and only realizing then that she's a terrific person). We hit it off in the first three weeks of college but when she discovered I had feelings for her, she ceased all communication and tore my letters. I would persist for my entire college years and she actually resumed talking to me after a year or two but by the time we graduated, we were distant friends at best.

Currently, I'm straddling that wave of depression. I met someone who's intelligent, interesting, talented, passionate, and yes, pretty. Unfortunately, she's not interested in a relationship at this time as she's still figuring out her previous one. We can be friends, which is fine, and that's a significant improvement over the radio-silence treatment I got with my previous crushes. Again, I'm wrestling with my own quandaries (and I'm sure she is as well with her unique scenario). In the meantime, I send her books, comics, videos. That's what I like about literature: the other person can peruse it at their own leisure without pressure. Books can entertain, educate, or inspire, and it's not necessarily linked to me personally. I don't know what'll happen a few days, weeks, months, or years down the line. Maybe I'll eventually get dumped. Or ostracized. Or maybe we'll become close friends. But whatever happens, I recall my depression and ask the question that few people seldom ask: what's best for her? I give books to friends, not because it's propaganda or some sort of emotional leverage, but because I hope they find value in them irregardless of how they feel about me.

1 comment:

Tarie Sabido said...

"At the time, I didn't really take notice and why should I? She was short, a bit chubby, and plain-looking." -----> Whaaaaaaat?

Anywhoozles, I love how you give people books for the right reasons. :o)