One of the first things I see when I descend from my house in the dark morning are the lights of the city spread out below. Some days the lights are crystal clear. I can pick out individual cars and the traffic lights blink through their predictable rounds. Other days, the lights are shrouded in thick fog and I see nothing but the ghosts of houses along my street, caught in the headlights as I roll quietly past. This morning, there was a light, drizzly fog. The kind that spontaneously forms tiny water droplets on your skin. The lights had turned soft and indistinguishable in the dark. The fog gave them a dreary look that perfectly matched my mood.
My old friend depression has been hanging about lately. Not the “I just want to curl up in a ball” variety, but more of a “sigh, I can’t put my finger on the problem” variety.
When I go to work, I feel pretty ambivalent. It isn’t that I hate my job, or don’t understand that I must work, or that I’m lazy, it’s just that I’m not happy with it either. It’s something I must do as opposed to something I want to do. The resulting ambivalence catches me in an awkward place. I find myself thinking – a little too realistically for my own good – how it would feel to drive past my freeway exit, climb over the mountains, and join the coastal road for a long trip that would last forever.
Of course, I only envision myself in a single moment, somewhere on the highway, going no place in particular. I conveniently forget all the accoutrement of such a trip. Buying gas, eating lunch, finding places to sleep, missing my family, deciding which way to go next. In my mind, those things no longer exist. The only thing I can imagine is being on the road at a single moment that lasts forever, frozen in time, but infinitely mobile. I’m not going anywhere other than where I want to be – which just happens to be an empty stretch of highway that unwinds in front of me.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering where these feelings come from. I work at a good company that treats its employees exceptionally well. I’m paid a handsome salary and I don’t feel overworked. Sure, each day holds its petty annoyances, but there really are surprisingly few. Yet, I don’t want to be here. In fact, I’m fairly confident I don’t really want to be anywhere, except in that car on the endless coastal highway.
While I can’t say for sure, I do have a theory about why I feel the way I do.
I’ve gone to a job nearly every day for 35 years. I like to think I did a good job. I even liked some of them in the usual sense. I got up and looked forward to going in or found interests or challenges in that world. But the notion that I was working because I had to, rather than because I chose too, always gnawed at me. I’d be the first to admit this is a selfish point of view. I mean, who am I to bitch about going to a job with good pay and benefits? After all, most of the people in the world would be happy with a job that provided a little rice for their distended bellies. I have the luxury of bitching that the less fortunate never get.
But jobs, and indeed the 35 years doing them, aren’t the whole story. I began carrying hefty responsibilities at an early age and none of them went away when I added the daily routine of work to the mix. I’ve spent nearly every minute of every day carrying them. Many were self-assumed and ones that I gladly bore – being married for instance. But most of them were handed to me without invitation – for example, battling depression or being laid off or mowing the lawn. They just appeared on my doorstep and I accepted them without thinking. They were simply chores that needed to be done. Small events that I had to weather to get to the next one.
So in the end, I’ve developed an automatic aversion to anything that requires me to do something other than of my own making. I dislike work not because it’s a painful experience, but because it’s a responsibility. I’m at a point in my life where I long to do things of my own device. Things that are never a responsibility, but that I only do for the simple reason that I want to.
Filtered through the gauze of mild depression, I find it difficult to listen to my rational brain explain that work and responsibilities are an integral part of the human condition, something all humans share regardless of their station or wealth. Instead, it’s the flitty, irrational bit of my mind that talks a little louder and urges me to keep on going when I reach my freeway exit. As the rational part of me calmly explains the facts of life and the irrational part of me urges me to do things that ignore the facts of life, I find myself stunned by the ongoing distraction. Rather than hearing something positive, that distraction is what keeps me keeping on.
So when I feel the pull of the open road and my rational self wins again, I find myself suspended in a psychological amber. I take the exit. I ride the elevator. I do the things that are required of me. But I always reserve a little part of my brain to take the occasional virtual trip past the exit, over the mountain, and along an endless coastal road that never ends.