Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Distraction of Basketball

Ignoring my depression doesn't seem to be working, so I'll indulge in writing as therapy, believing it helps objectify my suffering. Suffering can never be compared; each of us has suffered to a degree we would be afraid to exceed, as one can only know greater suffering when the soul is stretched beyond its former capacity for suffering. With enough suffering comes a numbness, as in Holocaust survivors, the mind's defense mechanism against overwhelming grief and terror. Depression differs from grief and trauma in that it comes from the inside out instead of from the outside in. It is self-generating.

As a form of suffering I find depression to be one of the worst varieties, because it darkens everything, it makes one unable to experience pleasure, it robs you of yourself--with all the history and attachments that implies. The past seems meaningless and the future seems a terror, while you spend every spare minute accusing yourself of one failure or another. Today my mind chose to accuse myself of not doing enough to end my depression--this despite exercise, ECT, compliance with psychiatric meds, attempts at gardening and cooking, continuing occasional publication of my poetry, hiking, and yes, a lot of basketball watching.

Last night I watched my beloved Lakers beat the Warriors in overtime, and it was a sad victory because a referee handed the game to the Lakers in the last eight seconds with a charging call on Monta Ellis, when it was clear that Derek Fisher, who was guarding him, pulled him down after the initial contact. I don't like referees to decide a game, and I wasn't happy that the Lakers won that way.

My college team is my alma mater, UCLA, and they have just made the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Overall I don't think we have what it takes to win the tournament; our perimeter shooting is suspect and other teams have superior athleticism. In our favor is a relentless defense that can shut nearly anybody down. But if we run into a high-flying team like North Carolina or Memphis, I expect we'll lose.

How do I enjoy basketball while being depressed? First, it generally comes on in the evening, when depression itself improves, as depression is usually worst in the morning and better at night. Second, it is essentially trivial. The fate of the chinook salmon or the arctic ice pack does not hang from a basketball rim. It's just a simple game with one ball and two hoops. When I was younger I could play it, which adds to my appreciation. Still the main reason I can "enjoy" (better "be distracted by") basketball is that it demands nothing of me except that I be a mindless fan, an illogical and irrational position and thus a relief from significance.

I will admit that I don't have enough to do. When my depression was less severe I spent a lot of time writing, but now that I've decided I'll never make it as an author I hardly have the heart to keep generating books that won't be published. My novel, "The Abomination," is so boring I can't finish it (Amazon.com published one copy of it for my perusal when I entered their first novel contest; I think I mentioned that out of 5,000 entrants, I didn't even make the cut for the top 1000. But I do have the souvenir book!) I had high hopes for the novel to be a thriller, a page-turner, but I realize in reading it that the characters do not demand the kind of interest that makes for an interesting novel. I don't really care about the characters when I read it.

As for my poetry and literary criticism, I still have faith that some of it has merit beyond my lifetime, but I don't expect to be discovered any time soon.

I recently picked up a new collection of Charles Simic, our present poet laureate, and found no brilliance to envy. Why he is lauded above others I can only attribute to the usual East Coast Old Boys' network. His poems are workmanlike but underwhelming.

To be fair, my sense of failure as an author has not been properly earned because I haven't pulled out every stop and made every sacrifice to succeed. But I have become disheartened, and I don't know how to return to writing without confidence--a writer must have the conceit that he has something worth saying--lacking that at present, I don't write about anything, excepting the therapy of this blog.

So, how did I do today? I hit upon one thing that distracts me from depression: Basketball! I passed a small opinion on our poet laureate. And I confessed that my inner critic thinks I haven't done enough to come out of my depression; but what is enough? It doesn't get more serious than ECT, from which I'm still recovering in terms of memory and cognitive functioning. But what if ECT was a way of avoiding some other aspect of depression? The mind won't let up, the hook is set and the brain reels it in over and over again. That's a good metaphor for depression: having set the hook deep in your soul and afterwards trying to reel it in--you are the fish and the fisherman and therefore can never succeed. And the more you yank on the line the worse it gets. One of the best lines I ever heard about depression was, "If your car is stuck in the mud, don't spin your wheels, just wait for the sun to come out and dry the road and you'll be able to drive away." It's the waiting that kills us. I spin my wheels too much.


  1. Anonymous6:05 PM PDT

    Not being a fomite myself, though if I were trapped ina speakeasy sucking 2nd hand sicar smoke -- most likely my 1st reaction'd be,,, Vincent, How can I help?
    I'm just too ignorant, still.

  2. Anonymous8:09 AM PDT


    Why do you persist in making this depression the center of your existence? My guess is that a successful paraplegic does not dwell on his profound impairment. My further guess is that leading a successful and productive life for someone with a profound impairment partly involves denying its primacy, almost a contest of wills between the man and the malady. It troubles me that at times you appear to be offering your depression sustenance --or in the modern parlance 'empowering' it.

    I am by no means an expert on such things. I can only offer my intuition. But I feel you need to pursue self-dilution. You need to lose yourself in something. Is writing about your depression from so many vantages and over such a long period of time somehow prolonging it?

    Is it a coincidence that the longest depressive episode of your life happens to have been painstakingly catalogued via a written record? Is your depression enjoying its public turn a bit too much? Is it loath to relinquish the stage, which alas happens to be your mind and spirit? Nothing dies of its own volition. So why do you offer it the allure of a worldwide blog-audience? Have you concluded subconsciously that this depression offers you a last chance at public renown? Are you in league with it despite your conscious protestations to the contrary?

    I believe your 'relationship to your depression' may offer a fruitful area of self-inspection.

    Sorry a lot of questions.

  3. First, anyone can be a fomite. Most are unwitting vehicles for infection, not to be blamed.


    Norm, I deeply appreciate your advice and concern. And indeed, in cooking vegetarian chile and attending a depressive support group meeting yesterday, I did try to overcome my paralysis, just as I did today in purchasing a new vegetarian cookbook (though the decision wore me out and left me anxious--there being so many to choose from and my lacking the certainty that I could make the best choice).

    As for my blog's relation to depression, if you go back to the times where I was in remission, you will notice that I don't write about the illness, but recovery and release therefrom, as well as topics unrelated.

    The chief difference between depression and other maladies is that one has pneumonia but one is depression. Depression is the abnegation of personality--no sense of self accompanies your actions or words--all is a ghostly, you seem unreal as does life; if I say something to you while depressed I don't know if it's my actual opinion, a borrowed opinion, or an opinion I merely uttered to avoid your criticism. There is no confidence in the operation of the self. If I were merely sad, I could say "I have sadness," with no loss of personality. But it's not like that--I am sadness, I am darkness, I am meaninglessness, the condition inhabits me, I don't merely suffer the condition. It outranks all my other experience and brings my best positive philosophy to naught.

    I don't think writing about depression prolongs my depression, but rather helps me cope with it, as I can get some separation from it in the act of writing.

    To make a narrative of depression interesting is a literary challenge, since by its nature depression is boring. Whether I have done that is another question; at times I think my narrative has been interesting despite my absence as a person. If the blog has degenerated into whining, God forgive me. And why are there still readers if that is the case?

    And as for my blogging on depression being a performance, a means of publicity, of garnering readers, nothing could be further from the truth. I most sincerely wish that I would never have occasion to write about depression again.

    And I am all for self-dilution, and I attempt it daily. One problem thereby is that a cardinal symptom of depression is an inability to concentrate, which makes it harder to get out of oneself. And if one achieves a blessed suspension of concern with oneself, as soon as that suspension is interrupted one falls inexorably back into the blackness of self-absorption.

    I really hope you never come to understand the illness, because it would mean you would have to suffer it, and I wish that on no one.

    The only relationship between me and my depression is that my depression dominates me, both consciously and unconsciously. Perhaps if I were thrown into a war, the need for battle and survival might wake me from this condition, but even that is not a sure thing, though I could wish it for myself. For instance, if I got into a physical altercation today, I would be out of my depression for as long as it took to win the fight. Afterwards I would immediately think of the whole thing as pointless. But during the conflict, my adrenaline would lift me above the depressive pit out of necessity. Yet in my passive state (while depressed) it is much less likely that I would ever become involved in a conflict, since I try to avoid conflict at all costs--except a good argument with you!


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