Tetherball

After six movies I’m still a little fuzzy on the whole Dark Side of the Force thing. From what I can tell, it allows bitter old men in last-season hooded cloaks to shoot blue lighting from their fingertips. Which, admittedly, is somewhat alluring. But it hardly accounts for all of the fuss, much less the money I’ve wasted on tickets to Loews Cineplex. Maybe I wish we were still back in the day, when Han Solo and Princess Leia squabbled on the tarnished deck of the Millenium Falcon, displaying some of the personality that the franchise abandoned in a galaxy far, far away.

Lately I’ve been fixated on my own dark side, which lost some of its bite when I got sober. When one no longer passes out from too much GHB at the Pleasuredome on a crowded Labor Day weekend, waking up in the arms of a security woman in a cowboy hat who dragged one out the back door into the alley, well…after that one’s dark side is a little less dramatic.

When I was fifteen my shrink recommended that I try anti-depressants. He and my parents left the decision up to me. This was the eighties, when the pills had a greater stigma, and I declined, wanting to prove myself self-reliant. I try not to harbor regrets, but sometimes I wonder how my life might have turned out had I taken him up on his offer. Dogpoet’s darkside is a fairly simple, if unrelenting, depression. I’ve learned, through much trial and error over the past five years, that I can win temporary reprieve through a combination of conversation, medication, and kicking ass on the treadmill. In my better moments I accept it as a chronic condition, and that compared with some people’s problems it’s a minor one.

But it’s a daily struggle. The stakes rose when I left the comforts of San Francisco for New York, intensified during the school year, and blindsided me when classes let out. I realized, with growing frustration, that my usual efforts were no longer working. My natural aversion to the telephone grew into a phobia, cutting me off from friends and family. Emails piled up. The voices of self-doubt multiplied into a Greek chorus, a cacophony with one common goal: assuring me that I had nothing to contribute to the world. I shut down, withdrew, rented entire seasons of stupid television shows and tried to pretend that I could make a pint of Chubby Hubby last two days. My dark side does not resemble Darth Vader so much as Jabba the Hut, lolling in squalid depravity. Jabba, however, took pleasure in his condition. Maybe (he says, taking a thin metaphor and running for the hills) my dark side looks more like Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, dipped into liquid ice, helpless, his smirk frozen hard.

Like a tetherball spinning around a pole, its path diminishing with each revolution, my dark thoughts grow circumscribed till I’m all I can think about, convinced that I’m hopeless, my self-pity complete.

I’ve had a few years to reflect on my depression. To wonder at its origin, its shape. Is it a simple matter of brain chemicals, or do I play an active part in its propagation? Am I paying for the damage done by ecstasy and crystal meth? Or could I, as some sadists suggest, choose to be happy? Sometimes I’ve believed them, and sometimes I’ve believed that sustained happiness is a myth, that our natural condition is one of dissatisfaction and yearning, and that’s why we either create or consume (or both). “As sleep is necessary to our physiology”, wrote Janet Malcom in her book on Sylvia Plath, “depression seems necessary to our psychic economy.” Maybe I adopted this strategy as a child, and it’s now a question of repetition and routine. I come back to the familiar.

Fortunately I’ve joined Tom Cruise and the Scientologists, and am curing myself with massive amounts of Vitamin E. I don’t know what causes it. Mid-June I crawled to the doc, who upped my dosage. I hit the treadmill daily, interval training till my sweat flew. I got out of town, saw some family and friends. I came back, caught the F train to Coney Island, rode the Cyclone, and took some pictures. I smacked the ball in the other direction, and wanted to say hello.

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