Not long ago, I came upon a description of the legendary poet William Wordsworth. Someone once wrote that he could never see a cradle without thinking about a grave. Although profound, this is probably why Wordsworth wasn’t invited to a lot of parties.
Still, I have the same problem as the great Englishman. Fairly regularly, when nothing is really wrong, I have a tendency to dwell on deeply sad things: fears of aging, former girlfriends I miss and how there’s going to be a new Josh Groban album soon.
Can't Shake the Blues Away
It’s not clinical. I don’t need medication. However, after enough years and melancholy thoughts, I’ve identified the problem: I’m a depressive. And I know I’m not alone.
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The epiphany that I’m irretrievably gloomy came as a result of being middle-aged, maybe because that’s when you start looking back and recalling the times you felt a vague but genuine sense of sadness. Recently, I remembered the first time it hit me. It was at school. Until fifth grade, I was crazy about sports. Then, one day during recess, the guys asked me if I wanted play Frisbee. I suddenly didn’t feel like it. A precocious kid, I actually said, “Why? The whole thing is so pointless and banal.”
The guys shrugged and took off, some to play and others to look up what I’d just said. The next day, I was in the mood again. But a precedent was set. Soon, I started thinking the whole sport was metaphorical. That life was just a game of Frisbee. People toss this disc. You chase it, catch it and bring it back. Over and over again. I suddenly thought, “You’re not a person. You’re a Golden Retriever.”
As I got older, these dark feelings didn’t go away. So I decided to talk to a therapist about them.
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Trying Therapy to Find Relief
I’d like to report that I had a blinding moment of clarity — that, after talking with John, a psychologist, I’d remember some long-suppressed incident that was causing my bleakness. You know, like my Germanic father making me wear lederhosen and an Alpine hat to a Christmas party. Or my mom forcing me to study interpretive dance. If it was a movie, I would then cry, hug my therapist and walk out happily while whistling Celebration.
It didn’t work that way. Although my father was introspective and sad, he and my mother were wonderful parents. Plus, there was my shrink. He used to sit in a swiveling chair and sometimes turn his back to me. Things got so boring in there, I don’t how he stayed awake. One day, I stood up and glanced at John, who often took notes on a pad. Maybe I’m imagining this, but that day I could swear he was holding a Game Boy and playing Donkey Kong. Maybe not. But I took it as a sign to terminate therapy.
Years went by. I had good days and hopeless ones. Sure, I can blame some of my sadness on getting older. Being around my age, you sometimes think that riding in a motorized Rascal isn’t far off and all you can look forward to are disposable catheters.
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The Benefits of Middle Age
But being middle-aged has its benefits, too. Even without the help of a video-game-playing therapist, I could see what they were.
In your 40s or 50s, you often acquire something you didn’t have at 11: perspective. I’ve looked at the dark side enough that a pattern has emerged. The Blue Man I am isn’t good or bad. He’s just me.
As a result of such thoughts, I’ve been functioning better. I can spot a baby in the supermarket and smile, and only occasionally imagine him as an old man reaching for the prunes. Also, I have a new puppy, who keeps me from being morbid because I’m much too busy throwing out rubber plants he’s just whizzed on. I appreciate sunsets, music, friends. And less often, I dwell on people’s mortality. Except Rush Limbaugh’s.
Finally, there’s my job as the go-to guy for people who have the same problem. Neighbors, relatives, my barber, know my condition. They also know if they confess that they, too, experience that nameless dread, I won’t laugh. I’ll tell them it passes. And then feel strangely good. Knowing this genetic gift I got has allowed me to help others.
Sure, I secretly envy these people. In a manner of speaking, Lonely Town is where I live, while it seems these other folks are just visiting. The good thing about growing older is that every year, the location seems more familiar. These days, I know my emotional town well. I recognize every street and tree. I accept being a depressive. Sure, I still get lost from time to time. But now, at this age? I always manage to find my way home.
Peter Gerstenzang writes about rock, pop culture and humor for Esquire, Spin, MSN and Next Avenue.