Depression is really full of surprises. Sure, we all know that it haunts your dreams; that it shortens your life; that it lowers your lifetime earnings; that it creates fertile ground for lifestyle errors*; that it lowers your IQ and/ or your ability to apply it; that it ruins your relationships; we know all of that, and more. But now, as I approach the fifth anniversary of the death of my father, I have identified an aspect of depression that I had not previously understood. It accelerates the passage of time itself.
It is a well observed fact that as we proceed through life, the years seem to pass more quickly with every turn. One year for a five-year-old seems to last forever; one summer for a twelve-year-old goes slowly enough to make going back to school (and watching the World Series) seem like fun. Somewhere around the transition from the flood to the ebb tide of life, let's say somewhere around the age of forty, life begins to lose its languorous pace. All of the markers for the passage of time seem to be arriving more rapidly than they used to. The various holidays and birthdays are repeating themselves with a strange new regularity. Most people realize in their forties or fifties that this process is accelerating on an annual basis. In our sixties, it becomes a finger snap: birthday, Christmas, birthday, Christmas. By the time that we turn seventy, the whole thing has become quite disturbing.
Being quite aware of all of this, it is no surprise to me that the five years since my father's death have passed quickly. At my age, that's natural. There were, however, deeper shocks built in to my father crossing the river. It has been disturbing to endure the typhoon of never before encountered symptoms, and the feeling that my life is racing towards an oblivion that could begin at any moment. Neither is it any fun to live with the daily, nagging bewilderment about my parents feelings towards me. Was I really so terrible? They both seem to have thought so. My mother, later in life, would praise my ex-wife as a saint for putting up with me, and they would both commiserate over the daunting challenges of living with me. “Living with Freddy is what made my hair go gray!” All of that was providing the entertainment for the entire family. My ex-wife kicked me out within a matter of weeks after my mother died. My father lived another nine years, and other than feigning deafness to avoid talking to anyone he managed to put up an impressive display of support and acceptance. (The ability to love, I'm afraid, had always been denied him.) He waited for the reading of the will to insert the stiletto.
Fred, focus, back to the rush of time.
I began having nightmares after the will business sunk in. Who leaves their first-born's share of an estate to that son's ex-wife? I always knew that they liked my wife much better than they liked me, but really, who would do that? Break it up, sure, give the ex-wife a share, but who zeros out the son without so much as a “fare thee well?”
Before the will fiasco, if the subject of heart related chest pains came up, I couldn't even imagine what that would feel like. I was having them myself before long. The nightmares were of a very particular type that I had not previously encountered. Naturalistic settings, in color and in detail, peopled by family members living and dead, all saying things that you could easily imagine them saying. I was having these dreams, and none of what they were saying was flattering to me. Or I would be arguing my own case in the dream. “But I was a good boy!” “Didn't I call mom every couple of weeks and have a friendly chat for an hour or so back when that shit cost a fortune?” Or shear exasperation, “I traveled ten time zones for nine years in a row to visit that motherfucker! Just to hang out for a few days and tell him that I loved him!”
In my adult life, after I got over hating them for their pathetic failure as parents when my sister and I were at home, I accepted them for what they were, just a man and a woman, imperfect like the rest of us. I forgave them, and I loved them, and I was good to them. And for what? To be treated like a dog.
Here is a contributing factor to the rapid passing of time. I had had a prescription for Xanax for many years, but I had only used it for international plane flights. Believe me, fourteen hours on the plane, it really helps if you can get four or five solid hours of sleep. Other than that I never touched it. But those nightmares had to go, and I needed to relax in general. I was so wound up that I was getting strange stress manifestations and histamine reactions to things that weren't there. I have stayed with a low dose, just enough to deepen my sleep and take the edge off in the evenings. My heart Rx also slows the metabolism a bit. Alcohol, of course, is in the rear-view mirror now that I have a deep, personal relationship with a cardiologist.
So my days go by faster, then the weeks, and months, and years. Faster, I think, than is normal for someone my age. I'm sleeping more, and enjoying every minute of it, I might add. I still teach my classes, but my schedule is not onerous. I read “too much,” which is a characteristic of many depressed people. I have been known to take a nap, of an afternoon. In the evenings, I watch Netflix, like many people (no binge-watching). The day zooms along and is gone. This is probably a mixed blessing.
I still say to myself most days, “I was a good boy!” I never got caught stealing, or riding in stolen cars, I never got arrested with drugs, or for anything else at all! I never broke a bone. I was never a bully. I was personable! I think that most of the other parents liked me. I have a studio portrait photo of myself dressed up for First Communion, age six I believe. I look angelic. I walk past and I think, who could hate a son like this? Then I run quickly to my Kindle and bury myself in my second reading of Eri Hotta's “Japan 1941.” Prime Minister Konoe; Foreign Minister Matsuoka; General Tojo; it's fun getting to know them a bit. Fun watching them twist themselves into knots trying to avoid a war with America, and all the while taking frequent actions that would insure it. We all know how it turned out, but watching them stumble into it is fascinating. That kind of reading also speeds the passage of time.
If you are not depressed, thank God immediately. I am happy for your good fortune. If you had loving parents, if there was love in your home, good for you! It is a comfort to me to know that there are such families. If you had parents who encouraged you, who supported your interests and efforts, you, my friend, were doubly blessed. Good for you! Without an ounce of sarcasm I say, your happiness is a blessing to me. Without it, I would never know that such things existed.
*”Lifestyle Errors,” such as smoking tobacco; drinking alcohol to excess; drug use, or abuse; self-sabotage; high-risk behavior; aggressive social behavior; over-ambition; workaholism; or obnoxiousness.