Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sense Deprivation

The seemingly strange decor on this tree in which I'm reflected? Hands doing American Sign Language. The tree is in the Scarborough building windows, decorated by deaf students.

I was depressed yesterday. Not clinically. People always talk about clinical depression and I don't think I have that. I get up in the morning. I get over it. I think it has a cause. You know it's OK to feel bad if there is a reason, right?

In most things I'm lucky, but I can't stop the march of time. And it occasionally gets me down. Not so much from my own point of view. Being sixty is odd because you feel some age-related syndromes but you still amaze yourself being able to walk a few miles, do exercises, play tennis, climb a ladder, lift things. That's me anyway. Your hearing is going and you have to wear glasses, but you can remember what stories you've told sometimes and have an interesting non-repetitive conversation with friends.

What depresses me? The parental units. When I'm in my condo I revel in the fact that I was able to simplify things a little, get rid of some stuff, get things like I want them. When I'm in their houses and see all the stuff collecting dust, when I'm trying to do something to bring them into the late twentieth century if not the current one, it is depressing. Because I know that at some point we quit changing and things sort of close in around us and can't be budged. While we may have avoided that for a few years by busting out of that too-big house and its baggage, I know it will come for us, too. We'll forget who we have told our few sad stories, we won't be able to walk and drive around and expand our field of view. FFP's folks were always a bit closed in but the inability to drive and walk very far finished off any trace of adventure. My dad is happy to sit in his house, changing nothing, maybe giving away a few things. He likes to get out more than the in-laws but increasingly it takes a toll for him to do it and he resists and isn't that sorry to not do one thing then another.

I love the folks and while I roll my eyes at their repeated stories and misunderstandings of the workings of the modern world, I enjoy being able to have them around and their connection to our past.

But I don't want to be them. Oh, sure, I know people ten, fifteen, even twenty years older who still seem much younger, physically and mentally. I wish I thought I could be one of those people. And I'm going to try to be. But. I worry. Not about death but about infirmity. And a narrowing of the world. (Although all the parents stay well in touch with the world according to CNN, it's not the same.)

We took an overnight trip to San Antonio this week and that made me happy, to get away and see something different. Maybe I'm feeling closed in because that was the first time we got away from Austin (unless you count those two days at the spa in the northern reaches of Lake Austin) since February.

I shouldn't be depressed. I should be happy. I have the lifestyle I want, things are simpler in our household so that we can do and see new things without too much baggage. Sure the world is falling apart financially and otherwise, but luckily I doubt Madoff would have given us the time of day so we have some of our money left. We can continue to live our profligate lifestyle as we like to say.

Where is all this coming from? Yesterday I was trying to install the phone with the Phillips Lifeline capability for my in-laws. The buttons and the phone that was just a phone until you pushed the button around your neck was overwhelming to them. A major mystery. My mother-in-law seemed mesmerized after the beep test when we had her push the button and the voice came over it and identified her by name. She gawked as the call center asked if she needed help and had to be prompted to say that she was testing it. I hope we can succeed in this great technological leap where we failed with VCRs and answering machines and such. The house has no clothes dryer or microwave and FFP, Sr. listens to cassette tapes on a machine sent to him by the Blind Commission. We have offered a CD player or even an MP3 so he could catch up to audio books now so widely available in those formats, but we know it's futile. Innovation time has stopped. But the scary part is I feel it happening to me, too. I don't want a new piece of software to replace some ancient one I use or I resist the iPod. (Although I finally got an iPod and was pleased.)

What is it that makes us, sometime before we die, just refuse to go further in some ways? It seems that we say "I'm stopping here, go on without me." It isn't just infirmity that makes it happen. No. Sometimes it happens to people who are healthy, mentally and physically. We seem to shut ourselves off from new experiences or ideas as if we are blind and deaf to them or unable to grasp them mentally. Or maybe, just maybe, this resistance to embrace where the world is going is a sign of decline itself. Maybe there is a seventh sense of adventure and openness to change that we lose.

My depression lifted slightly last night. We went to a basement jazz club and heard some twenties and thirties influenced jazz with the Jazz Pharaohs and Liz Morphis. Enjoying old stuff isn't a sign of decline. Shut up. Who could like rap? We had a friend along who helped us have a lively conversation. We went to the Ruth's Chris bar, bumped into other friends, had some good food and driink. Yes, we drank. Then we returned to our place with our friend and had some 1995 Pinot Noir from our cache that was still tasting good while watching "Friday Night Lights." Yeah, we were engaged with a changing world, we were out and about, even if we were sort of doing our 'usual' things. And, yes, OK, we were drinking. Maybe that is propelling me all the faster toward decline.

I think I'll go exercise now. And read the papers about all the big boys falling from grace in Ponzi schemes. That will cheer me. No doubt.

[Note: My tendency towards being down in the dumps is not helped by a fog outside that is so thick we can't see past one block. When we got up, we could see the buildings on Guadalupe and no further. Now we can't see even the AMLI one block away. I hate it when my brain is fogged and so is the world. Or maybe it's better this way. Maybe a bright sunny day would be offensive.]


Louis said...

I think it only natural to feel a little "low" at this time of year when interacting with aging parents. Those of us lucky enough to have had supportive parents who made Christmas special will naturally compare "now" and "then" and feel a little bit sad and also a little bit anxious about our own futures. I suppose the only thing we can do is enjoy the day and not fret too much about what tomorrow may bring. Happy holidays!

Sarah said...

This entry really hit home, only it's not relevant to my parents (who are dead now) but to my husband who is only 68, going on 88. He stopped dead in his tracks about 10 years ago and, like a fly entombed in amber, nothing has changed, not even touched, since. Further, he is adamantly opposed to my touching anything, though he'd be willing to let me clean it. Even to the point of straightening up or thowing out old empty medicine bottles.

I don't understand the phenomenon, but it helps me to know, via your blog, that someone else is like that. It's so crazy-seeming to me that I have trouble dealing with it. He's going to be stuck in 1998 forever. Sometimes, when he's asleep, I'll toss a few old magazines out, hoping he won't notice, because if he does, he becomes terribly agitated, as though I were throwing away his life.

Anyway, thanks for this entry. It helped me understand, even if there's nothing we can do to help these people, we can try not to be like that ourselves. Keep moving, keep thinking, keep trying new stuff is my motto.


deb said...

I've always felt that I am entitled to my passing moments of depression. Like you wrote, sometimes you have something to be depressed about!

I'm predominantly an optimist, but every once in a while, well, depression just creeps in. Being cynical has it's moments, too.