42

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know!”

There are lots of ways to find out you’re depressed. For me, it was breaking down crying in the kitchen Monday morning, after berating my wife for my (upcoming) birthday present.

Not my finest moment.

I turned 42 yesterday, my second birthday during the pandemic. And I want to say I’m going to throw a big party once we’re all vaccinated, that I’m fine, everything’s fine here, how are you?

But I’m not fine. I’m tired of being scared, of having to leap out of the way of folks walking by me on the sidewalk. Of asking delivery people to back up from the door and pull up their mask before I step out to show them my ID. Of wondering if this is the week I get the call that my mom’s in the hospital with Covid, that there’s going to be another family funeral I can’t attend.

My wife says I don’t like surprises, and she’s right. This year has been one long series of surprises, one after the other, combined with constant waiting for the other shoe to drop and the disease to claim me, or someone else close to me, or all of the above.

So I’m not fine. I’m lethargic and blasé and if I pause for too long between activities, I start to cry. I can’t get excited about…anything. Not something silly like the new Godzilla vs Kong movie (which, pre-pandemic, I would’ve flipped for). Not something abstract like my wife and her mother deciding once and for all that she will not be moving in with us, giving us a sense of stability we haven’t had since 2015. I want to be excited. I want to be joyful.

But I can’t, and before my wife made me turn and look at my depression, I thought the problem was in the things themselves, not me. I had all kinds of rationalizations for why her news wasn’t exciting (“because she could change her mind”). Why I couldn’t make it through a re-watch of the first two Godzilla movies (“they’re boring”). But those were just excuses, mental defenses to keep me from admitting that I was not, in fact, doing well.

And I think I haven’t been doing well, for at least a few weeks now. I’ve just been covering it up. Hiding it.

I hope that wherever you are, mentally and physically, that you’re able to be honest with yourself. That you’ve got someone who will keep you honest. And that if you’re feeling down, that you let yourself feel it, and don’t try to fight it off or deny it, which just makes it worse.

This time will pass, as all things do. But while it’s here, let’s not pretend. Sometimes, we’re just not okay. And that’s all right.

41

Weird to have a birthday during a pandemic. To have a day when I’m supposed to gather my friends together and celebrate. Now there can be no gathering, and any celebration feels macabre.

People have been asking me, what are you doing for your birthday? And the honest answer is the worst one:

  • First thing in the morning, I’m going to check the LA Times page for updates on the spread of Covid-19 in California, paying particular attention to the shape of the curve for San Diego. Today: it’s bending down, and has moved to doubling only every 3 days (last week it was doubling every two).
  • Next I’m going to check the latest news from The Economist and The Atlantic. The Economist because they’re going to put things in a global perspective. The Atlantic because they employ Ed Yong.
  • After dumping all that in my brain, I’m going to try to write. I may fail.
  • Later I’ll go to work, where everything is normal since we were all working remotely before the virus. Except we all know it isn’t, and it can’t be.
  • At some point I will probably take thirty minutes — alone, in my office, where no one, including my wife, can see — and just grieve. For what’s been lost, and how much more we will probably lose before this is over.

None of which is really something you can confess to someone who just casually asks that question.

So instead I try to smile, and just say “We’ll think of something.”

And who knows? Maybe we will.