August 12, 2019:
My psychiatrist tells me that congenital depression usually arrives in two great waves, one at around age twenty, another at age sixty. In this one aspect of my life I was an early achiever, in both cases by around half a decade. I hadn't yet got the memo. And I always did march to the tempo of my own personal drummer.
Around puberty, ish, I found myself having difficulty concentrating. I became disinterested — obviously disinterested in school, that goes without saying — now also disinterested in friendships, sports, dating, reading. I became extremely agitated. I'm surprised they didn't put me on ritalin — today they'd have me on Adderall in half a heartbeat. I shook and bounced and spun, rocked on my heels, chattered continually, all the while feeling more and more that I was somehow sinking into the ground while shooting up about six inches a year, so that my bones ached and my muscles felt like they were burning from the inside out.
Reading was difficult. As a child I'd loved reading but with depression in adolescence it was necessary to concentrate in order to concentrate. I'd have to double-back to re-read whole chapters 'cos I'd lost the thread somewhere. I'd have twenty books open, each of which I'd partly absorbed and partly forgotten. Studying required re-reading many many times.
Circadian rhythm was fully whack. My pattern for about ten years was to stay up all night in intense anxiety which drained away only at dawn. It was an extreme hypervigilance, where rustling leaves outside would leave me bolt upright in bed, listening with all my might. Much of my truancy was driven by insomnia. Even on days when I did turn up I was frequently a couple of hours late.
Little by little I slipped into drug abuse. If this was an attempt at self-medication, I picked the wrong medicines. My favorites were acid or alcohol-plus-speed, the best bang-for-the-buck highs, dramatically exacerbating my already manic hyperactivity. If I couldn't get those I'd do weed or reds, at that time the primary teenage drugs of abuse. There was very little money, so getting high required mad skill at social engineering. But I had a lot of practice assuming false personae.
The masks I wore became more and more extreme. I lived parallel lives. The nerdy wargame boys, the older stoners, my neighborhood kids, girls on the beach. These were separate universes I moved between, a Postmodernist collision of disparate worlds with me as the gateway.
Always, wherever I was was the wrong place to be. I felt close to no-one, confided in no-one, hid my disparate realities each from the others. Didn't care, wasn't interested. Couldn't see the point. Frequently had trouble processing what people said to me. Didn't see how it applied to me. Couldn't tell what they wanted from me, or why I should give a fuck.
In hindsight, depression is so painfully clear in the limited number of school pics I failed to prevent. Hair long enough to hide behind, body language stooped, eyes masked by dirty wireframe specs. Poster boy for teenage onset congenital yeeps. Thanks gene pool! Your boy is fucked.
There was — of course — no diagnosis. This was fifteen years before Prozac, when the culture had no realistic concept of "mood disorder", and "mental illness" was synonymous with "Loony Bin". In adults, symptoms of depression were commonly viewed as laziness or self-pity, while the same symptoms in teenagers were seen as perfectly ordinary acting-out. My family's hillbilly outlook was that the emotions of children are unreal: that children have no lasting or deep feelings, and that whatever complaints they may express are hollow holdovers from infancy, crying at every little thing. My mother was distant, inward, wrapped-up in her own multiple legacies of childhood abuse. School authorities showed no interest at all.
Most importantly, nobody knew. I was extremely skilled at dissembling, and I was not about to share the real events of my life, the important events. Adults could not be trusted. They were incompetent, and they were disinterested. I wore my masks. I kept adults and schoolkids alike at far more than arm's length. It's not really anyone's fault that nobody understood.
I had a girlfriend for a year I was not close with. Another for another year I was equally not close with. There were school kids who imagined we were friends, who I gave not a second thought to after graduation until they looked me up on Facebook decades later to tell me they missed me. I had no idea who they were.
From middle school through high school I have very few memories. The ones I'm able to bring into focus feel like someone else's home movies. Yah I was there, but it has nothing to do with me. Just passing through. In many of them I'm at the beach when I should be in school, getting high with older girls I'm not yet having sex with. In others I'm drinking rum on the bleachers, or spending the schoolday holding hands with my neighborhood gf at her mother's apartment. Over time I'm increasingly at the university, UC San Diego, when I should be in high school. I'm volunteering at the Che Cafe or at Groundwork Books, I'm learning about Anarchism from the milieu and about Frankfort School Marxism from Marcuse's grad students.
I used the word "graduation" back there but it was others who graduated, not me. The Adult Powers took notice of me long enough to inform me, about three weeks before the end of my senior year, that my services were no longer required. Motherfuckers! To have waited that long. I assume it was their little bureaucratic way of saying "Fuck you too, kid." If they'd been even remotely polite they'd have done it years before.
The worst, where I had the full panoply of classic symptoms — lethargy, sleep disruption, weight loss, social isolation, melancholy, suicidality — happened the first year after high school. I took a gap year, to read the literature and the mythology I'd become fascinated by. I withdrew into my room, seeing no-one, living on comfort food: chips, cake, sodas, cookies. I was not exercising, or getting sunlight, or having sex, or talking on the phone. Over that year I sank into profound despondency, with frequently suicidal ideation. Where loneliness, decades later identified as my major trigger, multiplied and amplified that despair.