January 1, 2020:

Over the nearly three decades after my breakdown I developed, by trial and error, a library of practices which kept my depression manageable.

Sunlight, exercise, nutrition, bright colors, cheerful music, sociability. The depression was always there, but if I could combine these all together it was frequently low-grade. I compared it to the residual background radiation of the Big Bang: the fact that it's there is proof of something enormous, but now distant. I became what some people call "high functioning". I was able to build a career. But being honest, I didn't care about that career, although, at any one time that was the only thing I was mentally able to accomplish. I could not for example work my professional gig and write. Or work and play music. Or work and travel or do photography. Or work and have a relationship. I had the emotional wherewithal for one focus at a time. Which meant in practice, because I had to work, that I was alive with no life.

These techniques were healthy, but there was another which contributed greatly to my stagnation. I deliberately practiced a sort of low-grade dissociation, where I told myself, sometimes continually, "This is not my life. This is not my life. This is not my life." It was a way of establishing emotional distance between pain and hope: it kept the pain at arm's length, so that I experienced it as if at slight remove, while it also kept me focused on a future I could imagine but not experience. In a very real sense my entire mental and emotional energy was directed simultaneously backward to the pre-breakdown past I longed to rejoin and to an imagined future I longed to achieve. Leaving none for the present.

So that my eventual crisis, when the second major wave of congenial depression arrived around age 55 and utterly vitiated these poor sad techniques of mine, resulted post-treatment in a very unhappy awakening. Where I realized after regaining consciousness that I'd been asleep for thirty years, like Rip Van Winkle and a Half, a very long and very empty time when I was not myself and during which I accomplished not one thing that mattered to me.