J didn’t go to work today. She woke up early, 6AM, showered, and went to the doctor to get bloodwork done. She’s pregnant but a certain hormone level is lower than it should be and the clinic is running a test to see if it’s coming up. She got home at 8, said she’s exhausted and announced she’s not going to work and then pretended like I’ve been sleeping all morning and I’m lazy.
I have not been sleeping. I woke up when she woke up but stayed quiet, hoping I would be able to fall back into unconsciousness, failing. I listened to the water running through pipes, footfalls on floor, vanity doors opening and closing, a plastic container hitting the tile floor, taps turned on and off and on and off again, a blowdryer, closet doors opening, rustling of clothing, low exclamations here and there, sighs and huffs, then sounds from the kitchen, a microwave’s beep cutting through everything, some mug-clattering, and finally, mercifully, an automobile engine starting, the door slammed shut, tires-on-asphalt driving away.
Even when the noises stopped I couldn’t sleep. I could feel her stress across time and space.
J has imagined a future where we have a baby together and any other future will not be acceptable, I decided. If this doesn’t work, she will demand another access road to this future. This thought did not calm me down.
I catch myself worrying too much about J’s own headspace. This is something I do sometimes. I try instead to think about things that will calm me down. My current go-to fantasy I use to trigger sleep is stupid and juvenile and yet surprisingly effective. I am in a cage with Mark Zuckerberg and we have to fight one another. I imagine his traits like he is a character in a role playing game. Strength: 13. Dexterity: 15. Charisma: 3. He is faster than me because he’s hopped on nootropic drugs but I am stronger. If I can take some of his punches, close the gap, wrap him up, it’ll be over. I focus on details: His helmet hair, milky, soulless eyes, pasty skin. I make up stories about how this cage match came to be. He was originally going to fight Musk, but Musk is in the hospital, and the match is being aired and contractually a suitable replacement opponent needed to be found. Maybe there was a lottery and I won it. Maybe a friend put my name into the lottery as a joke. And here we are. I am taking punches and then pummeling him and asking him why he allows fake news on his stupid fucking platform and allows elections to be undermined. Did you have something against Hillary or something fuckhead? Punch, punch. I vary the details and the story when I am working on falling asleep and something about imagining new details makes me exhausted and I will drift off.
It didn’t work this morning — my brain kept returning to J and the pregancy and my sick mother and my brother and how I didn’t do enough for work yesterday and how I would like to just spend all day in the basement working on it or even better I would like to have about a month off of work so I could explore the world again like you see people doing on facebook. My friend R is in Europe right now posting pictures of London, of Ireland, pictures of him and his wife eating, pictures of Big Ben and the Cliffs of Dover and I’m sure I’ll see a blarney stone any day now. I would like to write stories about something — anything — or practice guitar or drive to Newport and go out to eat or fucking anything other than being in the pressure cooker that I’m in right now.
I make J breakfast and do teletherapy. My therapist B is a few years younger than me at 42 — I’m 46 — and I wonder sometimes if he’s helping me at all. I wonder if I need to see someone older, someone who has lived a little more than me.
It’s unremarkable. We talk about my mother and her struggles with anxiety and depression and sleep and mobility. We talk about my jobless brother who is doing some amount of caretaking for her. We talk about work and how it’s been slower this week and yet I feel pressure to perform and produce work people care about but at the same time I want to get away from it, quit my job, flip the tables, do something entirely different. Twenty four years in the same field can be breathtakingly stultifying. Most of what I do bores me. Most of my life is navigating the terrain from one distasteful thing to the next, from awaiting hormone level results to taking the garbage out to cleaning up after dinner to joining a therapy session that I don’t really want to do. The last comment makes him laugh.
He asks what I am doing for fun and I tell him I am not doing anything for fun really. I tell him about the basement project I’m working on and ask if that qualifies. In his opinion yes sort of because it takes my mind off of the grind of work-family-chores/life-maintenance. He asks what else am I doing for pleasure. For me.
Nothing. Monitoring the well being of my wife, my mother, my brother — making sure I’m meeting expectations at work — it seems to take everything. I don’t seek pleasure so much as a temporary reprieve from the demands of other people. I want the weight of it all to be removed.
He says I’m exhibiting signs of anhedonia and I say tell me something I don’t know and I ask him how I can seek pleasure given the circumstances and he says well most people manage to and I asked how and he said with effort. You have to force yourself to seek things. It takes effort, you have to change some of the ways you think. You have to catch yourself thinking about the things that you can’t do anything about – acknowledge the thought — then forcibly move on to something else.
I realize this isn’t that different than me forcing myself to think about fighting Mark Zuckerburg in the world’s dumbest cage match when I catch myself ruminating about J or my mom instead of going to sleep.
In an ideal world, we can choose what we think about. I can think about developing a character for a novel or learn how to sew or immerse myself in a movie. In reality, though, we have fallback thoughts — worries about people close to us, worries about our jobs, concerns about how to pay for things, irritations with the behaviors of friends and family, feeling like we need to catch up on X Y Z around the house — laundry or dishes or vacuuming or the persistent soap scum around the sides of the tub.
I have never once felt that we are in reality as free to choose what we think about as it seems we ought to be.