Depression: Neither The End Nor An Easy Beginning

Driftwood, Vancouver Island, 1994

Driftwood, Vancouver Island, 1994

Silver Moccasin Run.

For about 3 years I have been planning to do a run along the length of the Silver Moccasin Trail.

This morning we got up at 3am and headed out to Vincent Gap. Andrea would drop me off, and meet me along the way as I ran along this trail for 50+ miles to Chantry.

I had been worried about this run. Just a year ago, 50 miles on foot was not a big deal. Now it is almost impossible to imagine.

I’d plotted the times. I did this in part by looking at my splits from AC100 in 2012, 2013, 2014. They were incredibly consistent. They were also really quite slow. If I held that pace throughout this 50 mile run, it would take me nearly 16 hours. The number seemed unfathomably high, and there was nothing about that that appealed to me.

It was cool and breezy at Vincent Gap. I started putting on my hydration pack, and then took it back off. We sat in the parking lot and watched the sun rise while I thought about all of this. It was a really beautiful morning. I could not get out of the car. I pulled the plug on the run.

I spent the rest of the day in bed. It seemed like I had pulled the plug on running altogether. It seemed like everything was coming to an end, and while many of these endings were long overdue (work), it just seemed like everything was over.

I realized this was a lot more than me just having a bad day. This was complete despondence.

September 1994.

I had just returned to the United States two months earlier, abandoning an apartment I shared in Barcelona with my wife, a fashion model who had called me from Milan one Sunday afternoon in June to tell me she wasn’t coming back, a phone call I received fifteen minutes after a call from my mother, who said she had cancer.

Two months later my mother died in an experimental cancer clinic in Tijuana. I’d rented a little studio apartment on Gardner Street just below Sunset Blvd. All I had from my previous life is what fit in a duffle bag hurriedly packed in Barcelona. I hadn’t acquired much since then. My bed was a mattress I found leaning against the dumpster outside of a thrift store that used to be good, in Glendale, near where I’d lived briefly eight years before. Turns out you can’t sell used mattresses, so it was up for grabs. I figured it couldn’t be worse than any cheap hotel mattress I’d slept on, sweated on, fucked on, in so many pensiones in Europe over the last eight years.

I had a TV I’d gotten from North Hollywood Doug, in exchange for headshots. North Hollywood Doug was a struggling actor who mostly worked as an extra for $50 a day. Somehow he had amassed a collection of TVs. He drank too much. In his past life, he’d been a Mercedes salesman in Beverly Hills. At some point, he’d been kidnapped in a car heist, and he hadn’t really recovered from the terror of almost losing his life locked in the trunk of a stolen Mercedes. He was channeling all his anxiety and rage into acting.

I also had a chair I bought at Out-of-the-Closet thrift shop on Fairfax. My purchase helped fund the fight against AIDs. The sales clerk was a queen with a thick Russian accent who kept exclaiming something about Sophia Loren.


Lisa – I think that was her name. She was a fashion model. I forget which agency. We met for photos, and somehow we ended up sleeping together.

She seemed so all American – blonde, blue-eyed, like a slightly sturdier version of a Ralph Lauren model. She was from Portland. She seemed so perfectly normal, at least, she looked so perfectly normal, in a perfect, much-better-than-normal way, and looks are what it’s all about right?

I on the other hand, was desperate. There’s something a little sexy about the right kind of desperation, the kind that says Desperado and not the kind that says “loan me money”. I guess Lisa thought I had the Desperado thing going on. Plus, girls can be suckers for the thousand yard stare – that unfocused look of detachment that almost always comes from despondence – which I had, and had had for some time.

It’s difficult to realize that despondence is more or less the steady hum underneath my entire life, like an existential tinittus. It’s just always there, underneath everything, but sometimes shit gets bad and it rises to the surface, slowly pushing every other thought and feeling out of its way, until despondence is all that’s left.

That was what was happening to me in September of 1994.

At first, my relationship with Lisa was very simple. She would come over. We would walk to the liquor store on Sunset and pick up a six-pack or two of Miller Ice, and then go back to my place, pop open a couple of beers, and fuck. After an hour of two of drinking and fucking, we would order Thai Food from Pink Pepper. After dinner, she’d head home. We’d do this three or four nights a week.

In some ways, I can see what was in it for Lisa. Without the use of glory-holes, you could hardly contrive of a relationship with fewer strings. I was a good looking guy living in a one room apartment with a mattress on the floor, a TV, and nothing else. If you wanted something fun, simple, unemotional, involving no planning, and having no future, this was ideal.

Unfortunately, I was not quite that simple, and my despondence was breaking out from its basement. It hadn’t been a month since we’d scattered my mothers ashes in the ocean across the street from their house on Vancouver Island. The only person I knew to reach out to was my sister, who lived in LA, but she was processing her own grief with a rapidly worsening crack addiction. She’d be homeless within a year. So I turned to the only other person I knew: Lisa. I guess she could hear it in my voice on her answering machine. She didn’t return any of my calls.

“Dude,” her brother said on the phone,”It should be clear she doesn’t want to talk to you.”

A few weeks later I was curled up in the fetal position on the floor, unable to get up, and getting weaker by the day because I hadn’t had any food in days.

Barcelona 1992

Barcelona 1992

23 Years Later.

Twenty-three years later running slowly through Debs Park, after a particularly difficult week, I said to my girlfriend, “You know, I think about suicide pretty much every day.”

I said this because it was true, and in the interest of honesty and self disclosure I thought she should know just how bad the present situation with work, Los Angeles, and everything else, mostly me, had become.

She did not take it well. Her reaction, as best I could tell, stripped of the polite Midwestern gentleness of her delivery, was “Jesus Christ, what the fuck am I supposed to do with that?! I’ve got enough fucking problems of my own without being burdened by that!”

And there’s the problem: by the time depression is bad enough that you need to reach out for help, it’s pretty far beyond what almost anyone can do unless they are in a position to prescribe medication. It is a fucking burden. And now, having voiced how desperately alone you feel, you discover that it might not just be a feeling. You might really be that alone. Your depression is pushing them away.

That’s a fucked place to be.

Stay Gifted, Bro - Arroyo Seco

Stay Gifted, Bro – Arroyo Seco

The Ultimate DNF.

There is a certain comfort in knowing that if things really get bad, if stuff becomes completely untenable, you can pull the plug on it all.

I think about this a lot. For example, I don’t have much money in savings. I’m better off than a lot of Americans, which is not so comforting when you think it about logically – it just means I’m a little less fucked – but there’s no retirement on the horizon. Nor do I have any kids that I can lean on. My sisters are both younger, but neither of them are particularly healthy. The odds are I will outlast them. So what happens when I’m all alone, no longer able to work, and the money runs out? Killing myself becomes the ultimate retirement plan.

It’s comforting because there’s no unknown here. I have seen dead people before. You can sense that they are not just sleeping. Whatever the soul is, that mysterious life-force that science hasn’t pinned down – it’s gone. I’m not sure where it goes, but it’s gone. I’m not a religious guy. I don’t believe in an afterlife. If no-one shows up for the memorial, how big of a bummer would that really be? I won’t be around to notice.

There is a downside: It’s irreversible. You can’t walk it back. In ultrarunning terms, it is the ultimate DNF (or Did Not Finish), and I’ve gotta say that I regret all of my DNFs, even those that happened because of injury, (I second guess them all), and the ones that happened because of a mental failing? Well, if anything those fuel a slowly growing sense of general all-encompassing inadequacy. You can’t have second thoughts after blowing your brains out, unless, of course, you fucked up, in which case you are probably suffering pretty severe brain damage and those second thoughts aren’t likely to make much sense.

There is a lot of regret, too, that I’ve put myself in a situation in which this really is pretty much the only viable option. I was not someone short on potential, so it kind of sucks that I pretty much squandered it all. I find myself ruminating on that just a little too much. I didn’t really even have a legit job until I was in my mid forties. Before that I was just a vagabond artist.

This is not meant to elicit sympathy, or worry. It’s just a matter-of-fact expression of the sort of thoughts I’ve had on a nearly daily basis pretty much my entire adult life. When I first started really noticing them, in my late teens, these thoughts used to terrify me. Thirty plus years later they are just a part of my day. Sometimes, they hit with a sense of urgency. That’s when I know things are getting a little dark.

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