Shared experiences

In the 13 years that I have been following cricket, I have experienced four World Cup finals. Two of those — 2007 and 2019 — I watched in a bar with other cricket fans. But two of them I watched alone, in my old house, on my laptop, in the middle of the night.

Of course, I wasn’t alone. I had Twitter. I was watching the matches by myself, but I was also chatting about the games with people all over the world, sharing moments together with the millions of other people watching on every corner of the globe. When you think about it, that’s really remarkable. And that is the time we live in now, the time of the shared experience. When we can be completely alone, but still connected, still a part of the moment.

*
I grew up in an analog era. We didn’t have cable television or the internet or a home computer. I didn’t experience computers at school until I was 13 or 14. I didn’t have an email address until I went to college, and didn’t use the internet until I was in my early 20s. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 25. I didn’t get a smart phone until I was in my mid-30s. My life, now, of course, is a digital one, in almost every way. But I grew up in a house with a record player — not because it was trendy, but because that was how you listened to music. I grew up on terrestrial radio and terrestrial TV, when you had four channels and that was that. In college, for more than two years, I lived alone without a computer or a television. And there was a time when I didn’t even have a landline telephone. I was cut off from the entire world for large swaths of time. And I was not unique. This was just how people lived, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

Now, we are connected. All of us. For good or for bad, that’s our reality. These connections, this shrinking of the planet, has allowed for a period of self isolation that still contains interaction with the external world. People still gather together to share experiences, they just do it alone, in their homes, with only their closest loved ones. I can’t imagine what it would hav been like to have been quarantined in the time before these digital connections, in the time when I lived alone, without a lifeline or a landline. If we have to live through this surreal and scary time, at least we are doing it more or less together, even if that togetherness means Zoom calls and remote film watching parties.

**

Monday is an anniversary of sorts in my life. I am not sure how best to describe, but basically May 4, 2018 was the last time I felt okay. I went to Moscow on the Hill, a Russian bar in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, and sat on the patio and drank beers after work. Then I biked home by Lake Como and up to my old house in Roseville. I think about that happy hour a lot, and that bike ride too, and I try to put myself in my own shoes, and I am unable to do so. I don’t remember what is like to not feel sad, to not feel wretched and awful. All I remember is the last time I didn’t feel that way.

The weather was just like it has been all weekend here in St. Paul. Sun, warm, blue skies. Spring in the north. There are few things better on earth. But now all it does is remind of the before times, back when I was okay. Spring used to be a time of rebirth, of coming back. Not any more. Maybe not ever again.

Right now, though, we are all struggling. All of us. The whole world. All at the same time. We are all anxious, and worried, and facing an uncertain and difficult future. Things feel really dark. Even if we come out of this okay, healthy, the world will be forever changed, and that can be so sad to think about — all that is lost, all that will never come back. Already our favorite bars and restaurants and closing forever. Muddy Waters in Minneapolis just announced that they were closing for good last night. I used to go there back when it was just a coffeeshop on 24th and Lyndale. I would drink a mug of milky coffee and smoke American Spirits. And now it’s gone. Another victim of this awful virus that’s infecting all of us, everything, no matter if we get sick or not.

Everyone is sad, everyone is depressed, everyone is feeling wretched and tired and terrible. Everyone just wants to turn off the world, and their brains, and stay in bed. And we are doing it all together. It is the greatest shared experience of all time.

But I feel like I am outside it. Like this sharing of troubles has taken away the one thing I could call my own, my depression. There’s no other way to really say it, everyone is struggling, but I feel like I can’t talk about how hard a time I am having, because everyone is having a hard time. All the virus does is take, and it has stripped me of the last crutch I had. Now I am not alone, and all I want to be is alone. Welcome to the interior monologue of the depressed soul, where logic takes a back seat, and emotion is driving, and they never trade off.

There’s a Mount Eerie song where he sings about being in the hospital waiting room as his wife lay dying down the hall. The room is full of people experiencing the exact same thing, but he is alone, they can’t understand his grief. No one can. He is alone in how terrible he feels, only he can feel as terrible as he does.

I wrote about this before. A long time ago. In the before times. How when my father died I felt so terrible that I knew no one else could feel what I was feeling, how the world would be a dark, desolate place, if even one other person felt as wretched as I did in that moment. I thought this, I believed this, even though I was in a room full of people grieving the loss of the same person I was.

In my mind, as I am sitting at the kitchen table on random afternoons, I feel myself start to spiral down to the hard places. There is a comfort there, in those places, they are places I have built for myself, that I know well, even if they are unpleasant, they are familiar. But then I catch myself, and remember the whole world is struggling, and cannot help but grieve the loss of the loneliness I would feel in those dark moments. My days used to be sad and occasionally unbearable, but at least they were mine. Now even that is gone, and I feel as though I am just drifting in space. I want to feel bad, but I can’t, because everyone is feeling bad, and so I feel worse.

Jonathon Trott went public with his depression and anxiety in a time before I felt the way I feel now. At the time, I considered it brave, I considered it courageous. He wasn’t just helping himself, he was helping others who also were suffering alone, reminding them that everything could be okay again, if they just asked for help. I still think he is incredibly brave, but I also see a selfish side now. This is unfair but, again, I am not thinking logically. Selfish because he wanted the world to know how hard a time he was having, because they didn’t know before, probably never even guessed at it, but he was struggling, and they needed to know. The whole world needed to know, not because it made him feel better, but because it made him feel worse, it carved out a deep, dark place that he could call his own, and everyone could feel terribly about how terribly he was feeling.

That is unfair. And I am putting my thought processes on to a person who doesn’t deserve it. He is brave, he is a hero. But the mind works as the mind works. And I can’t help but hate him a little, for taking away something that was mine, and making it a less mine.

And now the whole world has done the same thing. My depression was my depression, my cross, my sadness. And now it’s everyone’s, and not mine at all. Shared experiences are supposed to bring comfort, and now they are taking it away.

##

I will get better though. I know that now. I didn’t know it before, but I know it now. And the world will get better, and we will get to go outside again. And we will share moments with our fellow humans outside of our computers and smart phones, and the moments we do share digitally will be moments that have nothing to do with pandemics, or lock downs, or shut downs, or quarantines. And one day I will be part of that world again, part of any world. I have felt outside of life for so long, and now I am drifting back toward it. This pandemic has taught me that I am not alone. And right now that only serves to make me feel cheated of the one thing I had: my loneliness. But there will come a time when I will take comfort in that notion instead, when I remember that there was a time when the whole world felt sad, and that time, like all things, passed.

We will be okay again. I will be okay again. We will get there together. Whether I like it or not. Right now I don’t want to get better, because my depression feels like all that I have to hang onto, the only thing that defines me as a human. Someday I will feel better though, and I will look out a the world, at all of those people who felt the same way, and look at them now, stars on fire with the joy of the world.

 

 

 

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