Bipolar: My Cynicism About My Cynicism
Right now, I’m somewhat depressed.
It’s the kind of depression that doesn’t readily identify itself: listlessness, restlessness, an inability to focus, a rampant cynicism that has to be at least as irritating to the rest of the world as it is to me, or would be if my cynicism about my cynicism didn’t mostly prevent me from sharing it.
I don’t feel particularly hopeless about the future. I couldn’t really say if I’m experiencing emotional pain — in short, I’m experiencing a sort of emotional blankness; a sense that most of the range and brilliance of human emotion is right now unavailable to me. It’s like someone has knocked out the antenna of my emotional wi-fi receiver. Emotions are out there; I just can’t find them. I am experiencing the grinding effect of being stuck constantly on scan and finding nothing.
Well, that and cynicism.
Have I mentioned that I generally abhor cynicism?
Cynicism seems like a coward’s response to the challenge of living in a world where bitterness and horror sit cheek-by-jowl with redemption and beauty. It’s “nothing gold can stay” without the reverence for the first green that is gold; it’s skepticism seasoned with a dash of self-serving bitterness.
I’m fine with skepticism by itself; there’s plenty of room in the world for a healthy skeptic — but I feel like I could do without cynicism, especially my own.
In short, I am not normally a cynic. Hell, I’m not even really much of a skeptic, outside of an appropriate dose of scientific empiricism that drives my academic pursuits. There is something in my nature that believes (for lack of a better word, since “belief” implies a conscious process) in the essential goodness of the world and of mankind — an essential goodness that is not tarnished by the fact that lions eat gazelles (which is, to my mind, an amoral reality) or that people sometimes do abominable things.
There is something within me that normally regards even enormous, egregious acts of human cruelty as small and powerless in the face of cumulative, ordinary acts of good (this doesn’t, by the way, mean those egregious acts are insignificant; that’s a philosophical argument for some other time). It might be irrational; it might not (cogent arguments have been made along both sides) — that’s irrelevant. It is what it is.
Right now I am a horrible cynic. I am the worst kind of cynic — not the pithy, engaging cynic whose ability to frame his or her cynicism in the language of dry humor makes for charming repartée, but the grinding kind who harbors an unkind thought about every little thing (though, curiously, not as much about human motivations). Nothing is good enough because nothing is good — and I don’t mean that in an philosophical sense, but in the sense that right now I seem to suffer from the delusion that the world has been shoddily constructed from the elements of decay.
Bike tubes are made from crappy rubber and will fail, and the process of putting the studs on the Karakoram for winter will be insufferably frustrating, so why bother? It should be no surprise if my dinner is less than delectable. My computer is slow because everything in the world is faulty and awful. Characters in the book I was enjoying just fine a week ago seem flat, weary, stale, and unprofitable not because something has miraculously changed the writer’s ability, but because the circuits in my brain that recognize good stuff and enjoy things are down right now. There is no point in going to the effort of making something to eat other than peanut butter and jelly when I am evidently no longer capable of noticing and enjoying flavors. Etc.
We saw Interstellar this weekend. I guess I enjoyed it reasonably well, under the circumstances: I was sometimes able to click into the visual magnificence of the film, and I didn’t automatically hate every single character. Too often, though, I found my will to suspend disbelief flagging. The sense of wonder that normally allows me to make stunning leaps of faith just isn’t here right now. I found myself unable to feel connected to the settings, the characters, or the plot. I realized halfway through that it wasn’t the movie’s fault, transparent though some of its would-be plot twists were. Normally, that doesn’t bother me as long as the rest of the movie is basically coherent (I figured out the secret of The Sixth Sense very early on, but still enjoyed it immensely; most of the time, I can enjoy the same joke over and over again as well).
Right now, there are things that are funny, but the humor seems a million miles away. Everything else seems sort of pointless. I want to work on fiction or on my research, but can’t concentrate. Even though I know I will probably enjoy my math homework once I get around to working on it, the idea of doing so seems insurmountable. Some of these perceptions are cynical; some are just, you know, depressed.
For the first couple of days that I was feeling this way, I found my own cynicism disgusting. Is it progress that I now realize that it’s just an artifact of a moderate depression; one that will wane as the depression wanes? It feels like progress. Every time I feel myself reacting with disgust against my own cynicism, this sort of voice in my head reminds me, “Hey, this is just a symptom. Don’t sweat it. It’s okay.”
I even feel cynical about writing this post, especially since I can’t seem to do anything I actually want to do. Instead, here I am, adding to the sum of the internet’s misery. But there you have it: that is the nature of the beast.
Yes, somewhere within, I am in fact laughing at myself about all this. I wish I could actually feel that laughter.
For what it’s worth, that’s one of the beautiful things about dancing. Ballet class doesn’t give a rat’s asterisk about the relentless and irrational turmoil in my head. It doesn’t ask for my opinions. IT asks that I show up and do my very physical work at the barre; that maybe I interpret the music a little — something which I seem to be able to do because it circumvents my language circuits, which are shoddy at best and just pitiful right now (I realize it might not sound like it, reading this post: what I mean, really, is that the connection between Heart Coprocessor and Language Coprocessor is currently severed; when I attempt to work through the realm of language, I feel nothing but dead air).
There is something eminently healing in being able to feel your feelings; to let them course unbounded by the clumsy efforts of language to contain them. I can do this when I sit down at the piano; I can do this when I dance. I’m sure it’s neuroscience, but who cares? It feels like magic.
So there you go. For reasons, I won’t be able to hit up class this week ’til Saturday. Okay, something in me feels the need to enumerate the reasons: I will spend the rest of this week analyzing data that I must present at a conference on Friday, doing math homework, and preparing for next Monday’s math exam. Once that’s over, we’re done until after Thanksgiving, then we come back for a week of class and one day of finals (well, I only have one day).
The end is in sight, but I’m kind of bonking: so today I’m resting a little before the storm. Later I’ll bang out some homework, and later still, who knows? I don’t think I feel like cooking tonight. Maybe we’ll order in.
So that’s it. A long, rambling, unfocused post about feeling cynical and unfocused. I’m handling it with an epic dose of escapism and “this too shall pass.”
Tomorrow will be better, and the next day after that — or, if they aren’t, eventually a better day will come.