This lyric has flitted around in the back of my head, haunting me since the first time I heard it 20 years ago.
It’s from “Radio Cure,” a Wilco song off their tectonic, melancholic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. When I first heard Jeff Tweedy sing the line, I was mesmerized by its ominous declaration. But at that point, I couldn’t yet relate to the messy guts of its darkness.
Now I think I get it. I understand why a person would be convinced there is something wrong with him.
A caveat first, though: I don’t feel this way right now. Not today, not last week, not for the past 2 months. Not even a tiny bit. I feel as put-together as I have felt for a long while. I feel energetic, lucid, confident, and I am enjoying every facet of my life, even the mundane parts.
But that’s just the thing. That clear feeling is exactly why I’m mystified.
Because this crystal-clear, sunshine-infused version of me is only accessible to me for half of each year. Usually in the fall (it started in early October this year). And usually in the spring and early summer. The rest of the year, I struggle and I fade and I start to go dark — especially when the world itself goes dark in mid-December and January. Which always makes me think to myself, just as Jeff Tweedy achingly crooned:
wrong with me.
I don’t know what this ebb and flow is. I’m not a licensed therapist, and I don’t really have the money to pay one to try and find out. I didn’t fully experience the wild swings, or at least put any words to it, until 3 or 4 years ago. I remember some downer periods during my road-tripping 20s and my settling-down early 30s, but I always assumed they were experientially derived — like when I endured romantic setbacks or felt lonely out on the open road. I knew there were some depressive genes in my family, but I adamantly insisted (and hoped against hope) that they would never touch me.
Then the swings became more pronounced. The funked-up periods started lasting for a month or 2 (or 3) at a time.
And then I hit rock bottom in April 2021. A potent cocktail of mind-throttling anxiety and heart-flattening depression laid waste to my best laid plans and my buoyant personality. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat much. My body started to collapse in on itself. Work felt overwhelming, even as I desperately needed the distraction it provided from my slow-motion mental breakdown. I even had a hard time connecting with my kids, despite that being my single greatest joy in life.
I later used this blog to document that saga, in which I struggled mightily before finding profound relief with an SSRI prescription that gave me the serotonin my body so desperately lacked. That added serotonin has made everything better. In fact, for a while I thought it was my perfect silver bullet.
But it has not negated all the ups and downs. What it did quite effectively was raise my baseline so that I’m functional, and not quite flattened, even during my low points.
And that’s not nothing. But it’s not everything either.
So here I am on the cusp of the holiday season, and I know where my mind usually drifts in these darker December days.
This is the time of year when sickly-sweet, happiness-insistent holiday songs pummel us from every radio station and retail-store speaker. When the sun sets at an insultingly early time, making post-work nature recharging an impossibility. When the cold starts to creep into my bones (even though I know, deep down, that I prefer wide-awake-hyper-alert-cold to the wipe-me-out-wear-me-down-hot of summer).
I still feel wonderful right now, but I also feel wary of what’s ahead. And I will do anything in my mental, physical, and spiritual power to keep myself on the up and up. Rather than being down… or even down and out.
But if I’m honest, I have to admit that there is a strong likelihood that at some point later in December or in January I will find myself mumbling that Wilco line to myself once again.
I desperately want to be wrong about this prediction. I badly want to stave off the ruthless predations of melancholy when it hunts me down again. I want this winter to be different. I need it to be different.
I intend to take good care of myself. I am willing to increase my (currently quite minimal) SSRI dosage to give me a boost when needed. My wife just bought me a light therapy lamp that I plan to use as soon as the light in my soul starts to dim. And I will spend as much time outside as possible, as usual, to keep my mind afloat.
But only time will tell. Mental health is a bruising gauntlet. It’s a battle you fight with your primary sword hand tied behind your back. Depressiveness and seasonal affectiveness are real, and they’re real frustrating to experience year after year.
There is something wrong with me. I don’t quite know what it is, or how it first got its barbed meathooks in me.
So I will dig and I will scrape and I will claw to exhume what is right with me. And what is right in the world.
Because even though it doesn’t always seem like it, the world is enough.
And so am I.