I understand now, more than ever, why David Foster Wallace spent most of his last weeks eating his mother’s casseroles and watching television. I understand now, more than ever, why severely depressed people find themselves avidly seeking the entertainments of their youth.
Specifically, I find myself in search of the intensely but unclearly remembered. The things I have yet to revisit. Not the old favorites I’ve returned to again and again, the movies who dialogue I mouth as I watch and the books whose best lines I drop into my conversation and letters.
When I’m merely sad or in the midst of “routine” depression, I look to old favorites from my youth at various ages, Cummings and Keats, classic sci-fi, British mysteries, The Lord of the Rings in book and movie form. The comfort is in the consistent rewards each of these give in their own way, sometimes in the story, sometimes specific words or lines.
But when things get bad, when I’m somehow simultaneously empty and filled with darkness, I look for familiar strangers. I crave, suddenly, episodes of Magnum P.I. and that thriller novel where the protagonist suffers from an irregular heartbeat and is always waiting for the unending gap between one clench of his heartfist and the next.
I want these not for anything anyone else will find in their pages and scenes—it seems unlikely anyone else could benefit from watching Murder She Wrote or thumbing the pages of the thick 1977 paperback edition of the Guinness Book of World Records—but for myself. Literally. I’m trying to find the person I was then, untainted by the intervening years. And if I can’t find him, perhaps I can—for a few merciful minutes—experience something the same way. Or even just remember, at a remove, how I felt things then before I was filled with anhedonic shadows.
But it becomes harder and harder to find these entertainments. Harder to remember them. Harder to find a way into them. And what happens when I run out of them? What happens when I run out? What happens when there’s nothing left?