Press The Right Buttons


As a man
I’m a little behind
the times.

All thumbs
figuring her click

If I shuffle right
will she sing
on the spot?

The box came
with few

c b snoad


The Other Me

I’ve enjoyed the new series The Affair on Showtime the last few weeks. A married man named Noah meets a married woman named Alison, they fall for each other, someone connected to them dies (is murdered?) and they’re each being questioned by police at some point (years?) after the summer they met.

In episode 2 Noah introduces an intriguing concept. He’s speaking to Alison about his favorite physics theory from college. If you could go back to one point in your life and make a different choice, and you did, how might this alter the life you currently lead?

We’ve encountered such thoughts on this blog before. But Noah adds a twist: What if there’s a parallel world in which another version of you exists, the one who made a different choice at a crucial moment? What if there’s an Other Me on another Earth living his life (mine?) in a different way?

Of course Noah says this in the context of his budding relationship with Alison. He’s trying to picture one world in which he meets his wife in college, marries her right after graduation, and they build a life with their four kids (his “actual” life right now). But he’s tempted by the thought of leaving all that behind for Alison. Can both desires—one for family, the other for a fling—exist simultaneously?

I’m fascinated with the intricacies of choice-making. Our freedom to choose—whether it be from what to eat for lunch or what profession to pursue—is empowering, but it also exposes our vulnerabilities. On the edge of a cliff, one false step means disaster, one right move and you’re still on your feet.

As always, I’m left with a series of questions. What choices would I change if I could? Shouldn’t I simply accept every choice I’ve made? I’m always hearing how I have only this life and nothing more, and yet I find myself choosing to write about parallel worlds and other lives I might have led.

Wherever I end up, there will be moments of suffering and moments of joy. If he’s out there, does the Other Me think the same way? Does he wonder how my life is going?

Presenting Symptoms

In a few weeks I’ll start seeing a new psychiatrist. My old doctor just wasn’t cutting it. On top of this, my therapist of the last thirteen years is retiring in December. Talk about a transitional phase.

And so I simultaneously begin anew and continue where I left off. There’ll be introductions and medical histories. How do you summarize the last twenty years of your life in thirty minutes?

I have maintained a narrative of my life, as we all do. It’s undergone many revisions. Some details seem more important now, some thoughts I’ve conditioned myself to forget. But my illness from the beginning has colored my perspective. It makes me a trickster, a manipulator, my own unreliable narrator.

But I also understand a great deal about my condition. I like psychology and have learned some of the lingo. Doctors and therapists might appreciate my insight.

Lately I’ve been reading The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic by Jonathan Rottenberg. In chapter five Rottenberg discusses three factors that contribute to low mood, which can turn into a full-fledged depression: events, temperament, and routines.

People who experience traumatic events are prone to low mood. I’ll share with my new doctor the circumstances surrounding my past traumas. Temperament is crucial in the development of low mood. I was born with an “anxious gene”; remove my most troubling experiences and I’d still be depressed. Of course, how I live day-to-day also plays an important role. If I’m slow to get going in the morning and don’t take care of myself, I’ve laid the groundwork for a difficult day.

I relate all of this because these factors shape the stories I express in therapy. How did significant life events forever change me? What in my genetic makeup leaves me vulnerable to distress? How might an unhealthy lifestyle worsen my symptoms?

It’s up to my new caregivers to paint their own picture of me. But I provide the backdrop, I set the scene. How I present my story matters as much as my willingness to share it.

To Live With My Ailments

“Since when did self-awareness lead to a change in behavior?” So said a character recently on one of my favorite shows.

She has a point. Enlightened souls have blind spots. Smart people do stupid things.

Of course, realizing this is an act of self-awareness. It hits close to home, considering the number of years I’ve spent in therapy. If the “talking cure” doesn’t cure, what’s it good for?

But the human mind is far from simple. When I have a sore throat, runny nose and ear pain, my doctor diagnoses me with an infection and prescribes Amoxicillin. Within a week all is well. The same can’t be said for a mood disorder.

This doesn’t mean that therapy has no value. The absence of “ah ha!” moments or earth-shattering insights during a session isn’t a sign of failure. Sometimes just being there talking and reflecting helps.

Parts of me resist logic. I appreciate my elusiveness, take pride in the chase. But I’m always a little behind. I’m reminded of Camus’ thought in The Myth of Sisyphus: “The important thing is not to be cured, but to live with one’s ailments.”

Sounds like something he learned in therapy.