Guilt

Iím depressed. Me and half the country. But I work only 3 days a week and make enough money to enjoy the remaining 4 days of free time. So how can I be depressed? Because, like in that song that was all over the radio a few months ago, ďIím a hazard to myself.Ē I donít know what to do when Iím alone. I think, what do most people do? Shop? Watch TV? Play games? Kill time. Yeah, I kill a lot of time. And pay the price in big-time guilt. Iím loaded with it these days.

So what else do people go? I guess some have pets to take care of. They walk and feed the dog. Clean the cat box. I donít have pets. I canít even keep plants alive. So of course, Iím forgetting the obvious: children. Most people my age spend their ďfreeĒ time raising kids. But for me, kids fall into the same category as pets and plants Ė things that must somehow be kept alive. Living guilt-generators.

So Iím depressed. I had my tubes tied last year to avoid inadvertently producing any new guilt-generators that would add to my already massive share of that particular substance, while sucking up more of the worldís unevenly distributed resources and thereby inducing new guilt for having produced them in the first place.

In modest amounts, guilt can be a useful substance. You can trade it for things youíd ordinarily have to pass up. A slice of chocolate cake, for example, or an hour of watching American Idol on TV. Sleeping late. Playing computer games. These things are generally affordable: I seem to be able to manage the level of guilt they require without overextending myself, going into debt. But children are guilt-guzzlers, worse than the SUVs needed to tote them around. I canít afford them financially, but more important, I canít afford them emotionally.

So then, what do I do with all the time I spend not having children? At the moment itís filled up with Ė you guessed it Ė guilt. Guilt that I havenít found a meaningful alternative to which to devote my considerable free time and modest talents. There are certainly plenty of things that need doing in this world. Problems to solve. Non-guilt-inducing things to create. The more idle time I spend, the faster my guilt balance rises. Youíd think I had enough guilt at this point to afford nearly anything I wanted.

But guilt, like coins, is heavy. You canít swim across a river with thousands of dollars of coins in your pockets. You might have used them to buy a boat, but itís too late if youíre already drowning. Similarly, guilt can build up to levels that are no longer useful. At that point, the pressure from guilt weighing upon guilt begins to convert it into a different substance altogether: depression.

When youíre depressed, you no longer care about the things that earlier might have been worth a little guilt. Food doesnít taste good. Most forms of entertainment arenít fun anymore. And the idea of doing something meaningful is ludicrous because suddenly you realize that NOTHING matters. The world wouldnít change much without you in it. In fact, the earth could be destroyed by an asteroid or (more likely at the moment) an atomic bomb, and the Universe really wouldnít care.

So here I am: guilty and depressed, wanting desperately for something to matter and knowing that ultimately nothing does. What do I do? Kill myself and end this pointless pain right now? I canít. Iím an animal programmed for survival. A human animal Ė the only kind that produces emotional tears. Other species donít weep, and presumably they donít question the point of their own existence. They also donít sculpt, paint, write novels or design airplanes. They donít sit up nights browsing the web for clues to the meaning of life, but if they did, my guess is they wouldnít feel guilty doing it.

Guilt, while maligned by most psychotherapists these days, is uniquely human and therefore, probably a quality that has contributed to our evolution as a species. The things we avoid out of guilt are generally the things that would do us in. But a little guilt goes a long way. If I ever manage to squeeze out from under the weight of all this depression, Iíve got to find a way to transform the remaining guilt, which I believe (tonight anyway) is inevitable, into something if not meaningful, at least a little useful.

To be continued. I hope.

ãElizabeth Terry
02/18/2003