Boredom is my greatest foe, sneaking up and overpowering me, trapping me, pinning me down. Once it has a hold on me, it’s nearly impossible to shake loose, inertia setting in. What do you want to do? I don’t know, what do you want to do? I’m bored. If I don’t get up, get out and do something, I won’t. And if I stay trapped too long, it’s only a matter of time before I slide down that slippery slope to depression, ass first. And once I’m down there, forget it. Anhedonia rules the day, and there’s not a damn thing I can do to get interested again. So I have to stay on guard.
I first discovered boredom as a young kid playing in my neighborhood. My neighborhood was great. It was chock full of other kids, front yards, backyards, sidewalks, traffic circles, porches, trees and grass and gardens. My folks would turn me out the front door in the morning and I’d get into anything and everything my imagination dictated. The possibilities were endless, thrilling, absorbing. A new girl moved in a couple of houses away and she was eight and a half to my seven, which automatically made her cool; her air of aloof detachment and the flat, adult tone in which she spoke, an authority figure. One day while we were wrapped in layers of fantasy, acting out some scene, she pulled us out of the moment, announcing, I’m bored.
What did that mean? So wait, the action and the game were just going to stop because of this proclamation? I’d heard, I don’t want to play with you anymore! or seen someone storm off in tears, or be carted off by an angry or harried parent, but never had an episode of play ended because someone lost interest. No, the interest never waned, the games simply evolved. But with her it was different. Curtain closed, lights up, show’s over. Once she was bored, that was it. There was nothing you could do to interest her. A dynamic developed, one in which I felt I had to grasp at every moment, race against her ennui clock, make the game as compelling and fascinating as possible for as long as possible so she wouldn’t call it. I had no control over this dreadful shroud, boredom.
Eventually, bemoaning our collective boredom became our thing, and we wholeheartedly embraced irony as a means to cure it. We would invent the most ridiculous conceits with a sense of detached amusement, throwing ourselves into the games. Like “Killer Spool”, where we set a large empty wooden cable spool at the top of the block and let roll after us as we shouted things like “gang-way!”. Or “The Nature Walk” where we faked a natural foods and lifestyle TV show, hanging a hose in a tree for an outdoor shower. Or playing a hopelessly outdated version of Trivial Pursuit, Genus Edition on the sidewalk in front of an elderly neighbor’s driveway until it was too dark to see. Had anyone asked, we would have laughed uproariously, delighted we’d fooled them into thinking we were serious about any of this. It was simply to stave off boredom.
As I entered the teen years, boredom soon had teeth, tearing into me with the advent of my first Major Depressive Episode. I was thirteen and uninvolved. Detached. On the margins. As I sat alone in my room, un-stimulated and disinterested, the ennui crept closer until it had me in a headlock. In any quiet moment I felt a deep sense of unease, an unmoored feeling. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I began to use sleep as a drug, burrowing and drifting down into it whenever I could. If life was going to appear so grey, may as well turn it black.
I went on like this for years, existing at a level of disengagement that only fed my listlessness, spiraling in and out of depression. The more bored I felt, the less I did, and the less I did, the more bored I felt. I went to school or work, came home and sat. Sometimes I read or talked on the phone. Sometimes I napped. But. That. Was. It.
The summer I turned 20 I lived alone and worked a little less than full time, and all my friends were away. Another depression overtook me, but this one came with an electrifying restlessness. I remember pacing in my apartment, going outside just to walk, no destination in mind. My mind raced and I couldn’t sleep. I had no energy, and every step I took felt labored. But the ennui kept me in motion, no rest for the bored. I went back to therapy, desperate to be unhanded by the latest episode.
Yeah, alcohol played a role in some of this. Alcohol was the anti-inertia. The magic boredom-vanishing elixir. The guaranteed ennui eliminator. When I drank, the grey lifted. I was imbued with a giddy enthusiasm. I was interested and engaged and anything was possible. I wanted to do everything. Such glorious release. Until the ennui, cloaked in hangover’s clothing, seeped back in, badder than ever.
I understand now I must play an active role in fighting boredom, must take firm anti-ennui measures if I want to have a life. I can’t risk another alcohol relapse, and I’ve explored depression plenty. I don’t want to head back down into the dark, because I’m old enough now to know next time I may not return. So I have to act, daily, momentarily. I have to work to see myself in different ways, to do different things, force myself from the inertia. It’s sound physics: an object in motion tends to stay in motion. And that’s what I have to do.
I’m doing things like getting up early so I can be one of the first people into the office, taking advantage of the quiet and leaving before the dead, dull late afternoon hours. I’m doing things like hiking, which you know makes this urbanite uncomfortable. I’m going out into nature and taking it in. I’m visiting the botanical garden at 6 a.m., because the Phoenix summer air is “cool” at that time and it’s deserted and beautiful. I’m saying yes to things I’d normally refuse, for no good reason. I’m taking the long way, taking it slow, taking my time. Sometimes I want to scream when I’m peeling garlic, because that kind of meticulous activity makes me seethe with frustration. I’m fast, broad-strokes, shortcuts all the way. But where has any of that taken me? Just hurried me to more dead space to fill, restless inaction. So I’m going against the grain, hoping it will infuse a sense of novelty and wonder, help me see things I couldn’t before. And if I’m seeing and experiencing new things, new little things, every moment, well, there’s no room for boredom, is there?