I really hate it when people tell me that 'mindfulness' is the cure for depression. I am mindful of the details of life all the goddamn time. If that worked, you'd think I would have noticed this by now. It can help with anxiety, yes. If you tend to wake up from nightmares about the Apocalypse like I do, it is much easier to convince yourself that it is rather unlikely that the world has ended and they forgot to CC: you on the memo when you realize that someone has, for reasons unclear, left a gargantuan piece of construction equipment idling loudly right outside your window. Somerville public works crews would definitely take the end of the world as a sign that they needed a smoke break, and turn that fucker off. No matter what state I'm in, life goes on.

But seriously, 'mindfulness' does not make you feel better. It just shuffles the terrible feelings around. Or at least that's all it does for me.

When I get upset, I go out and walk. I used to do Tufts University to Boston Public Library in Copley Square via Davis and Mass Ave, on the grounds that nobody in their right mind would follow me. That walk is about five and a half miles, and I swear the natives out here will seriously take the bus like fifty feet. I did Assembly Square to the Esplanade round-trip the other day, with a bonus detour most of the way down Cambridge Street and back when I realized that the Longfellow Bridge pedestrian path was still probably closed. This was not a good idea, as I am already dropping weight like calories are radioactive and I hadn't had anything to eat for a good twelve hours. It's just that it was free, and I couldn't force myself to do anything else at the time.

The walking itself does nothing; I tried this in the exercise room of my old apartment complex once, and discovered that a treadmill is what happens when you accumulate enough futility and boredom to collapse down into a physical object. Exercise improves mood for some people, but not for me. I also don't get runner's high. Primarily it burns calories I can't spare and time I wish I could fast-forward through.

What walking does do is give me a lot of things to note very, very fiercely. This is the same reason I have a couple of celebrity Twitter feeds and the otherwise-useless MBTA Alerts bounced to my phone. The little message light starts blinking, and I can forcibly drown out the miserable internal monologue for a couple of seconds by observing JOHNNY WEIR HAS A NEW COSTUME ISN'T THAT NICE or OH LOOK THE RED LINE IS BROKEN HOW ORIGINAL as hard as I possibly can. It is the feelings equivalent of sticking your fingers into your ears and going 'lalalalala can't hear you', a tactic which has been used uncountably many times in human history, and which has never once actually made anything bad go away.

So I put my feet on autopilot and stomp across several cities, narrating the trip for myself as the world's most mundane tour guide. LOOK THERE IS A PHOTO PRINT PLACE ON CAMBRIDGE STREET THAT I SHOULD REMEMBER FOR LATER, THERE IS A THAI RESTAURANT I HAVE NOT TRIED, THERE IS A LOT OF CONSTRUCTION ON PROSPECT STREET. There are college kids out on awkward dates, a green Mini with racing stripes parked on Highland, two men holding hands in Central Square, and a small walkable art gallery on the construction fencing around Novartis' new building. Puzzlingly, a large amount of knitting and crochet work is strapped onto the guard rails on the Mass Ave bridge. Weird things happen near MIT.

It reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to fuck up the entire world. The system is much too resilient for that. But on the really terrible nights, it also reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to get the world to notice me, either. There are thousands of people with thousands of lives along that route, none of which involve me. Not all of them are happy, but most of them are probably okay. It is an entire world of okay people that runs on without me, unconcerned with my existence. I'm allowed to walk through it, if I want, but I am not okay, and I don't get to live there.

All mindfulness does when I'm depressed is make me mindful of standing outside of everything with my nose smashed against the window. It does not make me happier. It just reminds me of things I do not get to have. No amount of explaining seems to communicate the extent of the not-helpfulness of this to people who are trying to give me advice on how to fix my brain, the brain that I've been dealing with for just about 33 years now and that they have been poking at, unsuccessfully, for the past five minutes of conversation.


  1. "All mindfulness does when I'm depressed is make me mindful of standing outside of everything with my nose smashed against the window."

    I feel that way sometimes - everyone else has everything, and I'm just looking on. I wonder now if many other people don't have the same thoughts in some chaotic incoherent way - and just don't realize it. Are there really people out there who are safe insiders with no worries? Or are they just clueless?

    It's really weird to read this with a migraine aura going on. I get the 'stained glass effect, in colors.


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