The Open Call
by N. Michelle AuBuchon
My therapist is pretty smart, but I didn’t feel like hugging him until he told me that I use intellectual men as anti-depressants. “At least men are your anti-depressant,” he said, “otherwise, you might be an alcoholic.”
As depressives, we are always looking for an extreme emotional, cognitive, or physical experience to distract us from ourselves. Some experiences provide long-lasting results and others provide quick, fleeting relief. Ideally, you get yourself to partake in the long-lasting antidotes, as they’re healthier, but let’s be clear, when you’re depressed, you’re just looking to feel a little less awful. Alcohol, drugs, and food all fit into the quick/fleeting category. Intimacy and sex with intellectual men can fit into the long lasting category if the men stick around and the relationship is healthy, otherwise, quick fix category.
Outside of therapy, the best, long-lasting antidote, for me, is writing. If I had to quantify it, I’d say the mere act of writing those last few paragraphs softened my depression from an 8 on a scale from 1-10 to a 6. Quick, effective results. Also, long-lasting. If I write everyday, I feel less dependent on my other anti-depressants. Sometimes I mess up, though, and I don’t write. That’s where intelligent men come in. Intimacy with them, like writing, is a longer lasting anti-depressant.
I take it back: the first time I really wanted to hug my therapist was when he told me about the theory of depressive realism. It’s a theory that basically says depressed individuals make more realistic inferences than non-depressed individuals and that non-depressed individuals are positively biased in their inferences. In other words, depressives see the world for what it is and everybody else is deluded. Naturally, these perceptions affect our behavior in different ways. As depressives, we don’t see meaning in the world much of the time, because of this perception. This makes it difficult to feel anchored to anything that matters in daily life.
Once, I wandered into Chelsea Market for lunch in a cloud of depression and noticed a blood donation center. Without hesitation, I filled out the paperwork and pulled up my sleeve. Looking down at the needle hanging out of my arm, the inky liquid pulsing, I thought, finally, I’ve done something this week that matters. Non-depressives don’t think things like this. Recently, I read David Foster Wallace’s essay about why successful athletes can’t write good memoirs (How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart). Essentially, he says that the self reflective, introjective qualities necessary for writing a moving memoir are the very qualities that professional athletes must lack in order to be successful. Most days I wish that I was more like Tracy Austin and less like David Foster Wallace.
Dominant/submissive play is a little like giving blood for a depressive. It’s an exaggerated universe where there is a plan and someone is in control. For a few hours, or even minutes, you feel comfort, as a submissive, in structure and this comfort allows you to feel value in the universe. You can hold onto something, albeit momentarily.
Last year I figured out you could seek out this kind of thing online and still control for the intelligence factor. The trick is that you have to answer all the sex questions. Then, the men start contacting you. You do have to do a little vetting, but the process is worth it.
Henry’s sparse and anonymous OK Cupid profile could have meant he was a murderer, but I was unemployed at the time, curious, and looking for a new anti-depressant. We exchanged a few messages online before he asked for my number. After a second interview at Tory Burch Corporate, I sat in a bar at 2 PM on a weekday, talking with Henry on an app that allows you to text anonymously. I could tell by his use of language that he was probably a writer and definitely intelligent. He typed in short succinct bits of text with perfect grammar and knowledge of experimental literature. It wasn’t until a few days later that we got to texting about kink and not until the third time we met that he put a belt around my neck.
Henry is the kind of guy you may not hear from for a few months, but then he’ll re-emerge, convinced all of his friends are sociopaths. This happened a few weeks ago and we discussed the details until 4 am. We don’t have sex anymore (dominant/submissive or regular), but talking to Henry is almost as interesting as talking to my therapist.
I’ve done various experiments over time. There was the whole married boyfriend chapter when I was primarily using sex with intelligent men, but I already wrote that essay and you can read it online. Sometimes I still meet up with my ex married boyfriend, but not for the sex. We sit in diners, rather, discuss new essay ideas. I get my fix.
Exercise used to be one of my go-to anti-depressants until I ran so much I broke my feet. Technically just one foot—one very important sesamoid bone in the ball of my left foot that once broken, never heals. The muscles naturally pull the stress-fractured bone apart. My feet had been hurting for a while, but I wasn’t willing to admit the pain until I could barely walk home from a long run around the graveyard.
I discovered running in 8th grade and coveted the anti-depressant qualities into my late 20 twenties, even convincing another writer in my MFA program to run on the undergraduate cross-country team with me. I wasn’t the best runner, but I was good enough to qualify for state cross-country competitions in high school and had enough stamina to run multiple events at track meets.
They’re a little like sex—track meets—a mix of physicality, emotion, and multiple, guaranteed endorphin rushes. Every muscle in your body tenses when you hear the words: “On your mark, get set,” and then the gun.
I ran distance races for years, but it wasn’t until my junior year that I tried to become a pole-vaulter. I’d put in my distance training at practice after school: 4-6 miles, maybe some sprints, then head over to the pole-vault mat near the far end of the track. I wasn’t any good and was lucky to clear a low bar, but there was something so appealing about finding that sweet spot, about coordinating all of your muscles to catapult yourself up out of the earth, into the air, sending yourself flying, feet first before twisting your body that delivered a kind of freedom absent from every day life.
Art works, too. Before graduate school, I worked for an Internet company in the Chelsea Gerry building. I’d leave in the middle of the day and wander north into the gallery district. I became obsessed with Robert Irwin, whose work requires an openness to continued perception. I found myself drawn to his light and disc installations, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that the reason this aesthetic makes sense to me—that I have the patience for its contemplation and space, is because art as objects is a fleeting anti-depressant and art as perception is long-lasting.
I also had my first experience with Marina Abramović’s work during this period. At her MoMA retrospective, I read about one of her first pieces, Rhythm 0, where she invited the public to do anything they wanted with her body for six hours. Available at the performance where 72 objects including, but not limited to, a rose, perfume, pieces of bread, grapes, scissors, nails, and a pistol with one bullet. Amongst other things, her work explores the limitations of the human body. As I walked through a walkway of naked women at the retrospective, their nipples brushing my shoulders, I thought, yes, we are all trying to understand the limitations of our humanity—looking for the line that separates our bodies—our minds from everything else. As depressives, we peak over the line, thinking, maybe something on the other side could fix us.
I remember, at age 20, being consciously aware of my longing for psychological salvation. We were learning about Plato’s explanation of the soul mate phenomenon as presented by Aristophanes in an art history class. Basically, Aristophanes says that there were three types of human genders: male, female, and androgynous, with androgynous creatures having two sets of genitalia. Humans challenged the Gods, and as punishment, the Gods split humans in half with lightening, sewed the halves up separately, and for the rest of their lives, humans lived, longing for their other half. Pretty romantic, but all I could think was, that’s what it feels like to be a depressed person, like you’re missing something crucial and your whole life is spent trying to correct the deficiency.
Perhaps this idea stems partly from being a creative person who grew up in the Midwest. As a young creative, devoid of constant stimulation, you develop escapist fantasies about the bigger, better world that could fix you, that could make you whole, and you latch onto other creative people, because you need them like bread, like water, like SSRI’s, and because they are a physical manifestation of a magical, bigger, outside world.
I told my therapist I was writing this essay, but what I didn’t tell him is that it’s really less of an essay and more of a classified. Meaning, I’m accepting submissions in any of the aforementioned categories: sex with intellectual men (note the sub category), intimacy with intellectual men (cognitive or emotional), or love with intellectual men. Feel free to combine the categories as you see fit, just, please, no dummies.
Outside of the Midwest theory, why are intellectual men so effective? Is it evolution? Maybe my body understands that interacting with intellectual men will increase my chances of having intellectual babies who will have a better chance at survival. I’m not totally sold on that theory, though, because recently my therapist told me that there has been some research on depression as a positive evolutionary trait. I think the theory is that those with high levels of depression also exhibit high levels of empathy, and that empathy is a survival trait or something. Also, evolution is out, because gay men work, too. James, my favorite bartender, a poet, always does the trick, and I don’t have the allusion that he will fuck me by any means. I imagine this makes me a failed feminist. Am I aggrandizing the male intellect? Probably, but when you’re depressive, you’re just looking for a fix.
Over Thanksgiving, I went to visit my cousin’s family in Portland, Maine. I got to talking to my cousin’s husband, who is a psychiatrist, about the depression essay. He pointed out some interesting articles by William Styron on the nature of active depressives like myself.
When my mother first started receiving Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) for her Parkinson’s, we called my cousin’s husband, who administers ECT to ask if the short-term memory loss was normal. He compared the after effects to shaking a snow globe and waiting for the particles to settle. Eventually her memory returned. Parkinson’s disease is the body’s inability to produce dopamine. Depressed people often don’t have enough dopamine in their brains. As you can imagine, sometimes I wonder if I have Parkinson’s disease.
Portland itself looked like a beautiful snow globe over Thanksgiving. One night, my cousin’s kids begged to go sledding. I walked them over to a large hill behind a school and watched them barrel down the hill on tubes, on thin sheets of plastic, on bare stomachs. They tied sleds together, broke each other’s glasses, screamed, pushed, giggled, and fought. Apparently I was a fearless child, too, always determined and running everywhere. I don’t remember being depressed until my teenage years and from there it got worse.
When you’re depressed, you wish you could go back to a time when you weren’t. But you can’t and it’s Thanksgiving and your cousins are asking you to go sledding with them. You are scared, but you finally give in—not because you feel brave or adventurous, but mostly because you think maybe it will make you feel something other than this, other than the depression. You jump onto the raft, belly down, head first, barreling down the hill. You think of that poem by DH Lawrence: Bavarian Gentians, about the dark upon the dark, and even though you’re going faster and faster down the hill, you feel like your feet are shooting up into the air, that all your muscles are aligned, hopeful, your body flipping itself over a bar, contorted into a question mark asking, am I leaving it all behind, am I OK, is this relief, will there be more?
N. Michelle AuBuchon holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn. Her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, The Brooklyn Rail, The Iowa Review, BuzzFeed, New Orleans Review, The Weekly Rumpus, Caketrain, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Washington Square, Gawker, No News Today, and Swink. She is currently working on a novel-in-stories.