Victoria Jelinek


December 21, 2018 – Cheerful Thoughts

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

lions breathing through a cageI love Christmas because it seems to bring out the humane in people. The individualism of the world is dismissed for a moment as people look outside of themselves to be kind and helpful to others. For most of us, it’s a time of loved ones and good food…ceremonies and lights. For many others, however, it’s a time of year when we feel we must pretend to be happy when we’re not. How does one begin to explain depression to a person who doesn’t know it first hand? How does one explain it even to oneself? As I consider how to describe it, a barrage of words come to mind: fatigue, panic, sadness, anger, confusion, suspicion, hesitation, reticence, loneliness, regret, fear, isolation, hopelessness, self-hatred, and an interminable longing to simply have it stop. It’s bleak.

I’ve suffered depression since I was an adolescent. Now, however, I somewhat understand the ways-and-means to avoid a rough bout of it – defined by me as the inability or wish to do anything but to be left alone to sleep, and when that’s not possible, the desire to achieve an altered state through substances in order to dull my senses and make things tolerable. To avoid these terrible times, I know to do a few things when I can feel it’s becoming hazardous, usually indicated by my having excessively destructive ‘self speak.’ I take a walk outside each day. I write each day. I watch comedies rather than dramas, and read novels that won’t delve into any existential battle or dystopian reality. I sleep more and drink more water. I also avoid certain types of people when possible. For me, I find it too challenging to spend time with people who exacerbate my sense of failure. People who seem happy and say positive things in an upbeat manner all the time. Privately, I find myself feeling that something is even more terrible about me that I’m miserable whereas obviously it’s possible that such contented people exist. At the same time, I have  disdain for these types of people, thinking they’re simple-minded or, worse, they’re false. This depresses me more.

Often, there is an internal struggle as I imagine a choice to either avoid depression or succumb to it. Part of me does not want to make it ‘better’ for myself, to do the things I know will help, but, rather, wants to delve into the monstrous abyss of it because I feel I deserve it and I’m too exhausted to fight. Another part of me thinks it’s utterly foolish to imagine I can escape it anyway. Sometimes I pretend for others that I’m not feeling as I do in the hope that it will go away if I simply ignore it. I know others prefer this. It never works. I went through a period of AA decades ago. One of the things that the group talked about is how those who suffer depression attempt to diminish their feelings through excessive drinking and/or the taking of drugs. Not only does this not lessen it, they asserted, the feelings of unhappiness become addictive (as do AA meetings!). I still consider this, but I don’t agree entirely. Indeed, I agree that unhappiness is a richly complex feeling that becomes habitual. I also think there’s credence to the idea that your brain creates ‘pathways,’ if you will, to well-used ‘roads’ of thinking when in doubt. Certainly a degree of self-absorption plays a role. However, happiness is also a rich and complex concept, with a plethora of words to describe subtleties of the feeling, so by rights, isn’t it equally addictive? The societal pursuit of it seems to be. Ultimately, I think that imagining depression is a choice, one that is created and perpetuated by the depressive person, means the onus is on them for how badly they feel. This type of thinking exacerbates the suffering that the depressive is already experiencing. It also doesn’t seem fair when it’s likely a matter of wonky chemistry and predisposition. Believing it’s ‘simply’ a choice is akin to the archaic and ignorant idea that depression is a ‘luxury.’

Luxury is too fun for it to be likened to depression. While I think there are elements of choice in the sense that the depressive can work to inhibit a full onslaught of depression, moving it from the caliber of ‘high fidelity’ to ‘low fidelity,’ I think it’s a disease that people don’t like to think about despite its prevalence. If one had cancer (other than lung cancer) then people would not blame the one who has it. Despite the progress made to understand and consequently reduce the stigma of depression, there’s still a stigma attached to it. I think it’s because people want those around them to reflect their illusion that life  has meaning and is ‘good.’ One only has to turn to Instagram or Facebook to see that the appearance of a perfect and happy life is a common objective. Ultimately, however, these are idle ruminations because once the curtain of depression descends, logic and reason do not enter. For me, depression is akin to a bad acid trip: one side of me recognizes that the perceptions and feelings are not ‘real’ and that I must simply wait for it to pass. The other side of me feels that my bleak perception of myself and the world, and the ‘inevitable’ outcomes for my emotions, are very real. It’s tortuous.

If you love someone that struggles with depression and you would like to support them, I suggest the following: keep a wide berth. Not really. In fact, try to let the depressive know (without being oppressively cloying) through verbal and non verbal actions, that they’re not completely alone and they do matter to someone. But don’t use platitudes, that’s horrible. Try to be honest. When in doubt, humor always helps.