In the past week, two people have sent me the following blog post/strip from a blog called “Hyperbole and a Half”. Below, find the post in it’s original form or go here: Depression Part Two to see the original post on Annie’s website. Below the original post, find my commentary. I find original post quite brilliant, but what kind of blogger would I be, if I didn’t have my two cents.
The first time I read this post I knew that I wanted to put it up here and mark it with my own commentary. I didn’t do it right away, so the universe decided to hit me upside the head with it. Point taken universe. The whole thing is rather long. Thanks for reading.
The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.
But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different.
Months oozed by, and I gradually came to accept that maybe enjoyment was not a thing I got to feel anymore. I didn’t want anyone to know, though. I was still sort of uncomfortable about how bored and detached I felt around other people, and I was still holding out hope that the whole thing would spontaneously work itself out. As long as I could manage to not alienate anyone, everything might be okay!
However, I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.
And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.
My feelings did start to return eventually. But not all of them came back, and they didn’t arrive symmetrically.
I had not been able to care for a very long time, and when I finally started being able to care about things again, I HATED them. But hatred is technically a feeling, and my brain latched onto it like a child learning a new word.
I don’t know.
But when you’re concerned that the miserable, boring wasteland in front of you might stretch all the way into forever, not knowing feels strangely hope-like.
There are photographs, of course, in which I am bright eyed, wearing a yellow tutu, and/or marching about in the school Halloween costume parade. So, I know there were moments, periods even, when I behaved like one might expect. (And of course, I know that the wide brush of depression tends to brush a dark coat over all memories.)
But, for me, childhood was about staring at my toys and trying to figure out why they made other children happy. What was I doing wrong? What was I missing? I thought maybe I just didn’t have the right toys or a proper imagination. I began to think it was simply something wrong with me.
I wanted books and journals and dark places to hide in. See this other post for more on small, dark spaces.
I didn’t have imaginary friends or time-worn toys. The things of mine that showed their age were always items of comfort – my “Baby’s First Christmas” teddy bear whose black nose was rubbed to beige and whose hat lost its white pom-pom, my “blankie”, which I kept close until long after it started falling to pieces. My childhood was full of palliatives. I sucked my thumb until long, long, long after it was normal. I traded one coping mechanism for another, for another, for another. It’s only by the grace of God that I’m not a drunk or an addict. Anyway, back to Annie’s post.
Feeling nothing is absolutely the best part. As long as you have no one holding onto expectations of you.
Expectations are the kill-joy of detachment that comes slightly before the deadened nothingness of not being able to care that follows.
This is the part when I keep my sweats on for a week, stay under the covers, watch Netflix marathons, and eat raw cookie dough until I pass out to start it all over the next day. This is the part where absolutely nothing gets done and when you live alone and have only yourself to think of, this part is the one upshot of depression. Guilt-free vegification.
But how often do any of us have nothing and no one counting on us? There are always bills to be paid, animals to be cared for, families and friendships to be tended. And if your married? Well then, this becomes the absolutely worst part of depression – a veritable shit storm that even with the most understanding and considerate spouse, cannot be avoided.
The “soul-decaying boredom” that Annie speaks of is a heat-seeking missile for relationships. How can boredom and depression coexist? If one is bored, one should do something about it. Right? And once the boredom is lifted, everything else should be better. Right?
It’s not just soul-decaying boredom; it’s soul-sucking boredom, which usually leads to an existential crisis demonstrated in Annie’s strip by the act of bowling.
I shouldn’t be bored, but I am because I get no enjoyment or pleasure out of whatever activity I am doing. I think back to a time when I did feel pleasure and wonder what was the point. Why do we get up every day, go to work, eat, sleep, shower, just to get up and do the very same thing the next day. What are we accomplishing? Is this the slow march towards death? Am I simply taking up space until it is my turn to not take up space?
Once I’ve reached this level of existential crisis, I’m totally with Annie on the difficulty of generating appropriate emotional responses.
Twenty years of practice has given me a rather thick mask that allows me to approximate appropriate social interactions for certain periods of time. This is my super power. I can convince you I’m fine. And then when I can’t any more, I just stop showing up. Either I can fool you or I can’t, and some days I wake up and I just know I can’t, so I don’t even bother trying.
Annie’s friend who tells her to do yoga while watching the sunrise is using the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument that everyone who has never struggled with clinical mental illness absolutely does not understand. It’s not just that I don’t know how to pull myself up by my bootstraps, it’s that I have no boots.
I put the 365 Things to be Happy About calendar that you gave me on my desk and I turn the pages in obligation to the date. But the wonder of the universe, sunrise, miracle of life, friends, joy of skiing, reading, eating freshly picked apples is not going to suddenly put boots on my feet. By now, my feet are so dirty, bruised, and bloody that even if I had boots, they wouldn’t fit.
But people don’t get that. After twenty years, I finally realized that the only person I should ever talk about my depression with, is my therapist.
Annie being taunted by all the thing she can’t do, made me laugh, in a deep, desperate, I totally get this kind of way.
Our society is built around happiness as the end game. Everything we do is to reach this zenith — lose weight, make friends, work less, have more money and time, be calmer, have more fun, be better in bed.
I made myself shower today. That’s my win for the week. You want me to do what now?
The part about proactive solutions that sound insane in contrast to the scope of the problem also made me laugh. Here I am holding my dead fish in my hands and all you want to do is ignore the dead-ness and fix my problem. You want to attach new bootstraps to my absent boots.
Like Annie says, you have solutions for other problems.
My problem might not even have a solution. And if I’m talking to you about these dead fish in my hands it’s because I’m looking for something. Recognition maybe, of how shitty it is that I have dead fish and feet that can’t wear boots. Will you love me anyway?
This part made me cry.
“I somehow managed to convince myself that everything was still under my control right up until I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn’t feel obligated to keep existing.”
Yes. It’s just like that.
The soul-sucking decay that I live through every day shouldn’t have to be endured. I wouldn’t wish mental illness on the baddest of the bad. No one should have to walk through the miserable wasteland that Annie describes. She felt corralled in her wasteland; I feel like my brain is the wasteland. The effect is the same – an unavoidable valley of death in which you must exist.
When Annie writes about the difficulty of informing people that you might be suicidal, I laughed so hard I peed a little.
There is absolutely no way to tell someone that you are circling the drain without great big alarm bells and sirens going off. To anyone who has never been on the edge of that cliff, asking for help seems less like the beginning of something better, and more like the beginning of something awful.
See, whoever I talk to probably didn’t have a clue how bad I was feeling. They thought everything was hunky-dory and maybe I just have been so busy that I haven’t had time to give them a call or smile at them in the hallway. So telling them that you’re thinking maybe you don’t want to be alive anymore totally blows their reality away. It can feel like the end of their world as they know it. And in some ways, it is. For me too. Because now you know. And instead of hiding under the blankets on the days when I know I can’t fool you, I have to show up and face the bullshit of trying to get better.
Newsflash: Sometimes it feels a whole lot easier to stay bootless and fish free, then to mend your feet and buy some new aquatic friends.
As for the rest of this, sure I know what she means about hating everything just because you can finally feel something again. And I have totally laughed until I peed a little over that ridiculous piece of corn. And the strangely hope-like phenomenon of not knowing, I’ve been there too. Because who knows, really. Tomorrow there could be a cure.
Thanks, Annie. For being brave, crass, clever, and brilliant. You give the rest of us something to aspire to.
Thanks for reading.