I wrote the following about a week ago. I was feeling really depressed, and I wanted to get some thoughts out while I was in that state. It didn’t go far:
There’s something that a lot of people don’t understand about depression. It’s not about feeling sad. Sadness is okay. Sadness and happiness are like your left and right hand, each equal in dignity, each wonderful in its own clumsy, apeish way.
It’s not grief. Grief is an expression of joy turned on its head, a recognition of the ripple left in the world by a beloved person or thing. Anger is passion denied, hatred is love forsworn. The line between these concepts is so thin as to be imaginary, a product of our lack of self-knowledge.
So what is depression? Sadness, you see, would be too kind. Sadness would mean wistfulness, a longing for things lost and for things never to be. Sadness is a comfort that we create in the lulls between ecstasy, a burial shroud meant to be folded and kept with our other treasures. When we are sad, when we grieve, it’s the moment our feet touch the ground between leaps.
Depression is about despair. Where sadness surrounds itself with symbolism and reason and comfort, despair sits alone. Despair is a lack, a sucking void in the fabric of ideas that defies our attempts to make it meaningful or useful.
Holy Shit, Depressed Ian
I honestly can’t identify with the person who wrote that, because his brain and my brain seem like different species. If our brains tried to interbreed the result would be an infertile monster.
So here I sit, sensitive psychology guy, admitting that I don’t “get” depression. Except when I’m waist-deep in it. What does that say about the nature of depression itself?
Depression, Sadness, and Despair
I know that I don’t need to tell you this, dear reader, but depression and sadness are two different animals (see my other article “Mentally Ill in the First World” for more of my thoughts on this). While sadness is often a prominent feature of depression, sometimes the two don’t even breeze past each other in the hallway. I’d say that my last bout was completely sadness-free.
Depression is about a lack. If I’m depressed, I don’t have a permanent frown.
If I’m depressed, I have nothing-face. My brow is unfurrowed, my cheeks show nary a line. I’m not slack-jawed or grimacing. There is just a profound lack of anything in my face other than this strange look of privation in my eyes.
In psychology, nothing-face is called flat affect, a marked lack of emotional display. Very common in depression, schizophrenia, and a couple of other unpleasant conditions. Flat affect is common in people who have receded in on themselves, reflexively feeling nothing rather than allowing the sheer bleakness of it all to overwhelm them.
It’s the face of despair.
I don’t have a moral for this one. No great explanation for “why despair?” or what to do about it. Just an observation, one that I plan to explore as time goes on and I, inevitably, find myself in the depths again. It must serve a purpose. I said above that it defies meaning, but I’m not quite sure I believe that. Feel free to speculate below. If you need a pick-me-up, check out this video of birds playing an electric guitar:
One of those little guys really shreds.