What follows is a brief message for the creators of Hallmark-knockoff style memes that say things like, “No matter how hard it gets, it’s okay for you to feel pain, to feel tired, to feel discouraged, to feel heartbroken…but don’t you give up!” (These are often inscribed on a floral background, or some more abstract pattern that resembles a pseudo-Gothic wrought-iron fence.)
My message to those people is: Fuck you.
I don’t know who these people think they are or what they think they’re accomplishing. Do they really believe they’re helping people who suffer from depression, or who are going through other, similar disturbances or trials? If so, then they really need to examine their own mental functions, because I fear they must suffer from a prolonged thyroid deficiency, or some other neuro-endocrine disorder. Or perhaps they’re infected with the same inanity that makes so many think that by saying, “I’ll pray for you,” or “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” or worse, such idiocy as, “Pray for Manchester,” they are accomplishing anything in the world other than bolstering their own egos.
Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe that’s all it ever really is—just the rescuing of one’s own fragile self-image from the inevitable erosions of ruthless reality. I’ve heard speculation by some reasonably intelligent people along the lines that, in order to continue to exist and go forward in life, most people have to maintain an almost constant state of delusion about their place in the universe. This can lead to such disturbing and even dangerous problems as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which those of average to below average ability tend systematically to overrate themselves. Maybe Shirley Jackson was right; maybe no live organism can continue to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.
Okay, fine. Tell yourself whatever lies you need to tell to get yourself out of bed and through your days if that’s what you need to do. But don’t spread the pus of your disease onto other people and imagine that you’re baptizing them.
Those who suffer from depression can’t just choose to follow your “don’t give up,” advice. Indeed, your very words are redundant. If a person is reading or listening to anything at all, they have already not given up. But the decision, the very ability, to choose not to give up, is not influenced by trite inanities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. It comes from within the individual, as does the very state that leads them to want to “give up.” Your pseudo-positive drivel is no more useful than having Cher slap someone in the face and yell, “Snap out of it!” You get to click on “Share,” or “Retweet,” when you see some cloying bit of trash that counsels people to “just keep swimming,” or some such, and you lie to yourself that you’ve done some good with your utterly impersonal bit of gibbering. Well, you haven’t. Stop deluding yourself. If you want to do some actual good, read more useful things on social media, think about them, comment on them, share articles about important topics (preferably ones that have some depth and research). Or better yet, if you know someone who is struggling, how about taking the time and energy to reach out to them personally.
On that note, let me be perfectly clear: I am NOT disparaging the legitimate efforts of friends and family members to intervene, to help, and even to try fruitlessly to cheer up those you love who are suffering from depression, or who are simply going through trying times. You are the real helpers, the true exponents of human compassion. Your efforts are never wasted. Even if you fail, and a loved one loses the battle against depression, or addiction, or any other “spiritual malaise,” know that you did not act in vain. You helped your loved one have at least a slightly better chance of conquering their illness, or at least of surviving that much longer. Your deeds are valid and to be commended, and are not to be confused with the witless re-posting of Facebook memes.
To speak specifically about depression, it is, in a sense, an illness of the will itself; it damages a person’s very ability not to quit. It is also a deficiency in the ability to delude oneself about oneself. Studies have shown that—even between attacks—those who suffer from depression and dysthymia tend to be more realistic in their self-assessments. This is not some polar opposite to the above-mentioned Dunning-Kruger Effect; it’s more of a renormalization.
But during attacks of depression, a victim often despises himself or herself thoroughly. Imagine, if you will, being cursed to spend every moment of every day in the company of your least-favorite person in the universe…because that person is yourself. This is what it can mean to suffer from depression. This should help you see how laughable your sharing of “Don’t you quit,” memes is. A response to such a meme from someone with depression might be, “Don’t quit what? Don’t quit inflicting upon innocent others the company of a person whom I know to be vile and disgusting, a person who represents everything that I think is wrong with humanity, distilled down to its purest essence? And I should know the truth of that person better than anyone else, since I am that person. Why would I not want to quit doing such a thing? Why would any kind or moral human being not want to quit so harming others with his or her existence? Only my own vestigial capacity for self-delusion, coupled with a biologically inescapable, evolution-instilled drive to survive, keeps me from taking the sane, logical, compassionate, and beneficial action that is what you call ‘quitting.’”
So again, “Fuck you,” to all those who ostentatiously re-post (or worse, create) memes that exhort others to keep fighting, not to quit, no matter how they’re suffering. You’re like the pseudo-pious people Jesus berated for praying ostentatiously in public, just to be seen being religious; you’re only doing good (if you can call it that) for yourselves, and for those like you, who go on to share your messages in turn. You might as well be posting the “Type ‘Amen’ and share to be blessed with millions of dollars,” style memes. If you want to do some good, to help people who are suffering, take real action. Don’t pray for a person suffering from depression—and don’t share imbecilic memes with them—reach out. Be prepared for a tough time, though. People with depression often have difficulty accepting help. They often feel that they have no right to seek, to accept, or even to desire such help. Remember, you’re proposing to give aid to the person they most resolutely despise: themselves.
And to those of you who already are reaching out and trying to help loved ones or even strangers who suffer, despite the painful and sometimes futile process it can be—I can make no demands of you. The people you seek to help may not be capable of choosing whether to go on or to give up. They cannot rationally assess their own value, often despite the best arguments and evidence. It is this very ability that is malfunctioning. You fight a difficult battle, trying to muster enough optimism, drive, and willpower for yourself and for someone else. No one could ever demand or expect that you do such things, and your efforts are often truly heroic. All I can do is to beg you—in the spirit of a prayer, if your will—please don’t give up.