Hello and good morning! It’s yet another Thursday and, as will come as no surprise, it’s time for me to write my weekly blog post.
I must say that I’m deeply gratified by reader response to last week’s extemporaneous reflections on how the ideal of perfection can often be the enemy of the good, analogous to falling into the mathematical trap of saying that, since every finite number is equally (and infinitely) far from infinity, there’s no point in trying to reach a greater number than where one is.
Something like that; I put it better last week.
The many “likes” received by last Thursday’s entry stand in stark contrast to my blog post from the previous week. This is hardly surprising. I was riding a downturn in my ongoing waveform of dysthymia and depression on the day in question, so I’m afraid it must have been grim reading. There’s a semi-serious saying in the medical and mental health community that depression is contagious. Though this is not literally true—one cannot become clinically depressed simply by contact with a sufferer unless one is predisposed—it is certainly the case that spending time with, or receiving communication from, a person with depression can make one feel seriously blue and gloomy.
Depression can be surprisingly convincing in the hands of one who knows it well, particularly if that person is someone whose strengths include the communication of ideas and emotions. Most people, struggling mightily to hold onto as good an outlook as they can, tend not to rubberneck much at these sorts of mental roadside crashes, at least until they reach the level of true catastrophe.
This is a shame, though, because one of the worst parts of suffering from depression, at least from my point of view, is that it engenders a self-reinforcing cycle of alienation. One hates oneself; one feels intellectually justified in this attitude; and one feels therefore quite clearly that others would be justified in sharing that hatred, if they were to get too close. Indeed, one feels positively rude and uncomfortable, even guilty, about even the possibility of subjecting others to one’s presence in any way beyond the absolutely necessary. Isolating oneself can become a matter of conscience, analogous to what one might do if one had a particularly deadly and highly contagious illness. It feels natural to think that those who do want to spend time in one’s presence—this number tends to diminish with the passing years, ceteris paribus—are thoroughly misguided, and must be discouraged from their goal.
And of course, other people do tend to avert their eyes from depression and the depressed—even when those eyes otherwise seem irresistibly drawn to every roadside fender-bender and horrible news story. At least, they avert them unless and until the problem reaches fully catastrophic levels, at which point it can be ignored no longer…and at which point, ironically, there is usually little that can be done.
Some artistic reflections of depression are more palatable than others, of course. Songs are—in my experience—one of the most tolerable. Indeed, many of the most beautiful songs are sad, a curious fact noted by minds as widely diverse as Elton John and J.R.R. Tolkien. My own song, Breaking Me Down, of which I released my “rebuild” on this site, on Iterations of Zero, and on YouTube last weekend, is about depression. The fact that it was originally composed, almost in current form, thirty years ago, shows that depression is a gift that keeps on giving, and which can contribute to the spoilage and ruination of a promising life. It’s not something to be taken lightly; it has a mortality rate as high as many cancers, and its morbidities are vaster and deeper and more insidious than we can readily enumerate. When seriously contemplated, it is terrifying…not least because it often makes its sufferers literally envy the dead.
If I had the choice of submitting some evildoer to the horrors of the Inquisition or of enacting upon them a chronic, fairly severe depression, it’s hard for me to say which I think would be the worse crime against humanity.
And yet, Hamlet’s soliloquy, Kansas’s Dust in the Wind, Radiohead’s No Surprises, many of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems, among innumerable other works, can be enjoyed thoroughly, their beauty embraced, even by those who don’t know the experience of major depression. Visual depictions seem more problematic, at least in my experience. Maybe, being primarily visual creatures as we are, the imagery that effectively represents depression strikes just too close to the bone. It can be technically remarkable and sometimes quite powerful…but it’s hard to call it beautiful. And it’s hard to look at for very long.
Maybe words and music are abstract enough and have enough of an “eye of the beholder” effect that they soften the blow, letting people avoid the deep implications of the work by not paying too close attention. Depressed non-fiction prose on the other hand, like visual artwork, can be too stark and on the nose to be taken in with any enthusiasm.
This is a shame because, as I said before, when someone is suffering from depression, they can feel very much condemned to solitary confinement…and to feel that such is where they belong, by nature and by guilt. On those rare occasions when they’re able to express themselves—to cry for help, as is said, though the depressed often feel they deserve no assistance—the very nature of their suffering can make them existentially threatening to others’ moods and even their worldviews. Again, one of the problems with depression, and a source of quips about its contagiousness, is that it can be so horribly convincing.
It’s easy enough to sympathize with those who don’t want to deal with the depressed too directly, or too often. No one, I think, would willingly, with foreknowledge, choose to endure serious depression for long…not even if the alternative was death.
But we at least have the poetry and the songs, and I encourage you to enjoy them at whatever level you can. At the very least, it’s wonderful occasionally to “suffer just enough to sing the blues.” And, of course, it can also be good fun to enjoy a good horror story in a similar vein. Hopefully, Unanimity will be such a story when it’s finally done.
Darkness can be beautiful, in its own way, as long as one knows that one can turn on the light at any time. If one cannot, and if no one else can offer, or is offering, illumination, then even an otherwise enticing darkness can become a true horror.