Depression is a sneaky bastard. It isn’t animated rainclouds and Big Pharmaceutical chemical assistance for daily tasks. It’s the gradual erosion of the things which ultimately make us feel human. We never smile (or frown) at strangers passing anymore, never feel the sense of possibility that we may bump into a new friend in the grocery aisle or that much of anything positive will happen in a given day. The economy is slow, the virus is raging, people are expressing their hatred and frustration in visible and disheartening ways. It is hard to imagine what good could come of today, and that is when the darkness slips in through the cracks.
I have had my share of horrific knocks to the head, the structural damage that leaves room for thick brain fog on a clear day. And I have always had a mind that thinks a lot, deeply contemplates the ways everything is connected. Today, I have a depression headache. No amount of ribboning singletrack or epic mountain vistas really sounds like relief from the weight of the world, the ways I am capable of hurting others or disappointing myself.
When I talk to friends, it is via a telephone screen, which physiologically contributes to headaches and psychologically contributes to isolation—it is communication, without body language or warmth or the sound of voices and laughter tickling eardrums. And they share their experiences; fear of losing jobs, jobs already lost, tenuous friendships melting into the abyss of quarantine, silent days and empty nights, an overwhelming sense that an individual vote against fascism is a drop in a bucket already full of blood and water.
And sure, we have our highlights and we share them, encouraging talk among the relentless tides of sorrow. Early morning coffee and books before the bleary-eyed squints at Slack and Zoom, evening dog walks when we get a chance to smile at strangers from afar, even those rare hikes and bike rides that still feel genuinely good. We are fighting the good fight, still making our beds and doing all the dishes after dinner.
But some days, the coffee doesn’t work. It raises the heart rate but not the head rate, makes you have to pee like a racehorse while the brain fog settles in thick and refuses to leave. Our best intentions are tossed violently by the seas of an unfeeling world, misinterpreting minds, bills, distances, deadlines. We are good people with good ideas, but between our brains and our hearts and our feeble vocal chords, the message is already lost in translation. To say nothing of the gap between others’ eardrums and eyeballs and minds, places where heartfelt earnestness is twisted into something disappointing, hurtful, silent. Buried in the onslaught of newsfeeds and unresolved traumas.
It is these times when it becomes tempting to pour it on thick, to stay up self-sabotagingly late and lay in bed well past sunrise feeling exactly zero reason to start the day. The possibility has been sucked out of it before we ever put feet on rented ground. On these days, when the body becomes an input/output machine, cranking out emails and advertising copy while feeling tired and aloof, it is difficult to feel connected to the totality of being. Did I once enjoy driving the backroads of America, driving cool and cantankerous vehicles, compiling fodder for a book that never even got started? Did I used to let myself have fun out there, sitting in coffee shops watching the world go by, kicking tires and comparing notes, sleeping in a tent or on a stranger’s couch, writing with conviction about the triumph over trauma that occurs when you put one foot in front of the other? Now I shy away from attention, find comfort in the plainest clothes, the dullest presentation of self. I’d rather spend a thousand bucks making a friend’s day easier than ten bucks buying myself a couple of pints of Ben and Jerry’s. It is not healthy, but it is the result of slowly being compressed down a funnel towards the inevitable outcome. Work, wherever it’s offered, whenever they need you to. Smile and say “Good,” because you can’t be honest and cut off your lifeline. Conformity is a modern survival mechanism, cradle to grave. It puts food on the table and reduces friction and slowly kills the soul.
Doing the work to unpack conformity, to question truths that we were force-fed as unquestionable, to claw for a confident sense of self amidst a sea of sameness, also kills the soul, even while bringing it to life. It is agonizing staring at the red and blue pill, recognizing that enlivening ourselves is also stomping on the fraught comforts that once propped us up.