Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Depression (and Lawson and Brosh)

After not having a lick of work for the past 5 weeks (and not speaking to S for the same amount of time), I was again sinking into the murky emotional mess I'd not been in since 2 summers ago. I'm still not speaking with S, but at least this week I got a work assignment that will last 'til the end of August, thus alleviating the financial fears that were starting to overwhelm me (though I still have a few thousand in the bank saved up from the big freelance work year in 2012, the money was dwindling, with nothing else coming in; having stuff coming in again is a great mental relief).

And--oh, the irony--now that I'm back at work, I STILL have plenty of time to kill! But this time while getting paid (and with permission from my boss to surf in down-time). So I was catching up on one of my favorite blogs (actually, it's the ONLY blog I read regularly)--"The Bloggess" by Jenny Lawson. Someone needs to hire this woman to write a sit-com. For instance (and this isn't even near her best stuff, just stuff easy to find from the past week):

Conversations with Victor (June 23):
me:  I think if I found myself in a scary movie I’d go hang out at a retirement home. Elderly people almost never get targeted by movie-based serial killers. And even if the ghost/axe murderer/whatever showed up at the old-folks-home I’d still be way faster than most of the non-ambulatory people. Plus, they’ve already lived their lives so when they selflessly said, “JUST GO ON WITHOUT ME, I’M SLOWING YOU DOWN” I could totally desert them without having too much survivor’s guilt.

Victor:  Huh.

me: And if I got tired of running I could just steal one of those electric wheelchairs and then I wouldn’t lose my breath and also I wouldn’t trip, which is basically how everyone dies in horror films.

Victor: You’d be fucked if there were stairs though.

me: I’m not sure I’d want to survive if running up a bunch of stairs was involved. I think if I had to run up a ton of stairs I’d probably just say “Fuck it” and just wait for the serial killer.

Victor:  Wow.  That’s…incredibly lazy.

me:  And retirement homes probably have lots of morphine around, so if I thought I was going to get murdered I could just get really high and then I probably wouldn’t even feel being stabbed. Some ghost could crawl out of the tv and scary-shuffle toward me and instead of being terrified I’d just be like “Oh my God…I am SO HIGH.”

Victor: I think you’ve thought too much about this.

me: It’s called “emergency preparedness,” Victor.
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And then there's her 6/17 meditation on Flag Day and the painting "The Birth of Old Glory." Etc. etc. She makes me laugh at lot. But, as I've learned from reading her for about a year now, she also suffers from severe depression. Recently, too. Here's a 6/13 entry:

I'm coming out of this. Eventually.

And in a 5/9 entry, Lawson writes: 

Three things that made a week full of rotten wood and crying in the closet turn around completely for me:
...3. Finding out that my fucking amazing friend, Allie Brosh, is back from the dark side. She’s one of the people in my life that truly gets what it’s like to be trapped in a full-on, completely-detached-from-reality depression and survive, plus she did it for about 87 years (in depression years) and that gives me such hope that even when it feels like my mind will never snap back…it always will. Probably. Now stop whatever you are doing and go read her blog.

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So of course I had to do so. Brosh's "Depression Part Two" cartoon-essay was insightful and subtle and profound (truly pure, original writing/drawing and thinking). "Yes, YES, that's EXACTLY how I've felt!" I was saying to myself through maybe 2/3 of it. But then I also WASN'T saying that for the other 1/3. Parts like this:

"It's weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it's frustrating for them when that doesn't happen. From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you've simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are... [A cartoon interspersed here of an inane blonde, chatty friend on a couch saying: "You should do yoga while watching the sunrise. It's literally impossible to feel negative and sad while appreciating the wonder of the universe."] But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they'll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed. The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face...."

Maybe passages like that bugged me because I could see myself as the inane friend as well as the depressed person. In my own case, I HAVE no "inane friend" trying to get me out of any funk. I wish I did. Nobody cares or notices if I'm in a deeply low state. In my own case, I have to do any sort of pumping up for myself. Yes, finding that "untapped source of happiness within" that I've "simply lost track of." Like re-connecting with a Joan Crawford performance that I used to love 20 years ago but hadn't watched since and discovering 2 or 3 new things about her. Like re-reading Anne Sexton's poems or bios and discovering 2 or 3 new things about her. Like seeing an online photo of Tennessee Williams in his 50s riding a bicycle with a big grin on his face and thinking, "I think I know his major work on the surface, but...what in the world is it about him that makes him look that cute and happy here?" and then trying to figure it out...

One other "trick" I did during a long-term horrible spell back in the early '90s was...picking up every penny I saw on the ground and taking them home to put in a jar. Little stupid, useless, foot-crunched bits of hope. Another "trick" I did, while living in Weehawken during the tail-end of my big, rapidly failing "NYC Adventure" after Gracie had died and I couldn't find work: Walking the 4 minutes to the Hudson and looking at the outrageous beauty and glamour of the New York City skyline from across the river. And being wowed by it every time, to the point of TALKING to it (a skyline!): "GodDAMN, you are beautiful! Thank you, God, for letting me see this." (I talked like this in the fall to the TREES up north, too; oh, and occasionally to the snow, and to the blocks of ice floating on the Hudson!) :)

So, yeah, to answer Brosh's mockery of whatever "untapped source of happiness": I refuse to believe that any person has NO internal "source of happiness" that they can tap into when things are at their worst. Of COURSE things are often awful in a person's life. Of COURSE there's often a chemical, metabolic imbalance that contributes to the depression. Of COURSE people often self-medicate (often with a psychiatrist's prescriptions), which makes interactions with others worse, not better. Trust me, I know first-hand. But I also found the below from Brosh's essay to be, almost simply, somewhat of a failure of perspective: a failure to acknowledge ageing and decline, a failure to acknowledge change:

"But as I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren't the same. I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse's Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled. I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything."

I, too, used to feel wonderment when I played with my toys as a child. I also used to feel wonderment at Santa Claus, at the Easter Bunny, at the Tooth Fairy. I'm not being facetious or sarcastic. These things were all extremely magical and pleasure-inducing while they lasted. But they don't last. What do you do then, when you're 7 or 8? Similarly, later in life... What do you do when a relationship fails (either outright, or a fading away because of disenchantment? notice the "enchant/chant" root). Or worse, what do you do when, while still either in your Santa or your "my prince will come" phase, a person with more power than you is abusive? "It can't be. It can't be. I want my toys. I want my Santa. I want my Daddy/Mommy. I want my Prince(ss) Charming."

I've just now reached middle age, but I imagine my next refrain will be: "I want my eyesight! I want my health." And, when I'm finally old: "I want my life!" My point being: "You lose things constantly, and you always have and you always will. Starting, perhaps, with the magical feeling you had while playing with your toys, Allie Brosh! You -- we all -- pretty much have to just get used to it and work around it. For real."

I wanted to end my spiel right there, but something else about both Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosh occurs to me: They both -- according to their own blogs -- have very little to do all day other than peter around on the Internet. Neither work. (Lawson has a husband who pays her bills; Brosh has a longtime boyfriend she lives with, though I'm not sure if he supports her or if she has family money.) I wonder if this kind of self-enforced personal helplessness contributes to their depression. Myself -- I absolutely HATE having to rely on anyone else to support me. (Which contributes to my own depression when I'm not bringing in any money; which led me to a near-breakdown when I was forced to live with my mother for 3 months in 2010.) But that's such a surface thing with me that I know exactly what's going on mentally and why I'm upset. These two, on the other hand, seem to have gone straight from their childhood families to an equally financially helpless situation with their mates (a la women's forced situations for centuries up 'til 1960s Women's Lib and the media gave everyday women a viable option as to what was "acceptable" in everyday life).

While on the Internet surface Lawson and Brosh are brave and wonderful (on the Internet, anyone can be brave and wonderful if they choose that persona), in reality, they're obviously, and painfully, mentally trapped in some way that they're not admitting in their blog posts. (Their posting patterns: "All's fine and dandy! Look how meaningfully and hilariously I interact with my great family and great mate!" And then, all of a sudden... whoosh! They're lying in the closet or on the couch for a week or month, unable to move. Then they DESCRIBE not being able to function...but they fail to explore WHY or HOW they got to that point. Not being able to relate to their toys like they used to? Cute. But that ain't it.)

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