I used this biblical style language for the title because I am lost within an inner gaze this morning. I am not promoting religious philosophy here, but trying to talk about illness. Let’s look to the Book of Job for an example of what I am hoping to get at: “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.”
William Styron used that line to open his terrifying memoir Darkness Visible (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780679736394&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used). In this brief discussion Styron, a tremendously successful author, mostly known for The Confessions of Nat Turner (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=&an=william%20styron&tn=confessions%20nat%20turner&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ats-_-used) and Sophie’s Choice (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780553209679&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used), details his decent into madness, a crippling depression that had him on the verge of suicide and that spawned out of seemingly nowhere.
The very idea of depression is a vastly misunderstood concept. Of course we are all depressed at times throughout our lives. Terrible things happen which devastate us. Sometimes we question if we have the strength to get back up–to recover even a slight portion of our lives. And yet we often do. We try. Perhaps sometimes we succeed. There are so many distractions we can immerse ourselves in and, maybe, someday discover a new life worth living.
But this is not what I am talking about either, the natural ebbs and flows of life. I am talking about outright insanity, and I hope I can explain this. Previously I wrote a piece on a similar topic called “Is Depression a Disease?” on 2/4/2019, and yet I remain unsatisfied with my conclusions. I would like to try again.
This is a challenge to those not trapped in the narrowing corner of mental illness. For years I have been trying to live my life in the darkest glaze of perpetual sorrow. It doesn’t make any sense. When you try to tell someone just how hard focus or effort or literally doing anything sometimes seems, you are scoffed at. You are called lazy. You are told that you simply do not care–the exact same things you are beating yourself up for, considering these same problems and wondering why you can’t do anything about them.
Of course being called out on these behaviors can only make it worse. They can see through me! These hateful secrets about myself that cause me to doubt the purpose of living are on display to whole world! Everyone sees me. The failure of my life is so obvious that everyone either laughs at me, or scolds me, or tells me that they cannot stand it any longer, suffering in a parallel manner beside me. “Get over it!” they scream. “Be strong!” But you can’t get over it. You cannot be strong. Your mind won’t let you.
But I do not wish to turn this into some kind of sob story lament, one of those whining “What about meeeeeeeee?” tales of people who should be abandoned getting their just desserts. It is very hard living day after day with a person unable to control their emotions. The radicals highs and lows are stifling, exhausting, and the impact you have upon others only slowly makes itself known in some of your sadder moments, those that come before the helpless self-pity consumes you. I asked before if depression was a disease. It is–or at least it can be.
People do not doubt that the more serious and extravagant mental illnesses, schizophrenia, or delusional paranoia that causes you to hallucinate and have eyes watching between atoms, or even psychosis in all its bloody forms, are serious problems, and the fault of something wrong inside a person’s mind. And while the results may be unforgiving, we can still agree that these people are sick. Depression, however, being far more timid and ending, at its worst, with a murder-suicide, remains something that people can only blame the person for being selfish.
And they are selfish–unquestionably. This is actually a part of the illness–such dense self-reflection, that perpetual doubt about everything you do, say or think. It is not something so easily turned off. Think of obsessive/compulsive behavior–another illness people suffer from, certainly annoying, but acknowledged as a problem some people have to endure. Depression is a lot like that, a growing, all-consuming thought that directs every action and consumes the motives behind every thought.
Poison, it is poison, and it spreads its venom all around. People who live with the depressed cannot help but be infected. Understandably spouses leave, and take the children, who are suffering perhaps even worse than the victim. And this sort of failure with their family is just another terrible thing that had no doubt been an obsession within the miserable person’s mind. In many ways, they may even have subconsciously manipulated this into reality. There was no reason not to expect such a dire end result, and the depressed person, almost cheerfully, can then only wonder how things can possibly get worse.
I have been diagnosed with a whole slew of this bullshit throughout my life. I have also doubted its reality, that self-will cannot control it. I have tried desperately to force this into being. Inevitably it led me through years of drug abuse, irresponsible spending, random, sometimes dangerous encounters out in the bottomless night–all sorts of risky behavior in an effort to keep myself from falling off a cliff and down into the deepest hole I could never claw my way out of. Years of my life have no doubt been sheered off as a result of this irresponsibility.
Of course this can’t entirely be attributed to illness, because people with problems of an entirely different sort often replicate the same behavior. But I can still recall clearly what was going on in my head throughout these years–years and years before I met my wife and engaged her in a whole new series of problems. I was ultimately seeking the next high, and this had very little to do with the actual drugs. It was experience, I wanted to experience–to feel everything, because I did not expect my life to last much longer. I would roam around and do the most irresponsible things, unexpected even by myself, and await the resulting consequence. I am shocked I did not catch a disease. I am a little surprised I was not murdered.
But as I got older and tried to settle down, I left all of that in the past (I continue to draw from those years for understanding of lost humanity, and convert it into much of my writing.) I thought, at one point, that I might become Marcel Proust (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Marcel%20Proust&cm_sp=det-_-bdp-_-author), relating the earlier years of my life, and the often drastic experiences I lived through, over my final years on earth. But that just wasn’t me. My ambitions turned in a different direction. I wanted to write horror stories based in the collapse of a single person’s life. Yes, I wished to chronicle the devastation of something like depression, and how it can lead to the absolute worst-case-scenario. For years I described my genre as ‘Individual Apocalypse.’ And these were not supernatural stories either (or at least not usually.) They were tragedies.
The one thing I believe it most necessary to do is to take responsibility for all the pain and unhappiness we have caused. Even though it is rarely our intention, and especially because we often do not even realize what we are doing to others, it being far too late to apologize, we must understand who it is that we are. We cannot ask, or plea for sympathy, or moan an excuse like “I’m sick,” or “I can’t help it!” And even if this is true, life is still about experience. It is about how we relate to others and what we are finally able to accomplish. And even if you truly are ill, and even if your disease is something people doubt, or fundamentally cannot understand, true responsibility is to keep others from suffering the same way. Perhaps . . . perhaps this is the only road to recovery. Perhaps love really does conquer all . . .