Cloud Bursting: What it's Like to Experience Depression
There was a discussion at the Old Toad pub about happiness. During the discussion, the subject changed to criticism of people who choose to reject happiness, turning to judgment and depression instead. Several participants thought that these people should have the strength or mental fortitude to make themselves do what makes them happy and stop wallowing in depression.
Now when an idea comes to my head, it’s not like some flash of eureka or anything like that. As a friend put it, it’s more like the sensation of bubbling, something welling up inside you, trying to form itself into coherent words. So while these people were criticizing people who were too weak to get out of their depression to be happy, my simmering finally translated into language and I spoke my mind.
I communicated to them that happiness is not as easy to come by for many people. I mentioned that depression, since that had become the opposite of happiness, can make such a goal extremely difficult. “Why”, they asked? It didn’t make sense to them that a mere emotion should override the simple reason and logic to do what makes you happy. And this is a very common opinion of depression of society at large.
Depression is like the bastard child that everyone knows of but tries not to talk about. It seems like we don’t want to talk about it because it is seen as being weak and pointlessly so. My father would often try to drill this into my head, that it’s an emotion. Simply stop doing what makes you depressed and change paths. If it were only that simple.
The best way to describe depression’s power is that it is like being trapped in a glass cage. You can see where you need to go. However, when you try to move in that direction, you find yourself unable to. You run into something that is both invisible, yet tangible enough to inhibit you from reaching that path you need to take. You’re cut off, with the solution so within sight that it becomes less of a solution and more like a mental torture. The dangling carrot if you will. Another way the depression can be experienced is that its like having your legs cut out right from under you. No matter how you want to, you can’t go in that direction even if you wanted to.
What creates these glass walls are numerous and varied, but the one thing that I have both lived and encountered in other people, is that the cause created some sort of psychic trauma in the their minds. The trauma leaves such a deep footprint that it just about overshadows everything else because it goes down to a deeper level. Therefore, common signs of happiness like family, jobs, and money can be just that: surface icons. They have no depth to them, no structure like that of an iceberg whose true size is only seen beneath the surface of the waves.
The power of depression is its ability to turn the mind itself into a self-perpetuating prison where no guard or warden is needed. If a person spends enough time in this state, they eventually adapt to its environment, essentially accepting that depression as the norm. When the opportunity for true happiness and the door in the glass wall finally presents itself, we turn away and stay inside.
I read once an article where a group that rescues animals, heals them, and then returns them to the wild, had a situation with one of their charges. A wolf that had been nourished back to health was taken out to be released, but rather than leave the cage that had brought him there, he stayed inside. The cage and the group’s enclosure had now become its home and it could no longer go back to being a self-sustaining, wild animal. That’s the crippling effect of depression.
Passive Aggressive Affirmation
Sometimes though depression will explode rather than implode. When I was in high school, I played a lot of basketball, but was always one of the outsiders. The weird, kid who seemed nice but mostly stayed away from. And to be fair I did do weird things from time to time. But this also fed into that internal depression that I had been struggling with for many years. I often felt powerless to do anything meaningful against my ‘oppressors’. Teenage fantasies I know, but who hasn’t had them? I was skinny and had no real, physical strength, so I wasn’t going to win in a fight. But I was good at street ball, so when those kids wanted to play, with their friends and girlfriends cheering them on, I made it a point to embarrass them. Nothing righteous or noble at all, I just wanted to shut their asses down in this one area and make sure that they and everyone else knew it.
That though is mild compared to other outburst that people do. Some who struggle with it create an false identity, creating a persona that seems out going and the opposite of the true reality inside. Sometimes there is a detachment between the layers, like between crust and mantle. Other times, the extroverted actions serve a subtle purpose of looking for some form of relief from the glass prison, a gasp of fresh air from the other side. Fighting, being the prankster, success in your career, and even sex can all be avenues of relief and escape from that prison: even if it maybe temporary or an illusion.
It can’t be argued that social media is now part of the fabric of our society. Nearly everyone has at least an email account, if not Facebook or Twitter. And because of this, social media has inadvertently become an extension of the struggle with depression. Most of us will tweet or post stories or events that are happy occasions, as will our friends on our feeds. Our personal struggles though are not often seen and when they are, sometimes the blowback can be devastating. Social media and the internet allow people to not use their filter when voicing their feelings or opinions. Instead of taking time to process our emotions to determine if it is appropriate to say, or if there is another way to say it, we go off half-kilter and not caring about the damage that’s been done because its behind a screen.
The peer pressure that is experienced in interacting with live people becomes extended and even enhanced when it is then also felt online. Pictures of women and men who appear like gods, and consistent images and posts who seem to be living the good life can put unintended pressure on those who were struggling. The game changer being that instead of that feeling being contained to an isolated community, it can be global for all to see or hear. Just ask someone whose had a sex tape of them done without their consent or had embarrassing information about them posted online. They may never say anything to their friends or families in fear of being left out and rejected for not being happy and suffer with it privately if they can. Many times there are extreme cases where people have committed suicide, unable to deal with both the twin sisters of humiliation and depression.
Those Who Sit on a Hill
People who have never had this experience only see the surface part and are not aware of its deeper roots or care to be aware of it. They just try to steer clear of it. From a distance, as with most things, it is easy to judge. If you’re looking at the iceberg’s tip, then people struggling with depression do seem like weak-willed winers who are too clingy or emos being anti-social to feel important. Our society places high value on happiness and self-fulfillment. It is the meaning of our existence, the light at the tunnel’s end and the pinnacle of the pyramid. Depression goes against that, can drag down and therefore is often viewed as something to be avoided.
In recent years, in large part because of veterans returning from war with PTSD and the increased media showcase of violent crimes undertaken by people with mental illness or depression, we have a grudging acknowledgment that depression is an issue. In tragedy, the bastard child is speaking up and coming out of the corner. However, we still don’t like to hear about it.
Perhaps we are afraid of becoming sucked up into it. Maybe some of us who don’t like talking about depression just don’t like sharing our pain, period. It might be that we feel that to be involved in that person’s pain, even for a short time, is to be owned by that pain. And perhaps it is something as biologically simple as we only care about dealing with a problem when it is close to home. A prayer or donating money will do other wise.
Whatever the reason for our hesitancy, depression is an iceberg. And it has and will continue to cut us as long as we continue to treat it like leprosy. Being happy is not a crime, nor is circumstances that by their nature put us at a distance from people fighting with depression. If we do come across such people though, sometimes a kind word can be enough to crack the glass wall. Sometimes that is all that is needed.