By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
Dealing with depression from both sides presents an interesting quandary. As a friend to people that may be suffering from it, you want to be there, you want to support them, but when people are depressed they just aren’t that interesting. A quote in the opening paragraph of Roger Ebert’s All the Lonely People says it best, “You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”
On the other side, when you are depressed, getting out of bed seems like a chore, let alone leaving the house. If that’s the way you feel, no wonder when you go out and about and try to socialize and lift your spirits, the only thing you’re thinking about is your couch, since going to sleep in your bed at 5 pm feels wrong no matter what your mental state of mind. You know you’re a bore, but you don’t care or don’t understand how people don’t see it and you just have to occupy yourself until 10 pm somehow, so you can sleep for ten hours. You never know, tomorrow might be better.
It doesn’t feel like there is a difference between depression and melancholia, and doing a quick bit of research, considering depression is used in the definition of melancholia, I’d say no difference. There’s even a combination of the two into melancholic depression. So would they look the same? Could you tell the difference between melancholia and depression? Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia gave me a quick “no” as the answer to that question.
I’ve never been married, but having been to weddings, probably not too much like the one in Melancholia, but definitely in the ballpark, I understand the urge to go take a long bath. I understand going for a walk on a golf course. There’s something nice about going to be alone when no one is around rather than being alone with hundreds of people surrounding you. It’s why the bed or bath is such a welcome sight. It’s why you continually look at your watch wondering what the perfect time to excuse yourself without hurting anyone’s feelings is. If you can hold out for one more song, one more hit from the 80s, one more choreographed dance song, you can leave and walk to your room, drive home or just run, literally and figuratively.
I’m trying to think of another film that captures that feeling so well. Looking at the profile of major league pitcher Taylor Buchholz and his bout with depression, you see a couple of the same symptoms in the performance of Kirsten Dunst (and the writing behind her acting): extreme irritability and the inability to laugh. If we saw the back story that led to her wedding, I’m sure we’d also get a glimpse of her faking happiness to such a degree that her future groom truly believed she loved him and wanted to marry him. Only at the reception did he finally see something different, as she couldn’t fake it any more. Most everyone encouraged her to do so for various reasons, not least of which, because of all the money being spent by her future brother-in-law (played very well by Kiefer Sutherland.)
As you battle with faking it, with your irritability, your self-criticism and an occasional malaise, forgetting the bed and just sleeping every day and night on the couch seems like the perfect solution because you can go to sleep and wake up with the TV to keep you company. That could be the result of loneliness, which is a separate thing, as this analysis of the Community episode Advanced Dungeons & Dragons points out, but can feel and look the same. In fact, author Casey Jones puts it very succinctly, “Depression is anger pointed at yourself. Loneliness… man, that’s just despair.” The question becomes, what if your depression causes your loneliness or you’re depressed and angry with yourself because you can’t make or keep friends? They can feed off of each other and I would say there is probably some high correlation between the two things.
As you can see from the collection of links (and the upcoming ones) I want to see how others deal with these same issues. I want to watch Melancholia even though I know it is going to be heavy. I want to read Darkness Visible to see about William Styron’s struggle to overcome depression. I want to read about how Rob Delaney learned to cope with it and come to grips to taking medication to help him. I want to read about Stanley Jefferson, former major league player and New York City policeman who was on duty in Manhattan during 9/11. I want to see or read about the ways they learned to cope or how they struggle to find a way to cope, from watching endless amounts of TV, to baths, to drinking or to just finding something to fill up every moment of your time so that you don’t have to think about anything.
Maybe you’re the same way, you like to see these things too as it helps to know that you have company. Maybe there are other people that consider watching every episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on USA Network replays over a jam-packed month to be a worthwhile pursuit. Maybe it’s because you see hope in some of the stories and you can feel hope for the stories of others because you pushed through that stage of depression yourself.
On the other hand you may not want to know how some people suffer. You don’t even want to see hints of it because those views might generate powerful emotions within you that you can’t hide. You don’t want to think about it in others because it will remind you of what you see in yourself, the fear, the anxiety, the worry. You might break down and cry in front of someone and generate more anger at yourself for showing weakness like Buchholz. Then again, you can try like he did to be around people, regular people, happy people so that you can forget all of those things that are wrong with you and you can pretend to be happy and maybe, just maybe, that dream of happiness will come true. It’s possible. As much as we think we know about the human mind and body, we still learn more and more every day and maybe a study will show that happiness rubs off. You can sense it and feel it and happiness of others becomes whole in you. You at last become whole again.
Still, the opposite of that is not to be around those happy people, cheerfully going about their daily lives because then you see the emptiness in your own. By being around them it reminds you about how unhappy you are and so then you close yourself off, you seclude yourself because the pain of seeing people is too much. Sometimes it feels better to feel sad; to know there is something wrong with you and to know it needs to be addressed. Wallowing in it makes it more visible in your own mirror and may motivate you to do something about it. You shut yourself off to find this point in yourself and then the loneliness enters your life. Then a different vein of self-loathing exists for your depression to tap into and a different cycle starts anew.
I slipped into using the second person in this essay pretty easily because I realized that doing so made writing about it easier. I never know what a different day will bring. Maybe it’s a day I want to be around people. Maybe it’s a day where I don’t. Maybe it’s a day where the idea of even taking off my clothes to shower seems like a chore. Maybe it’s a day where buying new underwear sounds so much easier than sorting clothes, carrying them to the washer, carrying them to the dryer and then putting them away. Maybe it’s a day when I write 2000 words on a subject and reward myself with video games. Maybe it’s a day where I just play video games and criticize myself for not writing anything. Maybe it’s a day I play video games and feel happy because I just have fun. Maybe it’s ten days in a row and the only thing I wrote was emails. Maybe even emails get tough to write. Maybe I’ll just watch 12 hours of Psych, Doctor Who or the whole run of Spaced and laugh a little bit, for once. When I say “you” I mean me, though I do know a few examples of friends that do or have dealt with depression and or loneliness. I’ve dealt with it a few ways myself. It’s trying to find the way to deal with it the best. So, like Kirsten Dunst’s character, maybe I’ll work in baths. I’ve tried long showers. They help some. Every day leads me closer to a solution as I work through ways to overcome my own depression and my solutions are definitely better than a meteor coming to strike the Earth, I’m sure. Definitely sure on that one. For with the dawn of a new day, there’s always hope that it will be better.