I suppose it would be odd if I didn’t write something about depression in Mental Health Week. But ironically, I’m currently depressed, and more ironically still, unlike all the artists I love and admire, I’m not inspired to greatness by suspension in my own misery.
When I was little, I would look up to those writers and aspire to their chaos, believing it to be symbolic of glamour and ‘otherness’. I thought Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’s torment was indicative of a creativity and empathetic understanding of the world that couldn’t be attained via any other means. Perhaps I adopted that mindset for myself, like a lost person following a distant light in the hope it might lead to finding themselves. Perhaps I was already inclined that way and even at an early age, sought solace in the fact that I might not be as alone and as malformed as I felt.
Of course, the reality isn’t like that at all. Depression is a cold, dark place that robs one of the enthusiasm required to simply exist. One becomes an observer, watching the world pass by in colour as you exist in a black and white pixellated vacuum, Crying for Everything Bad That’s Ever Happened.
It’s regressive too. It effortlessly, arbitrarily, perhaps spitefully, cuts a swathe through the ledge you’ve been huddling on. A ledge constructed from tissue thin hope and the little pieces of scattered self you’ve stumbled upon and collected like the remnants of a once great civilisation. That ledge is the only thing between you and the blackness that exists beneath all of us and once it’s gone, you’re hanging on by your fingertips, afraid to let go but equally afraid to keep holding on.
Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of that abyss. It was a different context, but the imagery has always remained in my head.
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.
And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
In this day and age, when people are born into suffering, poverty, abuse, war and every other expression of human hatred we’ve managed to hone to a sharp point, I sometimes wonder whether I’ve become that monster. My life is good. I have people who love me, friends, family, food, water, access to free healthcare and a creative outlet. Even as I write these words I can feel my mood lifting. I have no right to appropriate misery for myself when there are so many worse off.
But the human mind doesn’t work like that. There isn’t a bell curve of misery to ensure distribution is confined to appropriate places. As people fleeing a war torn country can experience moments of great, if ephemeral, joy, we first worlders can experience moments of complete darkness. It’s not about entitlement or the casual dismissal of emotion via ironic hashtags.
It’s about recognising the fact that that darkness exists below all of us. If your ledge is stable enough for you not to have to look down into the abyss, good for you. Maybe instead of criticising everyone else’s why not offer a hand?
I can guarantee that someone close to you will appreciate it.