Black clouds. Rain clouds. Grey clouds. Large black dogs with floppy ears and wobbly feet. Shadowy hands holding you back. Globs of dark fur, drenched in the rain, peering at you through an alleyway as deep as dreadful. All these things, and I’m sure many more, have been ways that people have tried to visualize depression.
For me, I’ve always considered it a bit more comically, more commercially even. Do you remember that little guy from the Zoloft commercials? It’s so cute, but so sad, so small yet so poignant, altogether insignificant.
It’s a frown, a sigh, an expression of anguish or uncertainty as the weather darkens, but you look outside and it’s still sunny and warm.
Perhaps it helps to visualize depression. Perhaps it helps to make it human. Or perhaps putting a face to these feelings isn’t at all what we need.
I’ve been wondering lately, thinking, feeling, stewing in my own shapeless thoughts. I read Lost by Gregory Maguire recently. It’s a ghost story, both literally and metaphorically, and follows a writer along the edges of her own reality, her own fiction, and where they intersect. In fact, this same subtle paranoia inspired my own bit of flash fiction.
While discussing a history of paranormal activity, c.f. ghosts, the character of Irv Hausserman explains that the notion of happiness in our own lifetimes is a recent invention. In the medieval worlds we prone to fantasy tend to return to, the average peasant life was harsh and unforgiving, tiring before dawn and dead before dusk, and the only hope a person had was salvation in the afterlife. All that hard work, all those unending and unrelenting struggles would ultimately culminate in peace and happiness in heaven.
As time changed, as upward mobility became more possible, as middle classes and mindless technology came into the hands of all people, the reigns of happiness loosened and fell to the grasps of us peasants today trying to make it by.
But maybe that’s our flaw. Maybe we think happiness is entitled, that somehow it’s a fundamental right, but it’s not. Maybe happiness is so fleeting because it’s foreign to the natural, unbounded human experience. Maybe we see depression as an anomaly, a medical condition, a mental illness, and we plow it over with drugs and therapy when all it really needs is acceptance because anything other than this solid state is malfunctioning.
Humans aren’t meant to be happy. Life isn’t meant to be easy or enjoyable.
Thinking otherwise just drags us down, makes us feel like failures when, as the saying goes, “life happens,” and inadequate because something as easy as happy is hard to have. So we fight, we struggle, we dig ourselves deeper for an unobtainable end.
Maybe longer lifespans have stretched the thin meaning of life to brittle threads. Maybe if we were to live faster, die sooner, we wouldn’t get so caught up in the notion of entitlement, in happiness, in smiles and sunshine and kittens and rainbows and butterflies.
Maybe if we’d all just die sooner, we wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe if we came and went faster we wouldn’t wonder, question the big things that have no answers, try to make sense of the senseless, the hatred and fear and violence that’s also human nature.
Maybe all this happiness, all these anti-depressants and promises for better living, are just distractions from what’s really here: A damned world, dark around the edges, thick with the languid sludge of despair, rough and unforgiving. Perhaps if we dropped our illusions, our pretenses, our expectations and just saw the world for the virulent, torturous, noxious place it really is, we could more purely take refuge in those fleeting moments of beauty.
We could appreciate a spring blossom, knowing in days it’ll wither and fade.
We can admire a lightning strike, awed by its bright brevity.
We can indulge in hugs and kisses and sex, knowing they’re as destructive as they are creative, knowing that the taste of another human is just another appetizer before death.
Maybe we think too highly of ourselves. We think we deserve stuff. We deserve happiness and love and food, shelter, clothing. We deserve jobs, fair weather, family and friends. But maybe these are auxiliary, tangent to what really matters: a brief breath and then death.
There is so much wonder in the world, so much mystery, but maybe it isn’t meant for us. Maybe it’s here to provide context and setting, but not conflict or plot. Maybe all that matters is a character outline, a climax, a denouement. No epilogue is ever needed.