This morning dawned bleak and snowy. Many would be tempted to look outside the window and remark, “What a depressing day.”
Ironically, many of us that have dealt with depression in life rather embrace these darker days. Like reverse osmosis, sometimes the lack of need to show a brighter side of ourselves serves like a release from pressure to put on a happy face. I personally love wandering through dank woods, or through the sullen fog of a November morning. There is no need to pretend in those moments. Life is what it is.
I found a quote that describes the way depression not only moves within and through us, but around us as well.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.”― Stephen Fry
Like the weather? I’d say it goes a bit deeper than that. Depression is more like an internal climate within which one lives. It’s actually bigger and broader than a weather system. That is why there’s no such thing as completely running away from it. Weather comes and goes. The climate is where you live.
Granted, even the climate can change. We’re seeing that now around the globe. I just finished reading a startling article in National Geographic about the Great Lakes and how climate change is warming the waters, killing off certain species of diatoms critical to the entire ecosystem of those bodies of water, which hold 25% of the surface freshwater on earth. Those microscopic creatures also produce about half the air we breathe. Climate change threatens to kill them off.
Those are depressing facts. Then again, there have been a ton of them this year. From a cultural, social, political and environmental perspective, 2020 is the roll call of depressing years.
Coming through it…
That said, for me, 2020 was not half as bad as last year. 2019 was the year I nearly died from a tooth infection that nearly took me out. I also got clobbered in a bike crash by an idiot who stepped out in from of me. That led to injuries that would not heal quickly. For much of the year, I was scared, and hurt. It was depressing.
Yet I’ve gotten good at coping with bad news of many kinds. My years as a caregiver to a wife with cancer taught me that even seemingly terrible news often turns out to be not so bad as it seems on the surface. You always have to wait. See what comes next.
I also learned to damp down the drama in your head. Many of us are great at imagining the worst even when things are going fine. Our anxious minds invent reasons to be afraid. That is why it is often said that anxiety is the flipside of depression.
Yet we still have to go about our business. Like a hawk sitting in a soaking wet tree, the day still demands that we get out there and hunt for whatever it is that sustains us. It may require a different kind of motivation, or perhaps just dull determination, but the hunger and need to survive remains.
Through it all, and over the years, I’ve relied heavily on the ability to go out and run or ride or swim to gain perspective and move outside the limitations that depression sinks into your brain. Moving around through exercise makes my mind work in new ways. Then again, it’s a fact that depression can make you not want to move. It can make you want to lie down and sleep instead. It takes courage at times to get out the door. Go do it. Just Do It. Whatever works for you.
I well recall a floormate in our freshman dorm who went into depression and slept for days and days. We’d peek in on him to make sure he was alive. He might have gotten food from a roommate. I never knew. He finally emerged and moved out of his funk. It was hard for him because football season was over at that point. There was no motivation to get the hell out of bed and deal with the dank condition of his mind.
Times change and time changes
Those late teenage years are often the period in life when people discover the meaning and effects of depression. I had a bout with depression during my junior year cross country season that ruined my efforts at the conference meet. I recall the amount of daylight fading toward the end of the season with daylight savings expiring. We trained in the dusk and something sank inside of me. Probably a case of SADD. It caught me at the worst time, and I struggled to break 28:00 for five miles during a season in which I typically ran that distance in close to 26:00. Yet I bounced two weeks later to run as fifth man on a team that placed 8th in the nation.
Fortunately, the world’s comprehension and acknowledgement of how depression affects the world’s population is much more transparent. Public education about depression is doing wonders to help people feel less shitty about having the condition. With that knowledge comes access to hope through coping strategies. Therapy, healthy medications and societal appreciation that people with depression aren’t somehow worthless all contribute to a better world for those involved.
That is refreshing. The stigma of depression is reduced when more people open up about its effects on (and in) their lives. It also helps to learn about family history and realize that relatives in the past or present have dealt with the condition. I’m pretty sure it was the terminally depressed mind of Pete Townshend of the Who that wrote these lyrics to the song The Real Me:
I went back to my mother
I said, “I’m crazy ma, help me.”
She said, “I know how it feels son,
Cause it runs in the family.”
The dark days of depression, like tarsnakes of the soul, can make you feel like you don’t belong in this world. But that’s not really true. What doesn’t belong is the sense that you don’t have worth. Forgiving yourself for that first feeling is important, because the world can make you feel worthless even if you don’t deal with depression. Let’s be plain about this: the world itself can be a depressing place.
Look around you. Covid19 and a manic nutcase of a President here in the United States have made a depressed mess out of the entire country, and for that matter, the whole world. Even his supporters are now depressed because they won’t have their ray of gaslighting sunshine to preach their case of victimhood and rage. Don’t you see that worshipping Trump with all his dismissiveness, criticism and anger is just another way of coping with the depressing realities of this world? This is just people grasping for understanding, and Trump with his slogans and simplistic policies of America First and MAGA appeals to the depressed minds of those who just want their problems to go away. It’s too depressing for them to think of anything else. And too much trouble, in their minds, to deal with it all.
Trump salves their collective depression with his downtalking and seeming sympathy for the populist collective mind of disenfranchisement and selfish need for approval. But it doesn’t mean the people who support him are mentally or emotionally healthy in having embraced his inauthentic brand of greedy and dismissive politics. Look at him pouting and emoting now on Twitter. Does anyone honestly think that is the behavior or a sane and healthy human being? It is not. He is a sulking mess of self-pity and fear. He always has been. Now he’s the ultimate Has-Been. Frankly, he brought it upon himself.
And for that, I have empathy for the man. I think he’s got ADD as well. He’s assembled a worldview that enables him to deal with things on a simple and somewhat casual level. But he was never fit for the job that he was granted through his genius for manipulation. That’s the depressing truth in America right now. Trump is way more conflicted and confused than most of us. Some people love him for it.
Those of us who recognize the manic nature of this age know it’s time to move on. It’s enough to make you want to strap on your best fitness gear, step out the door in any condition or climate, and run or ride or swim until you can’t feel the awfulness in your head anymore. Sweat it out like there’s no tomorrow. Depression can’t own you if it can’t hold onto you. Let it slip away and wash down the dark drains of a slushy street.
And look toward a better today, and tomorrow.
Brilliant post.. its strange to say but I see depression as a gift.. in opening us to darker truths that we then need to move through and shed to find a new way of living in some ways it can be rite of passage.. this is beautifully written and very incisive.
Thank you. I’d agree. Depression isn’t “fun,” per se, but it does have its revelatory aspects.
I’ve never been clinically depressed, except for maybe a year or so in junior high school.
But I’ve experienced at least the normal depression most of us feel.
I’ve lost both parents in the past two and a half years and that really knocks the snot out of you.
This is my first Thanksgiving I wont be calling my mother.
I’ve also experienced that black hole that can sometimes come when marathon training turns into taper time.
Again, nothing clinical but I’ve had times where nothing is good and everything is bad.
And while I know that running, or any physical activity, is good for “the blues” I also know that when you feel that way it’s almost impossible to help your self.
The perspective you gain from being in the hole is a gift. A hard won gift.