2016 was a different beast, and the year that sucked for everyone also sucked a lot for me. Mostly, I just worked too much, with every weekday being devoted, from 7 a.m to 10 p.m, to one job or the other (and that's not counting the shifts every Saturday). Coincidentally, (but maybe not?!) two different pop songs were heavily present on the airwaves last year, the choruses of which were just "work, work, work, work." I'm a one man show, so I had no time for anything or anyone, because even when I wasn't at work, I was focusing on my own welfare and responsibilities. I'm not upset that I got my finances right, and I'm not upset that I spent my minimal free time keeping myself healthy, my dogs walked, and my house clean (mostly). What I'm saying is I don't regret my choices, but that lifestyle caught up with me towards the end of the annum.
I felt lonely. I felt exhausted. I felt like I had missed out on everything. I felt estranged from my family and friends. I felt like I was shortchanging my furry, four-legged charges, which is inexcusable to me. The one week of vacation I took didn't do much for my stress level. I couldn't even remember what I really liked. How much had I written? A few thousand words, all year? How many books had I read all year? Eight or nine, maybe? How goddamned long had I been single? Even the American election deeply affected me, perhaps more profoundly than it should have (time will tell). I buckled. That opened the door for an old friend.
It's taken me most of my life to be able to talk about it in anything besides hushed tones or self-deprecating jokes (though those latter still help), but I feel like I don't care what anyone thinks anymore. If they're uncomfortable, fuck 'em, not the kind of people I need around. If I must normalize it to everyone around me, I will do that alone, as I do everything else. I never had the assistance of the Tumblr hordes or a counselor. My mom made a deal with me to talk to a therapist, once, when I was much younger. What I got from that deal was one of the most uncomfortable, irritating, sad hours of my life, a personal disposition against therapists, and a copy of Final Fantasy VIII (a game I still love, and quote).
Not that it's quite en vogue now, because many (most?) people still don't know what to do when others can't be cheered up, but a lot of the stigma about depression has evaporated, especially as more and more famous folk come out with their struggles. The Rock is one such, the kind of personable, funny, handsome guy whose achievements are legion, but who has dealt with "that beast" throughout his life.
Some have even framed it helpfully, like comedian Jim Jefferies, who puts forth (I'll paraphrase) that all the most successful people in the world are deeply unsatisfied with life, and the reason is that they don't bother with glass half full or empty bullshit, but simply ask, "Why isn't that fucking glass full?" This wasn't just an ego boost for me, it made a lot of good sense.
That said, depression hasn't really gotten any easier to talk about, past breaching the subject, because it's such a strange phenomenon.
If you don't experience it, it's something you simply can't know. I've tried to describe depression a million ways, but the best I ever came up with is: no matter what you do, everything sucks. Drop yourself in a situation that nine of ten times you love, but under the dark cloud, you hate. You can't explain to the people that brought you to your favourite restaurant why you aren't hungry, you just aren't. You don't know how to describe to your girlfriend that of course you still love her but something is wrong inside you. And that's only my experience. I'd wager someone else would tell it to you very differently.
Depression doesn't mean you're an introvert (though I am). It doesn't mean you're a loser (I probably am), or that you like The Cure (I most certainly do not). Like atheism, depression says very little about any of your other attributes, at least when you're your best self. Yes, thank you, I have, in fact, been told that I have a lovely smile and should show it off more, but my face doesn't work like that. We aren't trying to be difficult. It's simply that our shadows talk back to us.
When it's on you, you don't want to shut anyone out, and you don't want to make excuses, but no one helps (and they usually make it worse), and, as I said, everything sucks. You don't really want to be alone, but everyone wants to talk about it, and try and help you in the normal ways. It isn't their fault, but that shit doesn't work.
Plus, there are some who don't try to help, and don't care to understand. To them, you're just a whiny bitch. Yes, everyone gets down at times. I would hope it goes without saying in 2017, but for the love of god and Batman, it is not the same thing. How can I be so sure? Because I've been in a good mood, and stubbed my toe, or lost my car keys, or got a shitty paycheque, or been rained on during my commute, or whatever. I've gone through breakups when I was in a healthy mind state that didn't bring me half so low as depression did while I was in a good relationship.
It. Is. Not. The. Same. Thing.
There are a lot of drugs out there for dealing with it, but I'm anti-drug except when really necessary (I write this with a strong antibiotic hopefully killing the bacteria in my sinus and lungs, because I'd really like to hit the gym). I have friends who have used some of these treatments, and the verdicts are roundly poor: A strange, plateaued existence that didn't allow him to experience sadness, but neither joy; a loss of her appetite; a huge increase in his appetite; dissolution of her treasured sex drive; et cetera. These drugs screw with our brains and bodies in ways that cannot be accurately predicted, and I'm not down with that.
Besides, I feel the verdict isn't really in on depression. Maybe this is an amateur evaluation, but it doesn't seem to affect everyone the same. Some people experience it only in their teenagers years, when hormones are the worst. Others have episodes intermittently, and some only after some kind of trauma, while still others fight all their lives. That's before you even begin to examine the physical and mental sources. How many cases could be solved, or treated, with exercise? How many people just need more niacin in their diet?
How do you start a relationship in a healthy state of mind, but also prepare another person for the crash? I realize everyone has their demons, but it seems unfair. "Oh yeah, and by the way, some times I'll be inconsolably miserable. It's got little to nothing to do with you,but you'll have to deal with it peripherally. Sorry."
It's a beast that you have to make friends with, and accept, because the fight will tire you beyond self-recognition. Depression doesn't beat you violently, it wears you and pulls you down, like an abusive relationship. In fact, it's a lot like an abusive relationship with yourself, except it's pretty much impossible to annul, so you have to frame it on your terms.
In this respect, I'm lucky for my natural intolerance to alcohol, and I never had any interest in drugs or cigarettes. Any kind of vice coupled with depression can be a death knell, we've all seen it. I have friends with no such luck, and the things that combination has done to them are hideous.
I've stumbled upon a few coping mechanisms in my days. I maintain that getting a dog is one of the best decisions I ever made; there's something transcendent and simple about the love of an animal. Besides the responsibility and care I learned, there's a consistency there that exists few other places in the world. In a sense, pet ownership was the first real act of my adult life. At the time, I only did it because I've always liked dogs, but the therapeutic value was immeasurable.
Nutrition and physical fitness, too, have been great aides. All of this seems very straightforward now - if you eat well and exercise, you'll feel better - but in the worst years, during high school and early university, you couldn't have paid me to eat the vegetables I enjoy so much now, and to this day I'm still not sure I really enjoy working out, for the lack of mental stimulation (I know, I know, probably what I need). But I do it, and it definitely works. In fact, I thought for a while I might have cured myself in this way, but when I wasn't able to attend to my training, as per my Year of the Grind, depression came surging back.
But all these things came later. They weren't there when things were worst. At those times, the only tool I had was the earliest gift my mother ever gave me (Well, besides life. Don't split hairs.) What I had was reading, and writing. I had, and have, words.
I had the words and voices of Poe and Lovecraft and Yeats (and like... every Irish writer [person?] ever) and Tupac (yes I am hereby asserting that Pac was depressed), with all their summary flaws, and I had my own words. In the same way, in the realm of music, I'm a lyrics guy first, the aesthetic is rarely enough on its own. So, sorry Paul McCartney, some of your songs are real dumb.
The Raven will forever be my favourite poem, maybe my favourite piece of writing entirely, because it A) is just a very, very, well constructed piece of awesome, and B) conveys an obvious understanding of emotions that are extremely difficult to phrase.
Even video games, though a favourite target of pushed-away parents, are often just playable stories, and who discounts the value of a good read? Worth mentioning: In a bizarre twist, the protagonist of the aforementioned Final Fantasy game is a loner with an endlessly analytical internal monologue, who exhibits many signs of depression, and I'd wager that, subtly, that game probably helped me a lot more than the therapy did. Sad people can save the world!
I guess it seems internally contradictory that something depressing can help with depression. But that's an outsider's observation. When you're already there, when you're in the pit, that kind of connection is a lifeline.
"I dream of blood, and suffering, and a loneliness so empty that an echo can't survive." That's a quote from Lamb, a comedic take on the life of Jesus, probably the funniest book I've ever read. Great line, isn't it? Seems out of place for a blasphemous, funny book, doesn't it? It also speaks to me on a level that most people can't. It tells me that your profession, your very essence, may be laughter, but you can still fight the dark inner demons that some are fortunate enough to never know. It tells me those demons hide everywhere.
Of course, you don't know this is why you gravitate towards these things, especially when you're younger, but I propose that doesn't matter in the slightest. It definitely doesn't for me.
There was nothing that prompted this writing besides the acknowledgment, to myself, of what it is I live with. Maybe the shit storm of 2016 made me realize that my personal issues really aren't that big a deal. Maybe I'm just too old to care anymore.
When I wrote my prediction for 2015, I wasn't being specific, I had no real game plan. I just wanted better for myself, so I took, and made, opportunities. The job I was working when I wrote that was a huge source of misery for me (and continues to be one for my unfortunate friends still stuck there). The idea that you can completely block out the influences of others sounds very mature and independent, but it's more naive than anything. So I changed my situation, and things got better. Then I changed it again, and they turned downward.
Now, I'm changing them yet again.
Depression will never not be a part of me. That acceptance brought me a strange contentment, bordering on joy. When I viewed it logically, I knew what to do.
I've written twice as much in the three weeks since New Years than I did for the entirety of 2016. Yesterday, while I was resting, letting my body fight this bacterial infection, I played Skyrim for hours (between naps), and had no guilt about wasted time. I've been to the gym more in the last month than in the three months before that combined. I haven't yet had time to read a lot, but I have a doozy of an order coming in from Indigo, and I dug up a bunch of great new music while I sat around drinking coffee this morning.
I don't do New Years' resolutions, I just resolve and do. That's me, that's who I am. I don't want to parade my happiness anymore than I want to parade my depression. That's part of the introvert in me, but it's a pretty personable introvert. So I won't mark my changes, I'll just change. I don't want mile markers, I'll remember the journey by the trees and the sky.
Speaking of, if you'll excuse me, my dogs and I are going for a run.