02 December 2011

What Hurts the Most

A friend of mine noted in a Facebook chat that, "You know from personal experience that no one can beat you down as bad as yourself." At first blanch, I was inclined to agree. After all, I had quickly learned as a youth that  I was better off to make fun of myself than to leave it in the hands of my classmates. Firstly, it hurt less and secondly...I was actually funny. They were morons.

But then I realized something.

I had only made fun of myself for the obvious things; the flaws and gaffes that were there for all to see. I had never gotten into my private cache of insecurities or fears. I never needed to; my classmates were contented by my superficial quips. Some of the girls told me from time to time I needed more self-confidence. I'm sure they saw my self-deprecation as a sign of weakness. Most people do. For me, however, it was a cocoon. It's what kept me safe. As long as the wolves were satisfied by the scraps I flung to them, they were too dense to come sniffing around for the meat.
As much as I learned about humor from this guy, I'm certain he knows about depression.
The stereotype of comedians is that they used to be kids like me, who found they could use humor to subvert their antagonists and in so doing feel a sense of security--even superiority in some ways. These are the people who honed their defensive wit until it became sharp enough to be used offensively. Some of these former victims grew to become bullies themselves, aggressive toward their own audiences. These are the comics who live to lash out at conspicuous spectators. The ones that make you scared to go to the bathroom. The ones who are known for being so vicious that make people with weight troubles abstain from any seats near the stage.

Ironically, it is often material espoused by these bullying comics that is adapted and echoed by the bullies in their audience. Bullies are generally too stupid to think for themselves and they're not often funny. Bullies don't grow up to become comedians. Bullies force kids to become comedians, and ironically enough, they do it using material stolen from comedians.

This whole cycle parallels the insidious manner in which depression poisons the mind.

It is a common fallacy to believe that depression involves fixating on what's wrong in your life. There's an age-old bit of worthless advice: "Just get over it." As banal as it is, it's important because it offers us the clearest insight into the mentality of the people who think it helpful or even profound. They honestly believe that what keeps you mired in depression is that you're wallowing in what's wrong with your life. They couldn't be farther from the truth.
Depression doesn't bother bringing to your attention whatever it is that you already feel bad about. It doesn't need to. Instead, depression seizes the good things in your life and twists them until they become the most upsetting.
For instance, I was the first person in either side of my immediate family (and extended so far as I'm aware) to hold a college degree. I did not attend the commencement ceremony because by then I had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease and it seemed impractical. First of all, there was no guarantee I would even be well enough to attend and even if I made it there, it was quite likely I would be miserable and possible need to abruptly dash to a bathroom--through a large crowd. It wasn't so bad, though, because I knew that the actual degrees weren't distributed during the ceremony anyway.

So the day finally came that my wife drove me to the campus and I went in to collect my degree. I graduated cum laude from the University of Louisville, one of only nine students in my graduating class to earn marks as a history major. I felt myself smiling as it was presented to me. I practically skipped out of the registrar's office.

In the five or so minutes it took me to walk to where my wife was parked, however, all that sense of accomplishment and pride evaporated. By the time I got to the car, my degree had become a worthless piece of paper. I think I actually threw it into the back seat in disgust. My wife never even got the chance to see me smile about it. She still feels cheated, and rightly so. She saw me through the last two years of my collegiate studies and she wanted to celebrate my achievement with me. To this day, I have not removed my degree from the oversize envelop in which it was presented to me. It's sitting between my CD changer and its speaker, collecting dust. I've never even bothered looking at frames for it. The idea of displaying it just seems vulgar to me.

This is how depression works. It poisons the things that are likeliest to bring you a sense of satisfaction, or belonging. I withdrew from my friends in the last year, convinced I wasn't good enough for their company anymore. Remember when IFC.com asked me to contribute a blog post about Michael Bay this summer? I was pretty excited about that. I checked at least once an hour to see if there were any comments, and I responded to them as soon as I saw them. After a couple of days, however, I didn't even want to talk about it, much less look at what anyone had to say about it. Part of me hoped it would somehow be deleted and I wouldn't even have to acknowledge it was ever published.
Michael Bay, trying to find something he hasn't blown up yet.
If you're depressed, you need to be cognizant of this. You need to be aware that whatever it is that is overwhelming you is probably not actually at all the bogeyman, but rather a perfectly kind bearded guy who wanders your neighborhood with a shovel in the wintertime (yes, this is a Home Alone joke; you're welcome).
Depression is anger turned inwards.
Ask yourself: what depresses you the most? Why would it make you angry? There's a pretty good chance that if you stop and really think about it, it shouldn't make you angry or depressed. This is not to say that none of the external factors at play aren't legitimately overwhelming. If you're going through the pain of loss, for instance, that's going to be upsetting for anyone. If, however, what depresses you is the sense that your bachelor's degree is "worthless," then it's probably a pretty good bet that the problem is not the external factor at all, but rather depression.

If you know someone who is depressed, my advice to you is to "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." Do not make the mistake of trying to help your loved one reconcile all the negative in his or her life and assume that the positive stuff is taking care of itself. Guard the positive in your loved one's life more dearly than you oversee the management of the negative. If you do not cultivate the positive, then you forfeit it into the hands of the depression and those very things that should bring comfort to your loved one will instead become bitter and empty.