The unexamined life is probably a lot more pleasant.
I am sitting up in bed with a cup of tea on my chest. This is how my mother died, or so I was told. Just about every detail of my family life has the hazy quality of myth, different versions told by different people, and now the truth (if such ever existed) went to their graves with them. But I was told that on that last day in the hospital she was having her morning cup of tea, which was one of the few pleasures she had left to enjoy, and she just quietly passed away. Her heart stopped beating. The nurse came in to check on her, and just took the cup away, making no attempt to revive her. What would have been the point? Her cancer was terminal. She had already suffered enough.
Depression is not like cancer (although it does kill an awful lot of people). Cancer strikes the innocent. Depression strikes people with weak characters who lack the courage to pull themselves out of it. That’s the subtle undercurrent society feeds us. Depression isn’t really a disease, is it? It’s a “mood disorder”. Like that sullen, sulky teenager who just needs a good smack and some self-discipline. “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!” Depressed people are a drag to be around. Fortunately, they pretty much do others the favor of removing themselves from social situations, staying home and feeling sorry for themselves. Some of them commit suicide. What a stupid, inconsiderate thing to do! Didn’t they care at all about the survivors left behind? The emotional trauma their actions caused? Nothing but selfish, whining bastards.
Well, that fits in pretty neatly with what depressed people think of themselves. Losers. Unlovable. Useless. Flawed. Failures. Slackers. Total waste of oxygen. That’s what both society and the disease tell us. Must be true.
Giving in to depression can feel like relief. After fighting through drifts, lost in the winter woods, finally just fall into the snow, exhausted. Let go and let cold sleep take away the struggle. Is this why they commit suicide, those victims of depression? To say “commit” makes it sound like an act of will, requiring choice, thought and effort. But it’s more like sinking into deep, still water. Stop struggling, just let yourself drift downwards into peace. Despair is quiet. After all the noise and drama, the beating of fists and the hacking sobs, quiet is a relief.
But here’s the absurdity: In defiance of what that demon Depression tells me about my utter insignificance and hopelessness, there would appear to be people who disagree. They do care about me, like me, think I’m okay. They worry about me and want me to get better. Imagine that. They send me hugs and sympathy; some even tell me they’ve been there themselves and know the demon well. My extended family may have rejected me (I was a disappointment, a failure, I let everyone down) but my husband and kids, in spite of all the evidence Depression offers me to the contrary, love me and think I’m a good person. And it seems I have all these friends who are willing to put themselves out and upend their schedules to provide me the opportunity to heal. (Depression sneers, “You’re a burden! A problem! A hassle! A pain in the ass! You should be ashamed of yourself, imposing on them like that!”
Piss off, demon.
Love does not conquer all. However, it can be the tipping point that makes the difference.