Allie Brosh on Depression.

Intro

I recently posted some excerpts from Allie Brosh’s  book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. Today I’d like to offer up a few more from the same, from her chapters entitled “Depression Part One” and “Depression Part Two.”

This is Something

I figure I should tell you a few some-things:

  1. The book is better than the excerpts. Brosh has these wonderful comics that make up the larger portion of the book and illustrate what she says, so you should probably read the book.
  2. The book contains a significant amount of profanity, if this is an obstacle for you, well, you probably shouldn’t read the book.
  3. After reading Depression Part I, I had to seek reassurance that I wasn’t, necessarily, supposed to find the chapter funny…which I didn’t…it felt far too familiar. Depression Part II on the other hand, managed to mix me up emotionally – part of me felt reverberations of the sickness that has controlled my life at various times and sundry places but the other part of me couldn’t stop laughing…this doesn’t necessarily mean that things were actually funny, I have a threshold of discomfort after which I start laughing.1This is awkward, e.g. if someone has just injured themselves, I may find myself laughing – not b/c it is funny but b/c it relieves the overwhelming overwhelming-ness of the event.

The Good Stuff

“Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling arbitrarily sad and helpless.” – 99.

  • We need a new word. There is depression and there is DEPRESSION. Experiencing depression sucks, but it is almost always correlated to experience (loss, sickness, etc.) and tends to evaporate over a limited period of time. Experiencing DEPRESSION is usually without obvious cause and thus has no intention of alleviating when an certain experience fades into the past, since there is no certain event to be correlated with it.2That said, while depressed one often desperately searches for the cause of these feelings (or lack thereof) and one may find various “triggers” that caused the depression, but imho, these may be “triggers” but they are simply the experience that happened to trigger the depression, if it hadn’t been this event it would have been that event.

“I tried to force myself to not be sad….But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.” – 100-101.

  • Some forms of depression can be overcome by willpower, counseling, whatever…some forms of DEPRESSION don’t. Brosh offers an excellent example of what it is like to tell someone or attempt to overcome DEPRESSION through various endeavors of the will. I like to use the analogy of someone who has had a leg amputated – we don’t keep telling them, “If you just start running, your leg will grow back. I know it. You just have to believe it.”3Okay, maybe some of us do that, which I think this is pretty mean…I recommend Mark Rutland’s Streams of Mercy for a mature understanding of healing.

“In a final, desperate attempt to regain power over myself, I turned to shame as a sort of motivational tool.” – 102.

  • This links back to her earlier attempts at overcoming procrastination. Shame is a powerful motivator, but in my experience it is a short-term fix that has long-term consequences.

“Slowly, my feelings started to shrivel up. The few that managed to survive…staggered around like wounded baby deer, just biding their time until they could die and join all the other carcasses strewn across the wasteland of my soul.” – 111.

  • Powerful word pictures, this resonates with my soul.

“And that’s how my depression got so horrible that it actually broke through to the other side and became a sort of fear-proof exoskeleton.” – 119.

  • Sometimes I can experience some relief from DEPRESSION by reading books about grace. They remind me that God loves me as I am and that I don’t need to impress others, so I can stop caring so much about what others think – or even what I think. That said, this is no cure all, and its efficacy for me is limited and sporadic.

“At first…the invulnerability that accompanied the detachment was exhilarating. At least as exhilarating as something can be without involving real emotions.” – 124.

  • I’ve been complimented at various times in my life for my stoicism – my ability to remain calm in tense situations – I’ve come to feel that while this is sometimes a strength I exercise it is oftentimes the result of an inability or fear of expressing emotion.

“…my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a —- and not being able to give a —-.” – 124.

  • In other words, Brosh found that her cure (not caring) was not a cure. Not caring can help, but there is a great difference between choosing not to care and not being able to care no matter how hard one tries.

“…I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.” – 126.

  • This makes social interactions extremely exhausting. One has to constantly and intentionally do what others do naturally – smile, frown, scowl, inflect, look away, look at, and so on.

“It [depression] isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope….It [encouraging to find the happiness, optimism, joy in life] would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.” – 132.

  • If you have experienced depression it is tempting to encourage those with DEPRESSION that they can overcome it – just like you did. Except, this is akin to telling someone how they will get over AIDs based on your experience with the flu.
  • Ouch, I know that hurts. I don’t mean to minimize the pain one experiences through events – my pain and suffering has never been more intense than during event-driven depression…but it ended (errr, the pain became less frequent, intense…), DEPRESSION oftentimes does not.
  • A core difference is in hope. There is hope for healing from depression, but DEPRESSION oftentimes saps the last hope from our soul.4Sure, there is always hope. I could win the lottery, I could grow wings and fly. But these are unlikely enough that they cannot serve as adequate grounds for a hope that provides inspiration for life.

“…I somehow managed to convince myself that everything was still under my control right up until I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldn’t feel obligated to keep existing.” – 136.

  • I’ve been here. I’d add that another motivator is fear of the unknown. I don’t believe suicide is a ticket to hell, although this opinion was/is common among Christians…that said, I don’t particularly want to take a chance, even if it is only 0.000000001% that I could end my life and end up in an infinite and eternal suffering.5Does this demonstrate weakness in my faith? Sure. Am I going to pretend that my faith is not weak? No. I’d like it to be stronger, I seek to be stronger (not so I can kill myself, don’t worry, I’m not suicidal.), but I’m not going to pretend I am.

“I have spent the vast majority of my life actively attempting to survive.” – 137.

  • All of us attempt to survive. Life is hard. But it is perhaps better to say we all attempt to live. To survive (in this case) is not to live, it is to continue to exist.

“I had so very few feelings, and everyone else had so many, and it felt like they were having all of them in front of me at once. I didn’t really know what to do, so I agreed to see a doctor so that everyone would stop having all of their feelings at me.” – 144.

  • The amount of feelings other have is overwhelming – especially when these emotions are “caused” by our DEPRESSION.6Cognitivate Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches us that no one can “cause” our emotions, I think this is true to a great extent. We cannot take responsibility for how others act, nor can they for us (though we oftentimes do).

“I call this emotion ‘crying’ and not ‘sadness’ because that’s all it really was.” – 148.

  • This is a great description. I watch movies/TV and it is not infrequently that I find myself sobbing. Sure, the scene was sad – but was it that sad? No. Can I see other scenes ten times as heartbreaking and not have moist eyes? Yes.
  • For me, movies/TV seem to act as a trigger…and usually only when I’m alone. This may be why they act as a trigger – they allow me to express significant emotional angst without “causing” others to become emotive.
  • It is REALLY hard to be emotive when other people respond by being emotive and then need your emotive support. This results in not only facing one’s own emotions but now the emotions of another and the “feeling” that one “needs” to fix their emotions.

Concluding Thoughts

If I may, I’d like to offer two suggestions to those who love the DEPRESSED:

First, don’t assume that the depression you have experienced is the same as his/her DEPRESSION. Even if you have had DEPRESSION, don’t assume that his/her DEPRESSION will respond to the same remedies.

A good exercise is to pretend you have never experienced depression and you are trying to learn about this entirely foreign phenomenon. Ask questions, accept the answers, don’t foist your own experiences onto the other.

Second, as hard as this is to believe, oftentimes the best thing you can do for him/her is to stop. Stop trying to heal, comfort, help. I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, there are few things more agonizing than to see others stop living b/c I can’t live. Offer to walk with me, to join me in the experience, to help…but accept that sometimes you simply can’t help.

It isn’t your problem any more than if the individual’s problem was a mortal wound or a chronic disease…and what the person needs from you can vary. Using the analogy of a mortal wound, someone might need to go to the bathroom – and need you to “help” them (carry them, support them) in getting there – but you know that helping them go to the bathroom is not going to cure them, you are just helping them go to the bathroom.7And it is “just” in the sense of not being curative, but it is so much more than “just” in the sense of the blessing you bring to the individual. I like to refer to my baseline on a scale of 0-10. 0 is deathly awful, 10 is ecstatic. I may be at a 2 (life is awful) and need to go to the bathroom, if you help me to the bathroom I may be a 3 for a few seconds (life is one speck less awful). To the external observer it looks like the endeavor was worthless – but I experienced relief in some sense for a second or two.

Thanks

I’d like to end by just saying thanks to those who love those of us who struggle with DEPRESSION. Your willingness to care about someone who sometimes, perhaps most of the time, cannot be helped is admirable. Sometimes we may never know the difference you make in our lives, but there is a difference.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and to consider what it looks to love well someone who is depressed. I’m not suggesting this is an end-all. I’m just sharing what is true of my experience…and I, personally, believe there are many causes and forms of depression, each of which may require different remedies (and some which are simply incurable).

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This is awkward, e.g. if someone has just injured themselves, I may find myself laughing – not b/c it is funny but b/c it relieves the overwhelming overwhelming-ness of the event.
2. That said, while depressed one often desperately searches for the cause of these feelings (or lack thereof) and one may find various “triggers” that caused the depression, but imho, these may be “triggers” but they are simply the experience that happened to trigger the depression, if it hadn’t been this event it would have been that event.
3. Okay, maybe some of us do that, which I think this is pretty mean…I recommend Mark Rutland’s Streams of Mercy for a mature understanding of healing.
4. Sure, there is always hope. I could win the lottery, I could grow wings and fly. But these are unlikely enough that they cannot serve as adequate grounds for a hope that provides inspiration for life.
5. Does this demonstrate weakness in my faith? Sure. Am I going to pretend that my faith is not weak? No. I’d like it to be stronger, I seek to be stronger (not so I can kill myself, don’t worry, I’m not suicidal.), but I’m not going to pretend I am.
6. Cognitivate Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches us that no one can “cause” our emotions, I think this is true to a great extent. We cannot take responsibility for how others act, nor can they for us (though we oftentimes do).
7. And it is “just” in the sense of not being curative, but it is so much more than “just” in the sense of the blessing you bring to the individual. I like to refer to my baseline on a scale of 0-10. 0 is deathly awful, 10 is ecstatic. I may be at a 2 (life is awful) and need to go to the bathroom, if you help me to the bathroom I may be a 3 for a few seconds (life is one speck less awful). To the external observer it looks like the endeavor was worthless – but I experienced relief in some sense for a second or two.
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