Lately, there’s an interesting synergy between a few of the cultural items I’ve been consuming. I just finished reading Allie Brosh’s great book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That happened. If you’ve never read Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half, you’re in for a treat. She is both brilliant and hilarious, and the simple artwork accompanying her posts just enhances her brilliance and hilarity further. She’s written two posts that are some of the best writing about depression I’ve ever read: Adventures in Depression (aka Depression Part One) and Depression Part Two. If you’re instead up for a laugh, try The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas, pretty much any post about her dogs, or numerous of her other posts.
Anyway, Brosh’s book is a collection of some of her greatest work combined into one handy volume, <shameless self-promotion>which is probably is conveniently available at your local public library</shameless self-promotion>. Depression Parts One and Two are both included. I’d read them before, but reading them with my new perspective helped me see and identify with far more things. Brosh talks about how her own battle with depression began with a bombardment of emotion but later developed into feeling nothing at all. This seemed awesome at first, she noted, and I totally concur; it does seem pretty great, being supposedly immune to the emotional slings and arrows life directs at you. However, she makes a brilliant observation about the problem with that thought. She says it far better than I do, so here you go (emphasis added):
The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.
But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different. (Source)
Seriously. I cannot express how true that statement is for me. But before I start trying …
Today, as I was driving home, I was listening to an album I haven’t heard in a long time: Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park, August 15, 1991. Simon’s Graceland was the first “adult” music album I ever bought, you know, after I graduated from the California Raisins and The Little Mermaid soundtrack (Sebastian is boss). I still think that’s probably the pinnacle of what little good musical taste I have; I’m not alone in considering Simon to be one of the most brilliant lyricists in recent history.
But enough with my fawning. On my ride home, I heard Simon’s Kodachrome.
I was listening to the song just before I stopped to get my mail, staring up at the beautiful tree-lined mountains visible from everywhere in the town where I live. Now that I’m in a better place, I truly appreciate their majesty, just as I can now better enjoy the stunning range of colors and patterns in a sunset and the magic when the river shimmers in just the right way. Staring up at those mountains, the song’s chorus came back to me.
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take photographs
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away (Source)
And as I was driving back from the post office, a line from the second verse similarly struck me:
Everything looks worse
In black and white (Source)
In my first post, I described how my dysthymia manifests as an almost complete lack of feeling, an emotional deadness. I felt almost no excitement when I got the call saying I got my current job, despite my yearning for it. Watching my nephews at Christmas, I had no joy. I could muster no sadness when a good friend told me she was raped. As Brosh says, it wasn’t that I chose not to give a fuck; I was incapable of offering up any fucks at all. I lived in that black and white world that Paul Simon feared; everything did indeed look worse because it all felt the same: like nothing.
Feeling nothing all the time is excruciating, just as feeling sad all the time is. You look at the people around you and see them laughing, crying, being joyful, being angry, being something. But you’re stuck with nothing. You know that you should be able to feel these things, although you’re not just “shoulding” yourself. Really and truly, you want to feel something. The world was meant to be experienced in the fullness of its colors, with Kodachrome film, where you’re able to give a fuck what happens.
And those months, those years of not being able to feel, they make you ashamed. You’re have no excitement, no joy, no sadness, no anger, but you know you should. With every fiber of your being, you know. Then comes the shame death spiral: the less you feel, the more shame you feel. The more shame you feel, the more you really don’t see much point to life at all. You feel nothing; wouldn’t it be easier just to not go through all the rigmarole and truly embrace the nothingness?
A couple of weeks ago, I mustered up the courage to talk to a friend and former partner who experienced me at quite possibly the worst parts of my life. That person who I was then – no, who I am – that person is someone I hope no one other than me ever has to experience again (I’m not really thrilled by the idea of experiencing him, either). He was taciturn. Dickish. Mean. Uncaring. That person was so awful, and the thought that someone else had to experience him was so terrible, that I pushed my memories of that time into a deep recess of my mind. He was still there, and still is. But even I didn’t want to face him, so he got shunted off into a corner.
My friend told me what I was like then. I was monotone, pale, clammy, full of contempt, emotionless, unwelcoming of beauty in my life. My worst personality flaws were enhanced to the Nth degree. I was judgmental, dismissive, and close-minded. I was black and white because that’s the world I saw. And it took the amazing support of my friend, and me hitting rock bottom, when I was about to grab the razor blade and crawl to the bathtub, to make me realize that I needed professional help.
That person who I was then is still in me, is still a part of me, but now that I’m in treatment and had a few epiphanies, he’s become someone I’m willing to face. He’s my Dark Link, but I can’t really fight him. He’s me. How am I going to fight myself? Instead, I have to accept him, because, as my friend sagely pointed out, he’s just me with the worst parts of myself front-and-center. I am judgmental. I am dimissive. I am close-minded. I am callous. I try not to be those things, and usually I’m not, but those qualities are always lurking below the surface even in my best moments.
And I am having good moments. More than moments. My life is great, and now I can see that it’s great. I give fucks, Many, many fucks. Sometimes it’s hard to give fucks. I was intensely sad when I discovered that my feelings of inadequacy are from deep inside me, for instance. Since beginning treatment, I’ve been angry, guilty, and frustrated. I’ve also been joyful, excited, loving, playful, and empathetic. Those are colors. I’m seeing them. And I’d never trade them to go back to that black and white world. So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.