For those light and airy souls who have escaped the desolation of depression, this may seem for naught but for those souls who have felt the stalking beast, seen the creeping shadows and heard the beast gnashing his teeth, you will understand. It can be paralyzing in a way fear can induce a near state of catatonia. I have long observed depression both from afar and from within and remained fascinated by the experience. It is like a bad weather system that you feel coming; it gives many warning signs, it causes your joints to ache. But similar to a tsunami or a hurricane, one has little chance of diverting the impending, one must simply weather it and deal with the aftermath.
I had my first episode with bleakness at the age of 15. My coping mecahnism was to run. I ran like Forrest Gump. Maybe I have been running ever since in one fashion or another. I am a driven person but some of that drive is to stay just one step ahead of that beast. Walker Percy’s family had the gruesome and morbid affliction of a single suicide in each generation for many generations. And we’re talking elegant and macabre suicides. One person tied a ballast stone around their neck and jumped into the lake (or river). Not all depression has the self harming tendencies. In medicine we call it being passively morbid. The literary world calls it melancholia. And researchers have studied the seemingly conjoined nature of depression and creativity. I know they are linked…at least for me. I am creative, often profoundly creative while keenly aware of the stalking sorrow in the shadows. The creativity is not mania, it’s never that binary. It is more a sense that if I sit still and cease being creative that mossy tendrils of some dark forest will encase me….and I will never move again. And the thought is attractive, seductive.
But while some people have as their faith that they are simply trying to be good in this life so as to reach salvation, I have a visceral love of this world, this tangible humanity. I look at all of Creation, all the beauty and horror and I am fascinated. I think this Creation was even so astonishing to God that he became a Man so as to fully experience his creation. Yes, his goal was to find a perfect way for us to get back to Heaven but honestly…..I think he was as mesmerized by this world as we should all be. And I am mesmerized by it.
But in this familiar pattern which I have cycled through a handful of times over the course of my life, I know it is just a matter of waiting. One cannot think their way out of this morass, one must feel their way through like the blind. It is like having a long, low grade fever. It is like mending a broken bone. One cannot think a fracture back to stability. Inside us is the etched and hardwired drive to heal thyself. We grow scabs over lacerations, be grow new bone to mend fractures, we grow new blood vessels to heal a contusion. The mind does something similar. It is undetectable to scans or laboratory tests but the same process happens. The mind heals the wounds, fills in the gaps, draws in light to casts away shadows.
Some will say the obvious: take medicine. I have in the past. I consider it. But the scientist in me has observed that medicine changes the surface of this affliction but it doesn’t hasten the remission. Medicine makes this easier for the others, the observers, those around us palpably aware of our melancholia. They want to “cheer us up”. Medicine assuages their discomfort far more than our internal battles with shadows. I have found no magic pill to alleviate or levitate the darkness and I hold out no hope such a thing exists. It is just a matter of weathering it all. And there is a beauty in the outcomes: sea glass and its beautiful opaqueness comes from churning in the oceans; coastal trees are shaped by their buttressing winds that batter their branches, the Grand Canyon’s majesty was carved by the raging waters of a once formidable river. Beauty from pressure and force. It is all I can hope for….that the patina of my experience will make me into something beautiful and unique.