The Black Fog
NotL Rants column, The Niagara Advance
A cheery topic for a bright, beautiful and optimistic time of year: Depression.
As a survivor and a witness of the syndrome, I have much to say on the subject. Maybe nothing new, but hopefully
enough to spark some recognition, some empathy, and some understanding.
To survive depression is an act of the purest courage.
I’m not talking about a spell of melancholia, or a bit of the blues. I’m talking about blackness of the purest pitch;
about the peak of hopelessness, which in its heights contains its own nadir.
Depression is its own worst enemy—and best friend. It supports itself, engenders itself, prolongs itself. Winston
Churchill called it the black dog, a poetic and evocative term which I would challenge, or at least flesh out. If it is a
dog, it is menacing in the most nightmarish way: without teeth, it gums you slowly into submission. Or with a giant mouth, it swallows you whole, not chewing or swallowing, neither killing nor releasing you. Or it simply lays heavily on your chest, a mighty beast of theft, stealing your breath, your will, your force. In any of these scenarios, you have no power or even will to fight.
I perceive depression more as a black fog, engulfing its victim in a sea of impossibility. No visibility, no movement is possible, there is only nothingness. I’ve seen it in the face of others too: The spark is unlit, the eyes are dim and unseeing. It is as desperate to witness as it is to experience. Thus we avoid the depressed, and, in depression, avoid others. More food for the black dog, more mist for the black fog: loneliness.
Some advice to those who want to help: You’ve read all the peppy articles and heard all the new discoveries, and you have the best intentions so you try. But. You would do just as much good telling a depressed person to exercise as telling them to grow a third arm. Suggesting they take medication (or more, or different medication) is telling them they’re truly sick and curable only with chemicals. And reminding them of all the ways things could be worse, and are worse for other people, only puts gas on the fire, I promise. How on earth could the misery of others make one happier?
Depression is all-consuming in its presence, and fortunately forgettable in its absence—like winter. A depressed person isn’t always in a state of depression, and is better treated as a ‘normal’ than tragic. While there is kindness behind asking,
‘How ARE you?’ with a sad and sympathetic face, I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell you I’m suicidal in the freezer
section of ValuMart. And if I say I’m just fine, you won’t believe me anyway. The question, in that form, is damning.
For all the right reasons do ask, but don’t assume anything. I am much more often fine than desperate.
Although there are indeed times of desperation.
In depression, all is lost. All hope, all faith, all love, all joy. Anhedonia: the inability to feel any pleasure. I know
this word and its meaning well. Nothing can reach through that black fog: no warm spring day, no kind word, no aerobic activity, no delicious food.
Until one day, something does. Something mysterious, unpredictable, and surprising. It might just be a kind
word, the right question, or a blooming flower. One time the thing that magically pulled me from the depths was
not the hours of exercise I did at the gym every day, but something I saw one evening in the changeroom afterwards:
a ribbon tied into a bow around the crown of a hat. The simple beauty of it, the care involved, the pure charm of it somehow shone through the fog and lifted me. Ridiculous, unscientific, but undeniable.
No one can know what will help, but everyone can try. If you suspect, or know, that someone close to you is
depressed, tie a ribbon, make a phone call, send an email. Don’t make sad eyes at them, don’t suggest cures, but do
reach out. You might shine through the deep sea of despair and rescue them; help them find the courage they need
to survive this drowning feeling. And if you don’t, at least you know, and they know, you tried. Effort means everything
in the world of darkness and light.
If you suffer from depression, I celebrate you and your bravery. Even as I can’t celebrate my self, I see and respect
and know what you go through. And what you get through, because you do—we do—get through it.
I have no formal or medical understanding of this syndrome, just anecdotal information culled from personal
experience and years of research. As far as I can tell, the main cause of depression is caring too much. About people,
the world, friends, opinions, success, failure. And if the cure for caring too much is to care less, I’d rather be ‘sick.’ I
guess that’s where the courage comes in.