“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.”Stephen Fry
“Depression is being colorblind and constantly told how colorful the world is.”Atticus
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.”Epictetus
And there’s always the other side of the proverbial coin. It’s true that if we apply some focus to the little positive things in life we can feel happier, be more productive, etcetera etcetera. But we aren’t always starting in a good or even neutral place. We all have, and maybe are, in a place of hurt. And regardless of all the advice we get when we are there, we can’t just turn it off. “Just smile and you’ll feel better” someone may say. Not possible. And it’s really a very poor thing for folks to say, and be so dismissive of mental health. But that’s not really what this post is for.
I have suffered some defeats in my life, and I am thankful that my brain is wired to quickly (a relative term) get back up and start over. Most of the time at least. Often it’s been like a reset. Stunned, my first reaction is akin to “David goes to the dentist” – Is this real life? And then the acceptance, “well, I guess this is my life now.” Even if that is most of the time, these events do haunt me. And I get depressed. The thing, for me, about depression is that the good little things don’t affect me, but any thing negative, or even neutral, will… and not positively.
I recall two things about Navy boot camp. First, it was a rash decision, driven by emotion, which led me to join the Navy. I will write a blog post about that decision someday. From the day I first saw the recruiter until my arrival in boot camp was about two weeks. Anyone who has been to military boot camp will tell you that it is eye-opening, to put it mildly. To be frank it’s a crash course in WTF. For me, I got to the recruit training center in Orlando near midnight. They did some induction things, like fill out a card to your parents that said “I made it.” And shaving. Whether you needed to or not, you shaved. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the women shave. Then they put is in this huge open room filled with metal bunkbeds and turned off the lights. This was about one in the morning. At four-thirty, they turned on the lights and came in yelling and kicking the big metal garbage cans around. My eyes snapped open, and seeing the bunk above me and bombarded with the orchestrated cacophony my first thought was “what have I done.” But my second emotion was acceptance. Sort of a “I guess this is my life now” acceptance. Boy did it suck. Navy boot camp is nothing like the Marine Corps boot camp, to be sure. But for me, it was awful. I’m the kind of person who feels that the speaker is speaking directly to me, no matter how large the audience. So my company commanders were yelling at me. I thought. I took it all to heart. Therefore my focus was on adaptation. And I did. Adapt that is. But what if I hadn’t?
While in boot camp, I heard of a recruit in another training unit who hanged himself. Devastating news. And then the scuttlebutt (a Navy term for rumor) was that it was because he had bought a camera at the Navy Exchange (a store), and it didn’t work. There’s that little thing. Going to the Exchange was an infrequent privilege in boot camp, and a little thing to boost a recruit’s spirits. Which is really necessary in the life-altering thing that is boot camp. I didn’t know this poor guy, but I had had a crushing blow in life just a few years before, which had made me sensitive to such things. It stuck with me. His camera was broken. No big deal. Just take it back next time and get another. But that’s not the point. While sitting at home in comfort, or in a coffee shop thinking on this, it’s obvious and easy. Yet when one is in the situation it’s not obvious. Difficult situations, or difficult states of mind, tend to make us hyper focus on the now. The thing we are in. I don’t know if neurologically this is true, but it sure seems this way. Hyper-focusing on the here and now can be good when working on a difficult task. But what about hyper focusing on the pain. The loneliness. The separation. When life is huge and looming and there seems to be no way out, those “good” little things are ineffective. But any negative will damage like TNT. And no amount of platitudes, no matter how well intentioned, will help. And a “suck it up” will definitely crush a person in this situation.
What are these little things that cause so much damage. Well, how about a broken camera? I think they typically tend to be truly innocuous. Because, maybe, it’s not the little thing. Maybe it’s like a person clutching at anything to get a sense of purchase… to get a feeling of safety. And that thing they are clutching being snatched away at the brush of a fingertip. Hope lost. I’ve felt that. My words are failing me now. Describing this demoralizing feeling is elusive. I used the word hope, but really in these situations hope is a vacuum. An idea that has no true meaning. So yeah. The little things — the littlest things — can be devastating. Because sometimes our minds, you know the thing that keeps this animated meat puppet moving around, are so bruised and tender any damned little thing will impact like a bullet.
I don’t have a gracefully written three-point essay for you here. It’s the one point. With two points. If you ever feel in any way like this. No hope. Please reach out to people. People you trust, or any hotline. And for others, if someone reaches out to you, please don’t be dismissive or minimize their pain. Mental health issues are a real thing, and are as real as a broken knee, or any other physical health issue. Don’t compare scars either. “Oh yeah I know just how you feel”. No you do not. You have no idea how someone else feels. “I’ve been there, you just have to move past it.” No you don’t, and no you can’t. If you care for the person reaching out to you, be supportive. Talk. Encourage the person to seek professional help (and most likely you are not a professional, remember that), and, again, don’t be dismissive. Here’s a fun mnemonic. You know the scene from parks and recreation, “don’t be suspicious”? Well just sing in your head “don’t be dismissive”. And… don’t be dismissive.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1-800-662-HELP(4357)
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255, or SMS 988
Peace and Love, and hope and support