28 October 2010

Buck up, buttercup! On the need not to feel better.

N.B. I am extremely apprehensive about posting this, because several friends and co-bloggers have posted, written, or said loving, well-meaning things to me in the past week about how I can stop being depressed. I don't mean anything in the following post to be a brushback to those kind impulses. I am so grateful to know you all, and it warms my (tiny, shriveled, coal-black) heart to know you care for me. But...well, here we go.

A couple of years ago, in the midst of another bout of depression, I found serendipitously the following two passages about loneliness, on the same day, in two wildly disparate books:

To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment....

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment.
--Pema Chodron, Six Kinds of Loneliness

and then,

There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness...but the most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood by only a few.

I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car. He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return...but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.

It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.
--Charles Schulz, You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown

Back then, I risked no further commentary, claiming the passages spoke for themselves. Today, I will dare a little more.

One may easily substitute the word "depression" for "loneliness" in the passages above. And by "one" I mean "I". My particular brand of depression comes flavored heavily with loneliness. I want to avoid the pain of it so badly that I reach out to others in ways I ordinarily never would. Then the aftertaste of amped-up social anxiety hits, bitter regret at having over-shared and exposed myself as a crazy person. In actuality, this "craziness" often amounts to no more than having two drinks instead of one, and talking a bit more than usual in the group, which is still not objectively all that much. But as Bette Davis once put it, "I suddenly feel as if I'd taken all my clothes off." Hot humiliation instead of cool loneliness.

In last week's post, I called depression a frenemy. I meant this in two senses. It's the so-called friend who tells you horrible things about yourself and how others see you, always supposedly for your own protection. I try and try to shut out that honeyed-gall whispering voice, to wind myself up and go, to distract myself, to feel better, to snap out of it already.

It doesn't work. It never works. And the more I try, the more it hurts. But depression, like my other frenemy, migraine, in the end always insists that I just fucking stop for a while, and in that way it is a true friend. Because once I accept that it's here to stay, I start to feel it. And once I can feel that sadness, loneliness, and frustration, I can start to believe that someday I will feel other things, too.


  1. Word, I have so, so been there. I don't think most people have ever experienced the kind of loneliness I once accepted as normal and inevitable. I imparted it, quite seriously, to the basic structure of reality, and my Aesthetic unwillingness to dirty myself. Because in throwing away loneliness, you do dirty yourself. You make people angry, have arguments, and win new enemies. It was because I was scared of these things that I chose for so long to be lonely. I now regret having been so fearful -- indeed, I must avoid thinking about it, because if I do it too much, I become possessed of fury and wish I could subject my past self to severe violence.

    There is a quotation from Tess of the D'Urburvilles that you need to read right now. I'll see about finding it.

  2. Thanks for telling your story, McGee. (((hugs))) if you want them. Never read Tess, but I'm a fan of Hardy. I look forward to seeing this quotation.