Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Sensitive-Person Brain Disease

Recent events have caused me to think a lot about the nature of depression lately and the people I’ve encountered who have had their lives altered in some way by it.

Every once in a while, I too go through what I call a “Cobain phase” where I withdraw from social contact and simply reflect in a very unorganized and nihilistic fashion, alternating currents of anger and apathy, usually manifested in the kind of music I have playing at the moment. I’ve been on antidepressants since I was a teenager and I’ve since convinced myself that I need them in order to function. Name a brand; I’ve been on them all.

Yeah I know, boo hoo. Woe is me.

When I started this blog, I promised myself it wouldn’t be a self-indulgent public journal in which I gripe and moan on and on about past pains or whatever or whathaveyou. It’s not like I’ve had it particularly bad in my life—I’ve actually had it relatively good. Depression isn’t necessarily about feeling “sorry” for oneself, as many who have never experienced it tend to think. It’s evoked subtly over prolonged periods of slowly accumulating anxiety about the state of the world, leading to the possibly quite “sane” view that humanity is…well…screwed up. Like our overevolved frontal lobes are a thin biological barrier barely harnessing some simian brutishness. Like if an apocalypse were to occur, and food, sex, warmth and whatever else fuels the man-beast were scarce, an inner Dahmer might be unleashed on our loved ones for that last bit of squirrel meat. And I absolutely hate it and hate humanity for a while and hate myself for being a part of it.

Then, I get over it. The soundtrack of my mind turns from grungy screams to anthemy hope fests. The world is hunky dory again and I hear birds chirping and, though my mind may choose to gravitate in that direction, I choose not to hear the predatory, dinosaurish screech of their ancestors in their sounds. I filter out the negative, concentrate on the positive. I feel somehow dishonest in doing so, but I have to do what I have to do in order to function.

It’s like my brain is a thought battery, programmed to go through this purge every once in a while in order to recharge in a ritualistic fashion.

It seems like I’ve known quite a bit of people in my relatively short life that have committed suicide. One was a college friend. I wasn’t in the same state, or even in the same time zone, when it happened and hadn’t talked to him in months before it occurred; yet I do feel partially responsible—like I could’ve done something. Anything. Like I could have reminded him to appreciate simplicity, to drag him to the mountains and smell the foliage on the breeze or pet an animal or simply listen to what he had to say about his pain, which I love to do for others.

Recently I’ve been in one of those rare states where you suddenly have an epiphany and realize, in full raging, empathetic glory, that someone close to you may have experienced what you’re feeling and that you should learn from how they handled it. I’m no stranger to loneliness—one might even call it the academic’s affliction. Loneliness is simultaneously the burden an academic has to bear in order to thrive in this career, as well as one of its greatest joys. It’s bittersweet. Being alone with a book can be one of the greatest joys one can experience. The problem comes when you let ideas replace actual flesh-and-blood people to the point where they become your best friends.

I think this was my friend’s problem. And I’ve learned that the best way to cope is to seek out others and connect, and now I don’t have as much of these “Cobain phases” anymore. I realize that everyone on this earth has had periods of despondency and that the best way to overcome your own inner pains is to reach out. Cut out the bullshit small talk and really connect. Live bravely with your emotions. Stop waiting on the hinge of another person’s words in order to outdo their narrative and make yourself look “better.” Stop the conversational competition and just fucking listen.  And understand. And empathize.

The key, I guess is, to realize that the meaning of life is to help each other get through…well… life. And it’s awesome. Staggeringly awesome that we get to borrow elements of nature and experience consciousness and thoughts and feelings instead of being dead matter. And I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s what gets me through those rough spots.  

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