Survival is so hardwired into the earliest synapses of life that it is very normal, even healthy, to find suicide disturbing. The problem with disturbing things is that, by their very nature, we prefer not to examine them. This gives disturbing things an extraordinary power to persist in the shadows, surviving through generations, affecting vast swathes of the population in silence.
Most of the people who knew me when I was depressed did not detect a major difference in external behavior. This was partially due to the massive amount of time and planning I took to minimize depressed behavior while in public, but it is also due to the uncomfortable truth that the psychological distance between a healthy and a depressed mind is much shorter than most realize or admit.
The most insidious aspect of depression is this:
depression feels more like a solution than a problem.
If you break your legs, you are unlikely to see broken-leg-you as your “true” self, and will likely do everything in your power to expedite your recovery.
When you break your mind, their is an overwhelming sense that you are “seeing the truth.” That it is reality, not you, that is fundamentally broken, and those who seem happy exist only in some pathetic delusion.
There is also a cultural tendency to mythologize the depressed, with no end of historical artists and geniuses to reinforce this idea.
If I had to hypothesis why this correlation exists between depression and artistry, it would be similar to the blind-improved hearing hypothesis. That is, a blind person will often have improved hearing, not because the lose of vision improves the ability to hear, but because the person will naturally focus and be more in tune with the sense they can rely on. So then, when the cognitive, social, and emotional management section of this mind is impaired, the artistic and instinctual sections are forced to take a front seat.
The problem with viewing depression as something artistic, or normal, or honest, is that many people will allow themselves to remain depressed, keeping it a part of them like some sort of character trait.
At least, that’s what I did.
(finale next Tuesday)
part 4 next Tuesday
I went to buy coffee today. The employee took my order and asked my name. When I give people my first name, I usually have to repeat it, so I gave him my last name, which is more common.
Sometime in High School, I became obsessed with the concept of authenticity.
At that point in life, identity feels essential, but your life experience is too limited to create something unique, so every choice is both deeply personal yet inescapably shallow.
Honestly, at that age, trying on different personalities is a natural and probably healthy development. Still, I developed a distinct mistrust for any person whom I felt was leaning too heavily into a prepackaged identity.
I thought college might offer some respite from socially-mandated roles. That was what the movies promised – a place where the social facades of high school faded away. A place where people were just people, not a collection of labels.
Perhaps I was naive.
I had always considered myself a liberal, but I simply could not relate to the identity politics which dominated the cultural narrative in liberal higher education at that time. It seemed every legitimate philosophical point had to be wrapped in a toxic, exclusionary tribalism. No idea could be trusted to stand on merit. Any challenge, no matter how minor, was treated as sacrilege to be burned and censored and excised from reality.
A clear social hierarchy began to emerge. I had genuinely believed that, within the realms of college, ideas would be valued over race, class, or gender. And to be fair, in the classrooms, they usually were. But outside the classroom, a clear social shift was occurring. The more oppressed you felt by society, the more legitimate your opinion was. You need not make the clearest argument, you only had to be offended. The more offended you were, the more seriously your opinion was taken. So of course you were now incentivized to be offended, to draw fourth and nurture as much vitriol and disgust for your ideological opponents as possible. People wanted to fight racists and bigots like in the history books, but such blatant villainy was hard to find in the modern era.
So the definitions loosened.
This may reinforce the theory of my nativity, but up until college I genuinely believed there was an intellectual consensus that skin color and gender were the least important characteristics in determining a person’s worth, and any contrary notions were historical remnants lodged in the minds of the misinformed and uneducated.
It played to me like a comic farce: large groups of people my own age, smart enough to receive a college education, demanding segregation, characterizing individuals solely based on race, and the rigid censorship of any conflicting information, regardless of factuality.
This is me.
If it helps you relate, it can also be you.
A few years ago, I was very depressed.
Have you ever been depressed?
My early childhood memory is a blurred-out Freudian fog of diluted spirituality, but, within the fog, several memories stand out like wayward stone statues. Among these one stands out in particular: the day I met God.
I was born first in my family, and enjoyed the attention for a solid eighteen months.
When my mother became pregnant with Sister-One, she endured countless horror stories about second children – mainly that the first child would become jealous about sharing the spotlight, and would inflict all manner of terrible punishment onto his new cohost.
Despite the warnings (and despite the fact that I already fulfilled every possible need a child could fulfill, MOM) they still decided to go through the creation of an unnecessary additional life.
Sister-One came into the world in the usual way, and we met.
Years of books, relatives, and PBS programs had prepared my mother for the plague of envy a toddler will inflict upon a new baby, as they felt the extra affection, college tuition, and birthday gifts vanishing into the alternate reality of only-childhood.
What my mother did not prepare for was that, rather than viewing Sister-One as a competitor for parental love, I viewed her as a valuable commodity in my own selfish ventures. Keen to make her my subordinate, I teased her with genuine but distant affection. By the time she could walk, Sister-One was not only awed by my intellect and fine-motor skills, but eager to win my favor as the alpha-child.
Our duo was well-established when, out of the pale maroon of our carpet, a new character was added to the roster. Her name was Sister-Two.
She was born into a world where she was the smallest being, a terribly desperate position. The two beings closest to her in size seemed to be having an excellent time though, so becoming a part of their group seemed a worthy and obtainable goal.
Hazing is a strange, dark, and prevalent ritual in human culture. Through the application of physical pain and psychological anguish, a being is stripped of their identity in such a way where it becomes possible from them to enter a collective. It is used in violent gangs, douchey fraternities, and small children.
In retrospect, I’m quite ashamed of how I treated Sister-Two during her formative years, and most have been forgiven and forgotten, but there are two things I did to Sister-Two that I’ll always remember.
It was piss, in case you’re a good person.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to discover your children are the kind of people who make other people drink pee, but I know my parents didn’t take it very well.
It was shortly after this the family began to attend church.
For maybe two years, I was in a state of depression. Within that span there were moments of darkness and clarity, but the overall state was always present.
I think it is difficult to deal with people in this state because a depressed person is often indistinguishable from an uncaring person.
I often assumed a blank persona, not because I didn’t care about what the other person thought or felt, but because I was unable to access the proper emotion.
When faced with this situation, I often felt obligated to mimic logically the societaly-accepted emotional response.
The performance worked if the other person was too narcissistic to notice other’s reactions, but if they were hoping to form a genuine connection, even my best acting came across as condescending.
Social situations turned into situations with only negative consequences, and so I succumbed to the neutral settlement of no interaction at all. It felt logical to forgo society all together, leaving what relationships I had at a distant but undamaged state.
I’ve lost some friends, but I’m doing okay.
This year I found myself envying birds, for obvious reasons.
Although technology has allowed the human to fly farther and faster than any dumb bird, they still remain my symbol of stupid freedom.
Birds are seen as free because their wings allow them to escape from the present the moment their tiny bird heart craves it.
Unlike the bird I made up, I spent most of last year unable to escape my environment.
Somehow, midway through the summer, I did escape, and I escaped to Canada.
Escaping to Canada is a sort of joke in America, something you threaten to do when taxes are raised or a non-white man is elected president. No one really means it, but, as idiots are prone to do, I took satirical language at face value and moved to The Great, White North.
I started school at a new college, moved into a closet, and got a job at a local sandwich shoppe with all the other immigrants.
I learned more about international relations in six months at that sandwich shoppe than I did in eighteen years of government-funded education.
I genuinely feel workmanly-affection for a solid 90% of my coworkers, and truly care and admire several of them, but minimum wage work is rarely rewarding, and I spent most of my days wishing I was anywhere but the present.
It was sobering to realize that escaping did nothing to increase my sense of freedom. Realizing my mental state could deteriorate regardless of my environment, I lost the last of my hope, and descended into a very dark place.
This state, whose name I feel comfortable saying only now that I have exited it, is depression.
It is a mental state I think is impossible to fully understand when you’re outside of it. Even now, having only spent a week out of this brainspace, I can recall it only in muted memory.
I spent a year trying to exit this state naturally. I read a dozen books promoting meditation, zen, diet, and exercise as cures. All these things had some temporary effect, but as the days melted into one another it soon became very clear that this was something I could not escape through effort alone.
I don’t know why it was so hard for me to accept that.
I swallowed my pride in the form of a pill.
Here’s five great books you should read but you haven’t because you’re a gosh darn dick who doesn’t read. (Just kidding. If you’re here I bet you’re a badass.)
Remember Harry Potter? Remember how happy that made you? Remember how the characters were endearing? Remember how it made you think magic was awesome?
Well guess what, jerk? It’s not! Magic sucks!
This book takes a protagonist raised on Harry Potter/Chronicles of Narnia-type books and sends him to magic college.
As it turns out, having God-like powers doesn’t make you happy. It just robs you of your ability to find meaning in simple things. It gave me a lot of sympathy for God (he’s probably depressed as shit – that’s why he doesn’t listen to your prayer-calls.)
Also, the main character has the same first name as me, which is pretty rare. So if you’re curious what my first name is, you can read this novel (or just read it’s synopsis on Amazon.)
Tips for Reading: Tear out the last four pages of the book. I’m goddamn serious. It completely betrays the tone and entire fucking point of the entire fucking novel in order to leave room for a sequel. Leave that shit to movies, Lev.
This is a tiny book with a great weight. Christopher Hitchens is best known as a well-spoken British dude who thought God was dumb and that women weren’t funny. A lot of people said they hoped he’d get cancer for hurting their feelings. Then he got cancer.
He continued to write and tour throughout the entire ordeal, culminating in Mortality. It’s rare to see such a poignant, balanced view of death from someone staring it in the in the face.
Tips for Reading: It’s tempting to plow through the book because it’s so short, but read one section at a time and let yourself process it.
Remember how Lord of the Rings was so popular that every nerdy writer tried to copy it for fifty years, oversaturating the market with disposable shit that made everyone think fantasy was disposable bullshit instead of an interesting technique for exploring societal trends?
Well, I do, because I hate most fantasy books. Everytime I try to get through one I’m overwhelmed by the unoriginal world-building at the expensive of any meaningful character or plot development. Maybe some people get a kick from a 500 page lecture on dwarf economics, but I hate economics no matter how hairy it is.
The Name of the Wind sets out to dissect the fifty-year history of fantasy while simultaneously being a part of it. The result is like a glass of spring water after fifty years of high-fructose soda—refreshing.
Tips for Reading: Go slow. Even though it’s over 700 pages, the writing is actually very polished. Events feel like they’re supposed to be there, not tangents to show off how creative the author is.
9-11 (pronounced nein ellie-van) was a terrorist attack that happened in America. It was very sad, and completely changed the cultural zeitgeist. Unfortunately, one of these changes was our attitude towards people of middle-eastern descent (except Jesus, but that’s only because we pretend that he’s white.)
Persepolis is a great fucking reminder that people are just people, no matter how scary FoxNews tells you they are. When the little kids are goofing off in school, making fun of all the fundamentalist bullshit , it’s powerful because it’s obvious. It’s something I did. It’s something people all over the world did. Obedient fear is a learned behavior.
Tips for Reading: This is a graphic novel, so pay attention to the pictures. They’re adorable, but the composition is meaningful.
I have to read a lot of academic writing at school, and I’m constantly amazed at how many people who’ve devoted their lives to literature can’t write a goddamn sentence. When I read this bloated, meaningless, ego-driven drivel of uninspired academia I want to beat every literary scholar over the head with this book.
It plays like a dark comedy—writers who favored simple, clean writing being analyzed by the willfully obtuse. Literary academia has burrowed so far up its own ass it thinks shit is complex.
On Writing Well reminds us that writing is about communication, not a contest to see who can pontificate in the most masturbatory manner.
If literary scholars are going to complain that no one reads, I must also complain that uninviting, self-indulgent, unpalatable writing does nothing to advance humanity’s relation to the novel, and in most cases actively corrodes it.
Tips for reading: Don’t be a scholar. Get this book and learn to write like a fucking human.