Thu, 29 Sep 2005

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sympathy for the damned

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So I actually made it out today and went to the Strand, where I immediately purchased way too many books. One of them is a book I've frequently stopped at and even flipped through but never before felt compelled to purchase. It is called The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, and the very first paragraph sort of captured how I've been feeling the past few days:

Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression. Love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.

It's sad and tiring to realize how easy it is for me to slip into this state, when I don't have the structure of the work day to keep my mind occupied, despite taking medications. And I suppose that's the flaw. I'm basically just hanging on, killing time, getting by. Subsistence. Hence, the lack of growth.

Another part of me believes I simply can't communicate what I feel to anyone who has never been depressed before, which is, I suppose, inevitably true. I just feel like I've been staring at this hole in the Universe for a greater part of my life. I haven't yet fallen in, but I'm definitely in a decaying orbit. And, sure, I can make some things still happen in my life. I have somehow managed despite sometimes crippling bouts of this malady to obtain an advanced degree in something, and in some ways even managed to excel in the field. Miraculously, despite many hiccups, stutters, stumbles, and outright falls, I've somehow held my shit together long enough to achieve what can perhaps be objectively described as a modicum of success. But looking at it from a distance, it's obvious that in some ways, I'm just breaking even. What is easy for many, perhaps a majority, of people is often a grueling task for me. Someone who possessed my inborn talents but who lacked my propensity for melancholy might have become Someone Great. Someone who might have already changed the world for the better. Me, I'm just doing what I can to keep getting sucked into that Utter Darkness, to keep my flickering candle flame lit.

I suppose the experience that I have no capacity in communicating to others is the process of surviving this state. In some ways, I feel like I've endured a mental anguish that most people are lucky enough to not have to ponder. As Solomon alludes to in the above paragraph, non-depressed people typically don't ponder their own staggering insignificance to the universe. Me, I've stared that fucker in the face night after night, until the notion that everything I do means nothing has been burned into my soul. So every fleeting emotion, every measure of excitement, every infatuation, sort of just fizzles out, because in the back of my head is the belief that nothing permanent is going to come of it. It's like I've been trapped in Douglas Adams' Total Perspective Vortex[1][2] from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and much to my dismay, my brain didn't get liquified to goo, and I'm forced to live with this knowledge for the rest of my life.

At this point, it's no longer a matter of ignoring this thoughtstream, of forgetting about it. At this point, I would have to be brainwashed. Re-educated. Made to believe that what I do is not meaningless. I mean, right now, intellectually, I know that's true. That everything I do has some effect on the universe, as infinitesimal as that effect may be. And regardless, there is the ethical beauty of just tending the garden—the task itself is its own reward. As Gandhi put it, "Whatever you do is insignificant, but it is important that you do it." But it always rings hollow. I do take my job seriously and somehow find it within me to sincerely give hope and comfort to others, but for some reason, I can't get my advice to apply to myself.

I've long realized that it is one thing to know, and another thing to understand. And yet again, it is completely another thing to believe. I know that what I am putting myself through is a destructive process that I don't need to go through. I think I even understand what I have to do to get out of here. But the thing that is holding me back, the thing that is sucking me down into the black hole is that I can't for the life of me get myself to believe any of these things.

17:50:48 29 Sep 2005 > /soul > permalink > 3 comments

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