Depression has followed me throughout my whole life.
For most of my development it was the little squiggle in your eye that shifts and vanishes as soon as you focus on it. The mania was much more prevalent in my mental illness for the longest time. It turned me into some kind of gay lady Icarus, soaring awe-struck on wings made out of rolling papers and bundles of dried sage, before plummeting down just as majestically.
Depression was my ocean. It was boundless, both cloyingly warm and deathly cold. Treading water in its depths was like waking up in the morning after a fitful night’s sleep. You’re still tired and very achey, and the covers pooled around you are so cozy. What’s the harm in staying in another hour, another day, another week? It’s not like anyone’s waiting for you. If they are, they should know better.
My therapist calls that a hysteric thought. I see him once a week over video chat. He’s a tall Norwegian Buddhist who’s very kind, but refuses to humor any nonsense. He’s been helping me a lot. But I know a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have that level of treatment.
No one’s doing great right now – that’s what I tell people whenever they ask how I’m doing. Between the pandemic and the political landscape, the events of 2020 have been outlandish enough to be considered trite and overdramatic even on the pages of a science-fiction paperback. And for a while I neglected this column. There were still no exhibits to see, and looking for more creative material to analyze wasn’t as appealing to me as the days I spent lying on the floor wishing for death.
But that’s not all I did. Between the crying jags and during the long, long walks, I was consuming media. I didn’t think much about it, as it was mostly all things that I’d seen before. Then a thought occurred to me concerning the methodology of what I was drawn towards – the eclectic mixture of art that I craved. So I put out some feelers towards my friends and the friends I’ve made on my cat’s Twitter (That’s weirder than it sounds, I assure you), and through that I realized that a common theme interwoven throughout everyone I asked.
And that’s connection.
There’s the classic act, for instance, of holing yourself up and wallowing to The Smiths or Death Cab for Cutie or, in my case, Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, my go-to “Cry Album”. It’s the type of music that holds your troubles and validates them, tells you it’s okay to be sad, which is a message we don’t get often in modern society.
They ask us the questions that circle in our own minds in dark times:
How? How did this happen?
So who’s gonna watch you die? If you’re so clever, then why are you on your own tonight? When the words fester in your head they seem endless and impossible. But when someone else says them, turns them into poetry, you start to think of them as finite. Comprehensible, perhaps even with an answer hidden just beyond the end of the track.
Other times people turned to podcasts for comfort. It surprised me that so many other people used the medium as I did. It’s strange to think that what was once talk radio, a frequency that I ignored entirely as a child, was now such a beloved part of my life and the lives of so many others.
There are so many podcasts, it might be hard to figure out where to start. But the niche-ness of it works in the listener’s favor, as there’s a dozen shows at least on almost any subject you can think of. There are short story podcasts that can lull you to sleep like Nothing Much Happens or The Story Must Go On. You like video games? There are whole studios like Achievement Hunter or Rooster Teeth dedicated tot talking about every facet of every platform. And don’t get me started on true crime. Sometimes I feel like there are more true crime murder podcasts than there are actual murders, but from what I’ve heard they’ve really got a way of sucking you in.
I tend to stick with the comedy podcasts in times of depression, mainly improv shows like Comedy Bang Bang or Offbook: The Improvised Musical, or non-improv shows hosted by improv actors. The appeal, like what draws most people to podcasts, is the feeling of camaraderie. With the right hosts you really feel like you’re sitting around a table with a group of friends, cool friends that have the same interests and sense of humor.
And when you listen, nothing is expected of you. No one’s wondering why you don’t talk, or thinking that it looks like you’ve gained or lost weight, or wondering when the last time you got a full night’s sleep was. As my therapist quotes, you are allowed to be a human being, without any sort of action or obligation.
So, I guess as the year closes out that’s my one word of advice for you lovely readers. Just be. It’s okay if that being involves you being kind of a bummer, because if there’s a good time to be a bummer it’s right now. And whatever you have to do to feel okay, as long as it isn’t directly harming you or someone else, do it.
Listen to an album you’ve heard a hundred times before. Watch all Twilight movies in succession. Search videos on YouTube of soldiers coming home to their pets and weep openly in the dark of your bedroom, while your online arts column lies dormant for months on end.
Whatever gets you though the night. And this night will end, I promise you that.