Joy is beautiful and worthy and profound and nothing moves my hand to create more than the depth and breadth of its mysterious, empyrean harmonics. Experiencing joy is my greatest personal achievement; conveying it is the epitome of my expression. If that sounds less hardcore/esoteric than posting x-rays of my colon bulging with the vintage typewriter keys I choked down during my latest opiate-soaked crise de nerfs... oh well. Our cemeteries are full of dead cool people.
E N T E R T H E D R A G O N
About fifteen years ago I lost my shit quite badly and really bottomed out. I was damaging my health, consigning my life to a landfill and torturing my partner, none of which I felt I had a right to continue doing. It was a choice between, basically, self-euthanasia and remedial action. Having run out even of resistance to the idea, I crawled on all fours into state-funded counseling.
Cognitive therapy, to be precise, and I credit this fortuity (I had no choice as to the kind of help I received) with the pleasures and freedoms I enjoy today. Cognitive Therapy (CT, CBT or REBT- rational emotive behaviour therapy) is, in short, the provision of a new script. If depression is essentially imbalance, CT offers a framework of ideas and inquiries that headbutt its droning dogma and allow a gradual return to balanced observation; the re-adoption of logical, rather than lopsided, batshit conclusions. For every negative thing you can come up with, your counselor responds with what amounts to either a direct or rhetorical challenge, slowly compelling you to comprehend the unilateral nature of your own assertions. Personally, I could only sit through so much of my own bullshit before it began to piss me off; rebalanced by patient, consistent suggestion, you begin to rebuild your bombed-out mental infrastructure, reinstating the processes that lead to emotional recovery; to the recovery of balance. Both the challenge and the raw mechanics of engagement jumpstart the deadlocked brain and resuscitate its potential. CT is all the better for being administered by a disinterested stranger, someone you cannot load with the spurious baggage you'd assign to an intimate acquaintance, but it can also be handily reinforced by your companions once they have learned its very basic principles.
Well-administered, Cognitive Therapy works its magic even (and perhaps especially) on the solid gold bitch and terminal smartarse; the sarcasm mavens like me, the ones with an answer for everything, so intrinsically refractory that our noncompliance will torpedo other treatment pathways. I urge every wild-type antisocial depressive to attempt CT; don't worry- you can hate the process and still benefit from the results.
There is a sort of cultural relativity at work here, an appropriation of our most difficult attributes into a useful arsenal. My skeptical, oppositional bloody-mindedness comprises an ethos that does not accommodate passivity or victimhood. Such tendencies can exacerbate depressive episodes, but once engaged and mentored by the Cognitive Therapeutic process, they can lend their massive horsepower to recovery.
For me, it took three years of once and sometimes bi-weekly sessions for CT to really stick and find its niche, but it has served me ever since and I regard myself as a particularly intransigent case.
L I B E R T Y, E N F R A N C H I S E M E N T, E N T I T L E M E N T
I was right about not being entitled to ignore chronic, acknowledged depression, any more than I should expect to be allowed to nurse a gangrenous arm for years on end. From an ethical perspective, it's not cool to do nothing. Those around us must get to vote too, if we value their company and their autonomy, their right not to chained to something gnawing on its own tail.
Value yourself. You're here- you might as well enjoy it. To suffer something as grotesque as depression is a prospect that should enrage the free and liberal. If an outside agency knocked on your door and attempted to impose its conditions and limitations on your private life, or tried to insist that you consume occult pharmaceuticals, what would your reaction be?
S Y D N E Y S M I T H, E S Q U I R E.
A generation ago I would have faced involuntary committal or even indefinite detainment. But now we are at the opposite end of that paradigm and help or intervention of any kind is sometimes impossible to obtain. Under current monetarist regimes, most Western health systems have under-resourced psychiatric care, effectively denying it to a group that can be relied upon to accept absence and paucity. While I am, as stated, a convert to the cause of professional intervention, what should we do in the face of institutional inadequacy? Outside extremis, we don't have much choice but to stay punk. Engage brain. If the D is a bad witch, maybe she's trying to tell us something with that fucking broom; at least she reminds us that the cognitive can access the emotional. She's also a hoary old bitch; let's locate the accounts of those who have gone before us. So much has been written and discussed by so many; everyone from Aretaeus of Cappadocia to Virginia Woolf to Russell Brand have farted out their two cents worth upon the subject, and there's something of benefit for everyone to be found in the experience of others.
I found some particularly germane advice by accident, in a book from 1908 entitled The Beaux of the Regency, Vol II, containing illustrated accounts of various society wits and reprobates from the era in question. (It deserves to be examined in its entirety, and one day I'll get round to doing so onsite.) One of the personalities discussed is a certain Reverend Sydney Smith, 1771-1845, a rotund curate who could count Byron and Lady Holland amongst his intimate circle. In 1820 he wrote a letter to a female friend detailing his advice on the treatment of low spirits, which he confessed to suffering himself. Though I would not normally cross the road to piss on someone invested in the institutions of monotheism, the fact that he was an impolitic, arse-biting dissenter famous for his defence of the poor and eschewal of corrupt advancement should tip us off to the value of his wisdom. Here 'tis, slightly condensed and rearranged, with my notes included.
"Live as well as you dare. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.."
Self explanatory, vitally important. Always attend to your modus and your domicile and never let things slide too far. There are few things more guaranteed to precipitate depression than being faced with a shitty job and a horrible residential situation. Do anything you can to keep them humane and comfortable; one can alleviate the impact of the other if its not possible to achieve both.
"Go into the bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight suggestion of cold. Be as much as you can in the air without fatigue."
This is strange but true. Slapping yourself in the face with a challenge to your physical comfort can short an impending depressive circuit. Freeze your arse off with a walk in the middle of winter. Go to the beach and wade out til it's up to your knees. As for exercise, I'm as lazy and homeloving as they come and that has always been to my detriment. Note to self- get out more.
"Avoid poetry, drama, music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence. See as much as you can of those acquaintances who respect/like/amuse you. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you."
As tempting as it is to put Faith or Unknown Pleasures on a loop and lie on the floor with a bottle of vodka, that is, in my experience, extremely unwise. The first stages especially of depression seem to solicit mournful stimuli but you should never feed the troll, and I aim this counsel squarely at the young, who have so few defences anyway. The jeune should also be aware of depressive cheerleaders, a peculiar species of acquaintance deriving secret, voyeuristic pleasure from the condition's perceived dramatic values and even stoking it in their thirst for more. They are often young themselves and lack a true grasp of their impact, but I have met this creepy phenomenon in those well old enough to know better. While I personally cannot engage with other depressives when I'm there myself and have to instate a cordon sanitaire, some peeps find perspective in that company, so maybe ask yourself what works for you.
As for drugs, the uncomfortable truth is obvious and overwhelming. Addicts know addiction and depression are best mates. You don't have to be dependent for depression to start skewing your limits and tolerance, even of the stuff everyone considers harmless. Overconsumption of cannabis has kept more people depressed for longer than they needed to be than anything else I know of. Apart from antidepressants themselves, lol. That's an unpopular opinion in some circles, but I did say overconsumption, and if smoking a fucking bowl is the centre of your political universe, you need readjustment anyway.
It's my unshakable opinion that we should question lengthy recourse to antidepressant medications, particularly unsupervised, given their dubious history and pharmacodynamics; if you are offended by this suggestion, at least ponder why so many people both oppose their use and cannot seem to function without them.
"Short views of human life- no further than dinner or tea. Be as busy as you can. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree. Struggle by little and little against idleness."
Human contact and activity can be difficult to manage when you're not feeling either, but make the effort. Bake a cake and force someone to eat it with you. Walking yourself like a rusty robot to the shops and fake-smiling at the checkout girl may not be orgasmically pleasurable, but it does not please or facilitate depression either. Neither does volunteering somewhere worthy, or putting yourself in a situation where you cannot reasonably stare at the wall and grunt/weep in response to engagement. Attempt things that will remind you of your own worth. If you can't deal with yourself, try to deal with something else.
"Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion."
Sydney was a 'tolerating' christian and a dedicated humanist so I give him a pass. I am intensely dubious about the value of religion in dealing with depression, but don't let me shit on your parade. If you believe in any sort of god, they owe you big time. You are perfectly entitled to demand meaningful answers from your nominated creed. Personally, I worship life in a sort of animisty kind of way and find the contemplation of my fellow organic arrangements immensely consoling. That I have no more cosmic significance than an icecube or a takahe or a supernova has abolished hubris and denial, granted me a robust sense of self and the lateral connections with the natural world that are so supportive of sanity and the deep-pocket comforts of empathy.
"Compare your lot with that of other people. Don't expect too much from human life- a sorry business at the best."
Word. Particularly relevant to the young. The worst and the best thing about being young is the blinkered, attenuated immediacy of that condition. It's awesome to be ignorant of the kind of shit that turns old people grey, but remember also what it's like to live inside each day when there is no notional escape from its transfixing horrors, when you don't know, in your head and your heart, that it's not the end of the world. Depressed teenagers so often misunderstand oblivion; they take it literally, get the arse-end and aggress or destroy themselves instead of absorbing the perspective implied. Remember the painful realities of youth, learning the discretion and secrecy that are passports to adulthood, how little your guardians knew of your influences and activities and how few defences are at your command. How acutely attuned you were to cant and hypocrisy, if nothing else. In dealing with a depressed child or teen, we need to think carefully about our own experience and speak to them with authenticity and sincerity, so they can relate it meaningfully to their own. Depression is so lonely; we should intrude on that, oppose its exclusivity with compassion, reassurance and the promise of a chance to feel differently.
If only I had really known that all things pass when I was eighteen.
"Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely- they are always worse for dignified concealment."
Another thing which makes me link depression with cognitive function is the fact that I am now both older and wiser; that as I have become more reflective upon my own value and defects, I suffer fewer bouts of active, unchallenged depression. I am as pessimistic as ever, acutely conscious of the environmental and social hand of death that we are dealing ourselves, for instance. But I remember the vivid horrors of depression without perspective, of being an emotional Prometheus, every day bringing the same terrors as the last. I'm hardly ever there these days.
From the hopeless verbosity of this piece and its predecessor, you might have already concluded that I've learnt to talk about this crap and found solace in that process. Do talk about it yourself, even if you don't know what to say at first. Telling other people you're not doing well invokes the ancient magic principle of naming your adversary, and the idea withstands a lot of scrutiny. It's not like you're ever the only lunatic in the room. Everyone's defective in their own special way.
I remember something the late, stupendous Lux Interior once said about eschewing self destruction in favour of sticking around long enough to piss people off by pretending to be deaf, and that is the challenge that faces the chronically depressed. Not just the sticking around part, but finding solid ground on which to be whoever the hell you are. It may be smug and probably is tempting fate to say that this place exists, and that I'm standing on it now, but there is so much in the ether suggesting otherwise that I feel bound to declare it here.
Ex nilhilo nihil fit. Given the opportunity, we should all at least try to shift for ourselves and help others toward the same.