The World Is Too Much

angel of greif

I began writing this post with this sentence: “whenever our society experiences an incident of extreme violence or injustice or an epic failure of leadership, I find myself feeling overwhelmed; my thoughts scramble and collide; eventually they collapse.”

I deleted it, then I rewrote it, and then I decided to reframe it. What I wrote about myself is true, but the context is  inaccurate– it implies that the violence and injustice and incompetence I’m describing are aberrations, that they come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end.

What we are experiencing now – the near-constant gun massacres, the violent mob mentality rooted in hate and fueled by rhetoric, the rapes that go unpunished, the racism that goes unchecked, the total failure of our leaders to lead, the feeling of impending crisis – these are not “incidents.” They are our norm.

And the fact that this turmoil is a defining characteristic of the age in which we live only serves to intensify the chaos of my thoughts and feelings. My anger and frustration and grief and despair and fear struggle for pride of place until my mind becomes exhausted and defeated; stymied by its own excess of activity.

So as much as I wish I could come up with something balanced and meaningful, or at least coherent, to say about Orlando, or gun access reform, or racism, or Republicans, or the fact that Donald Trump’s face keeps popping up in my nightmares, I can’t.

I just can’t. The world is too much.

All I can do is grasp onto the tiny moments, and listen to the whispers of what is good in our lives.

Like a conversation with my five-year-old, in which she told me that she was BORN to make people laugh, and the pride I feel in knowing that she believes her mission in life is to bring others joy.

Or the “I love you more” argument I have every night with my 8-year-old, and the powerful gratitude —  the sense of awe — I feel that despite my mistakes and imperfections as a parent my daughter loves me as fiercely as I love her.

These moments aren’t much. They come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end. But they are everything. They have to be.


I Understand, Robin Williams

This morning as I drove to the gym, I was listening to a radio DJ express how astounding it was to him that Robin Williams, a man who was so beloved, so successful, so loaded with talent, who had a genius that made millions upon millions of people laugh, could, underneath all of that, have dealt with a depression so powerful that it caused him to take his own life. I can understand how people would be baffled by that seeming incongruity. But this is the truth of depression: that it digs deep and it divides the soul and that in the depths of this divide is where it casts it shadows.

Depression isn’t unhappiness. And it is more than the kind of unhappiness that comes and goes without a definable cause, which is how so many people perceive depression. In the midst of depression, you can experience laughter, happiness and even true, overwhelming joy. You can be cheerful and outgoing and funny and charming. But in depression, you learn to be wary of the good feelings, because they never come alone.

In depression, a shadow self, one that is in you, of you, always around you, convinces you that in this great, wide, terrible, wonderful world, you’re really nothing. There are so many other people, everywhere, who are so much more valuable than you are. And although you know that you have worth in the eyes of the people who love you, you also know that really, you, in your essence, are worthless.

And in your worthlessness, the things that should make you happy — even the fact that they do make you happy — make you suffer because you don’t deserve them. You don’t deserve happiness or success or any of the good things that come your way.

And when your successes bring  you praise or accolades, you feel pride and exhilaration and a crushing conviction that you are a fraud.

And after awhile, when there is nothing on the surface of your life that isn’t shadowed by the ingrown knowledge that you are a worthless, undeserving fraud, you start to feel  despair, or you start to feel nothing, but whatever it is that you feel,  you have little hope that it will ever change.

And for some of us, a lifetime of despair, or a lifetime of nothingness, or a lifetime of vaulting between the two extremes without hope of escape becomes too much. It just becomes too much.

* * *

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I am adopted, but the one thing I know about my paternal heritage is that depression and addiction run powerfully through that side of my family of origin. And I can already see signs of depression sprouting in my six-year-old daughter. I’m familiar with what depression can do to a person.

Depression is a lifelong companion. It can be a burden, but it can also be a gift. It forces you to be introspective, which is where creativity often is born. It also inspires you to be kind, because you know how precious and painful life can be.

Depression is also treatable. It can kill, but it doesn’t have to. The important thing to remember is that depression  hides, and it hides itself well. It’s a whirlpool under a placid surface. You encounter it often, but you rarely see it.

So be kind. Be tender. Remember that there are people to whom life seems meaningless, but who choose, every single day, to keep living because they know they have to — and because there is still a flicker of hope that lights their darkness. You can’t cure depression in someone else — but you could be the one who helps to keep that flame alive, so that person chooses another day.

Nanu Nanu, Mork.

Nanu Nanu, Mork. You lit up our lives with laughter.

* * *

For a funny and heartbreaking take on depression (because depressed people are actually pretty hilarious), visit Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half and read her comics, Adventures in Depression and Depression, Part Two.

For resources on how to help yourself deal with depression, visit Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, who is another awesomely funny writer who also suffers from chronic depression.

And, of course, NAMI has an exhaustive list of resources for people with depression and those of us who love people with depression.