Some things happen divorced of time and space.
I have a memory, of which I cannot place the date or location, or even my age, beyond it being likely in my early twenties. There was alcohol involved, but I was not yet drunk (or maybe I was, I don’t know).
Two friends of mine at the time were discussing the depths of depression and angst to which they were both apparently susceptible. I tried to chime in. After all, I’ve suffered quietly with depression since the age of twelve. It’s been a compounding wave, that grows in frequency and intensity with each pass back and forth, and only seems to lessen when I change the channel for a while. The waves get larger, but they take longer to come. The ripples are easier to deal with, and for the most part, I can stem the tide.
Most of this stems from a regular disillusionment that began during the lessons leading up to confirmation at my church. I’ve always been drawn to philosophy and morality and ideals, so learning about kindness and forgiveness and all that had me thinking very highly of my religious upbringing. I was hellbent on being a great Christian. The best Christian, and my family wasn’t even that religious. We were the typical protestant United family. We went to church on Sunday, were suitably bored, then forgot about it until the next Sunday.
However, me, because I have such an attraction to the exploration of worlds, the world of the Bible drew me in and I made a concerted effort to read through the whole thing.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing will turn a person atheist faster than reading the Bible in its entirety. The contradictions, the hypocrisy, the various acts of violence and oppression perpetrated by those who were supposed to be the good guys?
Enter the world of disillusionment.
(Side note: in writing this, I’ve come to another possibility. Is my inability to complete major works of world building, either through reading, writing, gaming or watching, for so many years, the subconscious offshoot of my extreme disappointment with completing the Bible?)
In any case, in learning that the emperor was naked, it triggered something in me – requirement to question all beliefs before accepting them as true. I broke this rule, often at first, but now, even my most ardently held truths demand examination on a semi-regular basis. I dove into philosophy, into reading and higher minded ideals. I read Bertrand Russell and the old Greeks. I read Kant. I read Rand (of whom, I was a very big fan, though time has given me much to think about with her, particularly how the GOP likes to bandy about her name while doing things that seem to run very contradictory to what she preached. For the record, I don’t agree with all of her premises, but I do agree with her individualism. I think there’s a great number of people out there who incorrectly demonize her due to the actions of Republicans who use her name to justify things her philosophy would label out-of-bounds, in much the same way many fundamentalist Christians behave in a manner the sensibilities of Jesus would never condone).
Anyway, one thing led to another and for much of my life, I’ve had to fight back against depression and yes, even thoughts of suicide. I’ve had more than I can count, and when I see things like what’s happening in the States and around the world with the rise of bigots and fascists, it’s hard not to internalize the collective pain and anger that results from their bludgeoning of freedom and intelligence. The loss of global sanity is a heavy weight on someone for whom empathy can be a curse.
(Other side note: I have no intention of following through with anything. I’ve pulled a Hunter S. Thompson with the thought, where I consider the option available to me as viable, but only after all other avenues have been tested, due to its finality. That seems to beat off any negative thoughts; the acceptance of it as an option, combined with the insistence of exploring all other options first, is a terrific ward.)
With all that in mind, imagine how someone suffering like this, with no one to talk to and a weak understanding of his own mind, ripped up by the world’s hypocrisy and repeated let-downs amongst friends and co-workers, and the universe at large, imagine how that person would feel when receiving this reply from these two fellow tortured souls:
“You don’t understand. We have real problems. You don’t know anything about this. Go away and let the two people who actually understand angst and frustration and hopelessness, who actually suffer from depression, talk.”
Those aren’t exact words, but they’re close enough.
Now, fifteen to twenty years after the fact and still knowing both these people fairly well, I see what most people see. Self-indulgent narcissists whose commiseration didn’t include anyone who wasn’t necessarily going to tell them how right they were to be so darn “angsty”. I suspect there was a physical attraction at play as well, which me, not being one of the beautiful people in my dressed-down introversion, wasn’t going to be included in.
Not being acknowledged hurt like a son of a bitch, and I spent the next few weeks in a spiral, wondering why it was that these people thought my pain wasn’t real. And maybe it wasn’t real, I had to consider, over and over again. But I felt it. I felt it so hard, it was damn near crippling.
How could I not understand? I could understand what real pain was like. Right? That’s what I was feeling. Right?
I made a decision then (though it would take a few years to realize it in a conscious way), that I would never make another person feel that way. Everyone deserves to be heard, if they’re hurting. Sure, there are those, like the two mentioned, who do it for the drama and attention. I never said the response had to validate or enable.
But we should listen. If someone’s looking for that much attention, there’s a problem. They probably don’t want to explore what it really is, because the drama works to get them the attention they crave, but it’s no harm to listen, as long as it isn’t just allowing them to be self-indulgent.
More importantly, however, are those who don’t speak about it very often. I rarely talk of depression to anyone, including my family. It’s not something I like talking about. It makes me feel defective, like someone who’s less than human, so I deal with it myself.
In that instance, however, I thought I’d found two symmetrical spirits, with whom I could finally unload this burden, and maybe find a solution, or at least some support.
Instead, they took the open heart wound I put on display for them, and dismissed it as a spot of ketchup.
Do me a favour. Be a better person than that.
If someone needs you, listen.
If someone tells you they’re hurting, especially if they’re not inclined to do so, help them.
And above all, just be a damned bit nicer to people, because if you’re not, they’ll remember it forever, and you in particular, as all kinds of shitty.
And who wants to be remembered for that?