I Have of Late Lost All My Mirth
(I dedicate this article to all those who live in the dark world of chronic sadness and depression. Although I don’t address the issues of clinical depression, I believe that many of us have what I call a “depressive personality.”
My comments in this essay address that kind of personality. They are not meant to support the world views that many with that personality trait share. They are merely an attempt to understand the ebb and flow of those attitudes and world views that depressive personalities share.
And I would like to make it very clear that many of us with that depressive personality type are not consistent with our dark world views. There are days when those views dominate. And there are days when the world gives us every reason to want to go on living.
With the help of a twelve-step program and twenty-nine years of sobriety, I have gradually, but sometimes reluctantly, moved over into the world of chronic happiness. But, as the saying goes, “old habits die hard.” Namasté)
In his Al Jazeera essay, “Death of Our Clown,” Tim Krieder said,” “It’s not that funny people are depressed, but that only depressed people can be really funny.”
Krieder’s overall comments present some interesting material about the relationship between comedy and depression. His article was prompted by the recent suicide of Robin Williams.
It is difficult to fathom that the jokester, the clown, the comedian could have personal lives that are on the dark side. It seems almost heretical to believe that, in their personal lives, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, or Johnny Carson may never have achieved that rollicking sense of carefreeness that their comic routines exuded.
Aside from finding out that he had Parkinson’s, which may have put him over the top of what he could handle, Robin Williams also struggled with alcohol for much of his adult life.
And alcohol, as we all know, is a serious depressant.
I cannot speak to the issue of clinical depression, which is a chemical and neurological condition I leave to the psychiatric and psychological experts.
But I can speak to the depressive personality, something I have lived with for most of my life. Being in a twelve-step program has certainly softened the dark side of me, but, as I look back, I realize that that dark side actually contained a philosophy of life that I lived by but never really examined until I did many, many fourth steps.
In that self-examination process, I began to realize that my psyche clung to certain dark world views, especially while I was drinking. Even now, I still struggle not to get tangled up in them.
For what it’s worth here are some of those dark, and sometimes cynical attitudes I often fall into when I’m not paying attention or when I’m not taking care of myself:
Life Should Be More Than It Is
Depressive personalities, like mine, always seem to be looking for something else.
Ordinariness is often something we escape into, a seduction, but always a less-than experience. Or something that we can hang our hats on to prove that there is nothing else worth pursuing because we have sunk that low into routine and the rituals of our dailiness.
As a result, we always seem to be tempted to believe that there is “something else” that can satisfy us. A new car may work for us today. But a newer car is always better in a year. A new intimate relationship works to fill in the gaps of all our breakups. But we know we’ll be checking out all the on-line dating venues not long after we’re in another relationship with our new victim du jour.
Sameness Is The Name Of The Game
I may look for some new thing to satisfy my unquenchable tastes, but, too often, in my depressive MO, life has a consistent pallor of sameness. If you are a friend or even a close relative, I can look you straight in the eye in a restaurant and make no distinction between you and the waiter. Or the mother who just came in with a screaming two year old.
In my dark moments, I can read about thousands killed in a tsunami with the same indifference I experience in reacting to a doctor telling me I have fourth-stage prostate cancer.
In my somber mood, change seems more like a new burden rather than a challenge. Or it feels like just another thing to tip the scale of my undoing, something else I have to unravel or scramble to remove before I descend even more into the Inferno of feeling overwhelmed by life.
Autumn Is More Real Than Spring
Liking the summer and anticipating the spring are relatively new experiences for me. Throughout much of my depressive adult life, summer meant walks in the park, picnics, back-yard grills, family get togethers, joggers—collectivist conspiracies that always seemed to be forcing me to be part of bland communities I believed were all faking it.
When I was in my cups, autumn meant the end of the charade. It was a season that marked the finality of things. It had a gloomy chill-and-drenched-leaves feel about it that offered me some mildly perverse comfort in knowing that I would soon be entering the real world of winter solitude.
In the throes of my somberness, autumn still has a kind of smoky sadness I can ride on until I finally escape into the relentless season of winter’s isolation.
Unhappy Endings Prove the Rule
There is a tendency among depressive personalities to believe that all intimate relationships, sooner or later, will be doomed to fail.
For a long time, I believed families were an exception to this rule because they had all mastered the art of loyalty with resentment. Many, if not most families, I believed, just stuck it out only because they were biologically or legally joined at the hip. Or because the family was the socially accepted default mode over which few had any control.
To the depressive, Hamlet, Anna Karenina,Werther, and Doctor Zhivago are fictional characters who have an edge on reality that no comic characters or romantic comedy stereotypes can ever match.
They all suffered. Their love relationships were either never completely consummated or ended in some kind of tragedy, often by suicide. And they proved the depressive’s rule that life is just not to be trusted to end happily.
To those who live in the “bleak mid-winter” of our days, beginnings are always fraught with inevitable suffering, while unhappy endings do nothing more than confirm what we depressives have always known: “Life sucks. Then you die.”
Life Is To Be Endured
To the depressive, stoicism is just not potent enough as a philosophy of life. We have to take it up a notch. We have to see life as an endurance test, a chronic battle, an Olympian war in which we are constantly testing our metal.
Some of us can certainly sprint from point A to B without faltering. But the real test for us is to hang on indefinitely, teeth clenched, our brains laser-beamed to the long haul.
To those of us on this ever-evolving dark odyssey, stoicism, just doesn’t cut it. We need more muscular fare, something that will say to the world, “Yes, I’m depressed. But I can make it just fine, thank you.”
Suicide Is A Human Right
Not every depressive person I’ve met wants to do themselves in. Some do. Some would prefer the slow death of booze, sex, food, multiple relationships, cars, jobs, prescription drugs. Or the more meteoric descents into methadone or heroine. (The preference does not necessarily mean that an individual’s will power is running the show; our addiction to those preferences is the more powerful force in descending into those choices.)
And some, like myself, seem mildly content to just sit in our detached melancholy without ever wanting to go to the really dark side of self-annihilation.
I can’t speak for everyone in my class of recovering depressives, but I do know of at least one other person who shares my strong support of those who choose to commit suicide. Both my friend and I often talk about this. Our conclusion is simple: Every human being has the right to make the choice not to live anymore.
One might argue that no one “in their right mind” would really want to make that choice. Well, my friends, none of us really has much control over when and where any of us is going to be in our right mind. And none of us can predict when an addiction is going to take us to that final moment of complete despair. And none of us, for sure, knows when life no longer has any force to keep us alive.