My son Matt put me onto the fantastic, brilliant, darkly comic blog Hyperbole And A Half, which is his favorite. He recently bought the book version. Its creator Allie Brosh was on Fresh Air yesterday; her extensive discussion of her struggle with depression was compelling listening. From the transcript:
GROSS: You write some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. Were you trying to figure out why you were depressed and not coming up with a reason?
BROSH: Mm-hmm. I was. You know, I think that there’s a common misconception that depression is about something, or depression is sadness or some form of negativity. And it can represent a sadness or a self-loathing, as the first half of my depression did. And it actually contributed more – it sort of circled back on itself and made me dislike myself more because I was so sad, and I didn’t know why, and I felt like I needed a reason.
You know, I would think, you know, there are people who have it much worse than me. I actually have a great life. Why am I feeling like this? Why can’t I enjoy this? Why can’t I feel happy, like I feel I should be? And it took me a long time to figure out that it was just – something was broken on a fundamental level. It wasn’t – there was no reason behind it. It was just the way things were, the way my brain was at that point.
GROSS: And you say that people think that there’s a source of untapped happiness that you’re just not taking advantage of, and with that comes a lot of advice. What kind of advice did you get from people that you thought was, like, not really helpful?
BROSH: Well yeah, people always want to help, and, you know, because it’s very difficult for them to accept that this is something that maybe can’t be helped. Maybe this is something that, you know, nothing outside of medication or time can fix. But people tend to want to actively help and be a part of fixing you.
And so I got advice like, well, try yoga. Like, get up early in the morning and do yoga every morning and appreciate the wonder of the universe, and you can’t be depressed. And the subtext of that is that I’m being negative, and that’s why I’m sad or why I don’t have feelings anymore.
And, you know, people would say, well, just be happy again. Or have you thought about, like, your life is great? Like, think about how wonderful your life is and just really meditate on that and think about, you know, you have this great job, the job that you’ve always wanted. You have a great husband. You live in a wonderful area. Think about all that stuff, and you won’t feel bad anymore. But that’s – it almost makes it worse, because then I feel like, well, I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I really shouldn’t.
There are all sorts of things that people are telling me to do that can help myself, and it also creates this weird tension, where I feel almost pressured to accept the help and act like I’m better so I don’t disappoint anyone, or make them feel like they’ve failed or be frustrated with my progress.
Read or listen to the whole thing, especially the part in which interviewer Terry Gross prods a tearful Brosh to discuss the plan she made for killing herself. It was excruciating listening, and I wanted Terry Gross to stop, while at the same time admiring her for pushing forward and asking the question everybody wanted to know the answer to.
Anyway, what Brosh says in the part I quoted resonated with me. I recall times in my life when I’ve struggled with depression, and have hated it when people tell me to “just be happy,” or “laugh more,” or “think of all the good things you have.” As if it were a matter of simply choosing to look on the sunny side of life. As Brosh said, that stuff makes you feel even more guilty, because think of the starving people in Africa, you ingrate.