When Depression is about Successful Survivorship
It was just another ordinary day after a mundane routine of unimportant work. Like a bunch of worker ants on clockwork, we mindlessly took the company transport from the office located in the industrial estate and alighted at the nearest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train station. Practised, we tapped the transit link card, went through the gantry, and went up to the platform to wait for the train that would ferry us home. The platform was shone brightly by the sun before it retired for the day. That ordinary day would turn into weeks, months, and years.
It was supposed to be just another ordinary day but Carina (name changed to protect the identity of the person), the accountant, came up to me and interrupted my rehearsed mundanity. By that time, I was weighing my lightest at 42KG and standing at the height of 1.61m. I tried to eat more, but I continued to lose weight more rapidly than I could fatten up. Compelled, I removed my protection-from-human-interaction earpieces.
“You’ve lost so much weight!”, she said with great concern. “It’s not intentional,” I replied with a shrug and intended to keep this conversation as brief and painless as possible. “You know, it’s not very pretty when you lose too much weight,” she insisted.
I vividly remembered hoping for the train to arrive sooner to end this unexpected social exchange and I was getting tired of people accusing me of over-losing weight. I spoke a non-verbal language with a shrug and expression signifying my nonchalance, and to show my dismay at her remark.
Carina weighed 38KG and she was taller than I. In a few weeks after the brief encounter, we would receive news that Carina committed suicide in her home, not before she left an apologetic message to her superior at work for the unfinished work. I remembered her as a chatty co-worker who was friendly to everyone, and perhaps overly friendly towards me who worshipped antisocialism.
An Abundance of Positivity is a Symptom
It may appear that Carina was the helping person, alerting me of the danger of the journey ahead of me; but was she? She recognized me as the spitting image of herself. She identified the darkness that wrapped around me. In that instance, the brightly lit platform dimmed into darkness, leaving just two barely lit spotlights on her and me.
By helping me, perhaps she may help herself. Many times, we rush to help that person with the apparent injury and thank the helper who looked perfectly happy, confident, and helpful. The soldier that sustained severe internal injuries may receive the least care because he/she carried a physically wounded comrade. No one tended to his/her life-threatening injuries, because he/she had concealed the pain behind the brave mask of positivity.
The Virtuality Of Darkness
“Don’t go there!” “Where is there?” “On the left!” “Where is left? Whose left? Yours? Mine? Where are you!”
Don’t go where? Where is “there”? The problem with the modern metaphor is the illustration of depression as being trapped in a dark tunnel. No matter how deep the tunnel could be, it’s a tubal structure; and at the end of the tunnel (either end), there will be light.
The truth about depressive darkness is that it’s not a tunnel, it’s just dark space. There, here, right, left, North, South, East, West, they make no sense in darkness. We only walk forward, backward, sideways, but we would not know where is “there.” If we were lost in the forest, we could make a mark and see that we had been to that spot; in darkness, until we put a light on, making a mark poses no significant meaning.
Even when we recognized someone who carries the same darkness with them, the dimly lit spotlight is always just momentary. In the dark, we are less capable of maintaining a consistent source of light. In seconds, we may hear voices, but we would have lost the power to determine directions.
Depression is about Survivorship
I thought about Carina from time to time. Since I was a child, I helped to mediate disputes and counsel people to become happier. I have my struggles, but I find the strength and meaning of self-existence by helping people. I only knew how to help, I wasn’t trained to seek help. Carina was me. Could I have helped her if I had been more friendly? She had made several friendly attempts to establish some form of friendship with me. I shut her out. I shut everyone out. My goal was to live a lonely, uneventful life till life expires. I was not suicidal, I just desired a monotonal, monochromic, and monotonous life; to live in a world of predictability. Depression is not about rebirth; it’s not about conquering it; it’s not about anything but survivorship. We just need to survive it. Many of us misunderstand depression, so we set many unobtainable goals while we are still in the grandness of darkness. Don’t set far and glamourous future goals just set achievable goals like surviving this phase. The greatest delusion about depression is that it is a challenge to be overcome. It is not a challenge, and for some of us, it is a long-term residence – dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder). The brutal truth is that some people fake light in the darkness. Depressed people are not heartless people. We still love the people that we love before we become depressed, but if people we love feel so sad for us, we would fake a bright personality to console them. Every time we do that, we lose sight of the authenticity of true light; so when we see it, we would not recognize it. “Teach people to cope, not over-compensate”. I have a degree in Psychology, and I believe in helping people cope with life struggles, and I believe in interventions. There is, however, a thing known as “balance.” Coping is a compensatory mechanism, and we are naturally engineered to compensate for the shortfall of any requirement in any aspect of our lives. We must be careful of the pressure of over-positivity.
I was wrong. I used to advise people who are depressed to keep moving forward even if they could not see the path ahead of them. I promised light at the end of this scary darkness. The light has always been in our mind, and sometimes, keeping still could work better for some people who have already been knocked around too much for too long. Just survive this, forget about the light at the end of the tunnel, forget that people are waiting there.
Depression Does Not Discriminate
Carina was a CPA certified accountant, seemingly happily married, had a baby that most of her co-workers were not aware of her pregnancy until she was on maternity leave. She seemed successful in her career and social life. She showed not a shred of sadness or negativity at work.
Could we have helped? Could we have prevented her suicide? How could we? We saw her as a happy person waddling playfully in the water with loud laughter and chuckles. Unbeknownst to us, beneath the water, the waddling was a desperate attempt to stay afloat, until she exhausted all strength even to move a muscle. She gave up and drowned.
For the rest of us, we dug into our memories of the last time we saw her and wondered if we could have made a difference if we were just a little more attentive. Telling people that we are waiting for them at the end of the tunnel is setting a massive expectation that we are looking forward to seeing a happy and well person. That is sometimes a tall order to fulfil; and why depressed people feign a happy mood.
The Comedian Who Serves the Audiences
People say the best comedian may be the saddest person who volunteers all the light he/she has to the public. This person recognizes other people’s pain but blind to his/her own.