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 in the industrial estate and alighted at the nearest MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train station. Practiced, we tapped the transit link card, went through the gantry, and went up to the platform to wait for the train to 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 the accountant, Carina (name changed to protect the person’s identity), came up to me and interrupted my rehearsed mundanity. By then, I weighed my lightest at 42 kg and stood at a 1.61m. I tried to eat more but continued to lose weight more rapidly than I could fatten. 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, intending 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 remember 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 showing my dismay at her remark.
Carina weighed 38 kg, and she was taller than I was. A few weeks after the brief encounter, we received news that Carina had committed suicide in her home, not before she left an apologetic message to her superior 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. The brightly lit platform dimmed into darkness in that instance, leaving just two barely lit spotlights on her and me.
By helping me, perhaps she may help herself. We often rush to help that person with the apparent injury and thank the helper who looked happy, confident, and helpful. Soldiers who 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. Sometimes, an abundance of positivity is a red flag.
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; 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 a dark space. Here, right, left, North, South, East, West, they make no sense in darkness. We only walk forward, backward, and 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 recognize someone who carries the same darkness with them, the dimly lit spotlight is always just momentary. We are less capable of maintaining a consistent light source in the dark. 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 have 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 expired. 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 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 overcome. It is not a challenge; 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 we love before we become depressed, but if people we love feel so sad for us, we will fake a bright personality to console them. Every time we do that, we lose sight of the authenticity of the true light, so we would not recognize it when we see 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 were 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, and 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 had been 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 fulfill, 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 is blind to his/her own.
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