Understanding Depression, One Webcomic at a Time

I never would have guessed it would be a webcomic that would deliver the best description of depression I’ve ever read, but that’s (just part of) the genius of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. After a year and a half of silence, Brosh, the genius who brought ALL THE THINGS into our lexicon, has a new post up on her web comic/blog . But this one’s a little…different. It’s funny, sure, and she still wields a mighty MS Paint pen. But instead of another hilarious story about her dog, or cake, or a birthday party gone wrong, she takes on a topic much more serious and, in her case, personal: depression.

It might be the best description of depression I’ve ever read, or at least the most helpful for me in understanding it and how one going through it thinks and sees the world, and others. And it still manages to be hilariously funny (warning: there is some swearing).

The day before it went up, she posted a warning to prepare readers for the change in tone: “In parts, it might get a little flinch-y and uncomfortable, and if I succeed in making you laugh during those parts, you’re going to feel real weird about yourselves. But it’s okay. Just let it happen. I WANT it to happen. Because it makes me feel powerful, and also because there are flinch-y, uncomfortable things everywhere. Seeing them is inevitable. If we can laugh about some of them, maybe they’ll be less scary to look at.”

Because I can’t say it better than her:

[After discussing how we stop being able to enjoy play as we grow older] “I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience. Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything.”

“I didn’t want anyone to know, though. … However, I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.”

Mentally I know that depression messes with the brain and any perceived lack of interest or love is only that, perceived. But it’s so hard to actually feel that, when you’re looking someone you love in the eye and feeling the disconnect between the person you know and the person staring back at you.

“It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen. From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are…”

Oof. I am so guilty of this. As I have known and loved people with depression, and tried to demonstrate my love for them, I have too often thought this way, that surely if I make things fun enough, or happy enough, they will have fun, and be happy, and stop focusing on the pain and sadness. Like they’re just not looking hard enough. But now I really get how wrong this is, because…

“It’s not really negativity or sadness anymore, it’s more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you’re horribly bored and lonely.”

“That’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.”

This is the hardest part, as someone who loves people struggling with depression. You want to help. You know how much you love them, and you want them to feel that. You know how much God loves them, and you want them to feel that, too. You want them to know the hope that you have. But we just can’t do it for them. This is where Christians can really mess it up–too many people look at depression as a spiritual failing, in which the depressed person is rejecting God’s hope. Even when you know that’s not really true, in frustrated moments it can feel like that, because you only know what it feels like to be in your brain and your brain isn’t covered by this fog. It made the most sense to me when she described how it felt when the feelings began to return:

“I rediscovered crying just before I got sick of hating things.  I call this emotion “crying” and not “sadness” because that’s all it really was. Just crying for the sake of crying. My brain had partially learned how to be sad again, but it took the feeling out for a joy ride before it had learned how to use the brakes or steer.”

Depression is such a mystery to those of us who have never known it firsthand. I’m still trying to figure out how best to love people in the midst of it. This post helps. I hope it helps you, too.

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