Depression: Wandering in the Darkness of the Black Hole

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I took a detour from my re-re-re-watching of Smallville (I’m up to season nine, if you can believe it!) to binge the heck out of The Haunting of Hill House, the 2018 Netflix show. I will have an extended blog post on the show to review it, but there’s another detour I want to make before then. Without giving away spoilers, there’s a monologue by the Theo character in the show — take out the horror, take out the ghosts, take out the supernatural — who gives a poignant monologue about mental illness and depression (even though I think the literal interpretation is that of death itself).

Naturally, that hit me hard. I don’t want to recreate the entire monologue here or link to it, not yet at least, but the image of depression as nothingness, as an empty black hole, and how people sometimes try to fill that black hole with booze or drugs or meaningless sex or food or whatever it is, and nothing woks.

“And I’m just … I’m just floating in this ocean of nothing, and I wonder if this is it, if this is what death is, just out there in the darkness, just darkness and numbness and alone …”

That’s depression … the wandering aimlessly in the darkness, lost for direction, alone, and numb. Or at least, that’s what depression tricks your brain into thinking. You could quite literally be surrounded by all the beautiful colors of the world, the sensations of the world, the sun glinting through the dang window, and all of that is there. A mirage in front of your face.

You could be with a group of people at a party, and lurking in your field of vision is that darkness, waiting for you to return to it, knowing that this, whatever this is with other people, is only a momentary reprieve.

Depression is a trickster in that way. It robs your brain of being rational, and worst of all, makes it seem as if there’s no way out of the black hole, that you’re destined to wander it forever. In that way, it’s something of a supernatural horror environment. But there’s nothing supernatural about it, and fortunately, because of that, it’s manageable. I’m not sure anyone who has clinical depression can be “cured” per se, but it can be managed. The darkness can be managed. The numbness can be managed.

Doing therapy and/or medication is basically like planting a bunch of buoys out in the ocean, with lighthouses on the horizons. Something to indicate that the darkness is not all-encompassing. There is light. That’s what managing it means. At least, that’s what I understand the therapy and/or medication to accomplish; it’s not meant to create an artificial high, but rather bring you back to being even-keeled. To where not every little thing is apocalyptic. To where not every little thing sends you spiraling. To where not every little thing sends you to wandering into the darkness of the black hole.

I wanted to use the occasion of that powerful monologue to talk about the image of depression it conjured in my head. Poets, writers, playwrights, artists, musicians, and film-makers the world over have been trying to describe to those who don’t suffer from depression what depression is like. That monologue conjured such an image.

Imagine being dropped into the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the darkness, how disorienting it would be, and how fatalistic it would seem, given how far any horizon or help seems when you’re in that perspective. You’re just bobbling along, one barely discernible head floating above the surface for miles and miles in the darkness. (And the fun part is adding other issues, like anxiety to the mix, so akin to knowing there are sharks in the ocean.)

And depression is worst than that. Because at least with the ocean, for a time until your arms get tired and you drown, there’s at least a surface to keep your head above. Depression is more akin to a surfaceless floating through darkness. Again, that disorientation and inability to see the light.

There’s a weightiness to it, too. Darkness, yes. Numbness, yes. Feeling alone in the fight, yes. Awareness that even when you’re away from it that you’ll be returning to it soon, yes. But there’s also a weightiness to it. It’s heavy. It’s physically draining. It’s sloop-the-shoulders, dent-the-bed heavy. As if you were in the water trying to prevent yourself from drowning, doggy paddling along as best, and for as long, as you could. That seems to be a rather under-discussed aspect of depression is how much of a physical condition it actually is.

Apologies if this post is a bit more rambling than my usual rambling musings. This one is more off-the-cuff than usual, more image-based in my head than something concrete. I also whipped it up faster than I normally would because I wanted to get what was in my head out before I lost the image, fresh off of that monologue.

Something I’ve asked before, but if you had to describe what depression is like, how would you describe it?

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