“Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair.”
The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression”, Andrew Solomon
Something in Solomon’s opening paragraph rings melancholy with some deep profound meaning that I do not quite grasp. I opened the Bearapy’s World Mental Health Day newsletter two days ago with the same quote. Since then, I have been pondering.
Depression is a friend to me, like the marshmallows floating on top of a cup of hot chocolate. They just float – they are not part of the chocolate, but yet somehow enveloped by the fluid. Slowly they melt into the brown, unnoticeable, until they become no more – or the unfortunate ones get engulfed by me and down the oesophagus into the rest of the junk. I like the depressed mood. It makes me think, makes me write, makes me rage, makes me enlightened, makes me power through my to-do list.
I had always interpreted Solomon’s lines to mean being able to despair at losing “things”, like toys or friends or non-achievements. Today, while driving home with Arlie, tears popped out of my eyes, as I realized that maybe it is the despair of losing myself.
“When it (depression) comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself.”
If depression was a soulmate, then love is a stranger on the other side of the world whom I have not met. Taking in affection makes me self-conscious, receiving gifts (especially the thoughtful ones) make me squirm in my chair and I want to run away. If someone tells me they like me, I cannot meet their eye. The worse fatality is if someone tells me they love me. I would freeze, not know what to do, and then disappear in spirit and soul until that intense connection dissipates and I could pretend it never happened.
Is it possible that I lost the ability to love in the depression?
The stranger love is, the more I reject it, the more I hide back in the depression, and the stranger love becomes still. Thus a self-fulfilling prophecy that loops round and round. At the same time, I crave the feeling of love. Yet, I would not trust the love given to me, because I am convinced they love me only because of what they think I am, and if they got to know me more and better, they would realize I was not what they thought I was, and that would disappoint them, and finally they would leave me and retract that love. So, what better way than to keep people at enough of a distance?
A master in self-degradation I am, though it is reassuring that I am good in something, at least.
“Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression.”
So, perhaps the reason why Bearapy has become a substitute. As long as I find meaning in what I do – or convince myself there is meaning and purpose and vision and mission and values and all those great-sounding works, I am safe from depression, and protected from love.
It is too simplistic to say depression made me lose the capacity to love or receive love. It must be more than that, deeper, more rooted in some historical experience that traumatized my unconscious. I can think of a few things. The thought that struck me in the last few days, was an eerie realization – that somewhere and somehow, I had convinced myself, that I was worthless, not loveable, and not worthy to be loved.
“Love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love.”
I had not really been in touch with a sense of worthlessness so strongly before. The “I’m not good enough” mantra is done and dusted, more or less, and I have defragmented every notion of it as much as I knew how. Though I know it is not so shallow. Wherein stems the “not good enough-impostor syndrome”? Could it be that at the root, I find myself unworthy of anything good?
That could explain why when things are going “well”, I cannot fully embrace it, nor believe it. I peek round the corner, and wonder what monster lays in wait for me. Why would people waste their time on me? Something must be wrong with them too.
It is a tautology: if I find myself unloveable and worthless, then it follows that no one would really love me. If I believe no one loves me, I am vengeful and resentful, and love no one back. Yet I do. So deep sometimes that I cannot even comprehend. I surprise myself sometimes at the intensity of such complex yet simple emotion. I do not know what to do with it. So I put it down, close up, and walk away. The more it comes back, the more I believe someone is doing it just to taunt me.
“In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.”
The paradox is baffling. I do not feel all that insignificant – look at the public appearances and accolades and vanity I have. I would say I feel quite significant at times, and then when I put everything is context, yes well, I am still just a little drop of water in the big ocean. I lament, no one remembers me, no one invites me, no one thinks about referrals to me even when they are with the most prominent people who might need some mental wellness workshops or PLAYshops.
A whole new can of worms. How much more of myself do I not know, and how much more do I have to accept? And if I find myself worthless and unloveable, how do I accept a self that is worthless? To not be worthless, I put up a fight – and porcupine spikes. Love comes out as resentment, fury, emotional self-righteousness, and “I prefer to be alone anyways so go away!”
It is tiring, all this introspection, and most of all painful. We tend not to like pain. Neither do I. So I indulge myself in hectic work to avoid opening up more wounds. That way, I am “too busy” with work to have to deal with people or connections. Perfect excuse and rationalization, and makes for justified glorification of the romantic tragedy as I drive off alone into the sunset.
What is love to you? And how do you take it in – or not?
It is a yellow flower, petals wilted on the ends a little, in the middle of my palms. Hold it too loosely, and it will blow away with the wind. Clasp it too tightly, and it will crumple.
To see myself in the light is confronting. To hide in the dark is alluring.