Saturday, March 15, 2014

Depression 101: Suffering.

Vincent Van Goght, 1890.

Ian Cooper

For the last four days, I have been sick as a dog.

It’s not the flu. It’s not a cold. It’s not tonsillitis or my appendix.

It’s depression.

Like any other illness, whether it’s a temporary one or a life-long affliction, it tends to rule your life, sometimes for a few days, or maybe for the rest of your life. Like any other serious illness, it can also take your life.


Normally I’m a pretty cheerful and optimistic person, or maybe, I would just like to think so.

But when the blackness descends upon me, I seem like a different person.

Hey, everybody—this isn’t the guy we thought we knew.

What the hell happened there?

I didn’t know he was like that...he always seemed like such a nice guy.


My mom can always tell. She can tell by my voice when I answer the phone.

The thing with depression is when it goes on too long. One of the symptoms is irritability.

What this means is that a person is quick to flash into anger.

Anger is the 800-pound gorilla, always lurking in the back of your depression. You fear it as much as anyone else. It is your gorilla and it belongs to you. You know very well how strong it is and what it can do.

That’s the thing isn’t it?

Because you know what it can do—you’ve seen it before. You’ve also seen and endured the consequences. 

Not just for yourself, which might almost be okay, but for other people too—including your friends and loved ones.

One of the personal consequences of a big blow-up is a lowering of a person’s self-regard.

Most of us like ourselves, most of the time, right?

It’s a simple feedback loop of perceptions and emotions. You feel like shit, you act like a shit, you say a few stupid and shitty things. The next day, maybe when you’re actually starting to feel better, you realize what a shit you might have been the day before. And yet it’s all because of the illness, which is to some degree beyond your control…and that’s when the patient gets to feel shame.

You can’t seem to control yourself, young man. What are we going to do with you?

That anger can get you in a lot of trouble, and it can cause a lot of trouble

Anger is a natural emotion, there’s nothing contrived or artificial about it. It’s real, and the average person accepts that.

Shame is as natural as anger, or happiness, or the pleasure of eating barbecued steak.

We evolved in a social environment where a certain amount of biological control developed over time in order to perpetuate the species. Our bodies are equipped to feel the physical symptoms of shame—turning red in the face for example. Shame is an important adjunct of any form of social control. We still use it that way today, and we still do it to ourselves and others.


Is depression real?

Perception is reality, isn’t it? We have to accept what our senses are telling us—that a flower is pretty, (or at least that there is in fact a flower there), the wind is cold, the sand under my bare feet is gritty, my stomach is too full…or maybe, for whatever reason, I feel like shit today.

Depression is a physical illness. It has physical symptoms.

I noticed the other day that my face looked completely different in the mirror, although it is obviously the same person. A couple of days before, I didn’t look so bad.

My face seemed haggard, drawn, every line, wrinkle and jowl were all tending downwards, the eyes were dull and listless…all the signs of a very tired or very dispirited man. My shoulders were sagging and the belly was in full blossom. All I had to do was stand up straight, when you think about it.

It’s like I’ve aged a few years. I look thinner in the face this morning. I’ve probably lost ten or fifteen pounds over the winter. I haven’t been binge eating, which was something I might have done a lot more of in the past. I haven’t been pounding back the beers, either, and in the past that might have been one of my little coping strategies. Normally, I would gain weight in the winter, and that’s been the case for a decade anyway. 

This year, it’s like I’m slowly wasting away.

Here's an important point: in order to avoid depression, which includes sleep and eating disruptions, is to get proper food, and get proper rest.

This is tough when your circumstances might not be the best.


Right now I don’t have any ideas. I haven’t written more than 1,000 words of fiction in four days. I don’t even know where that story is going or what it’s about.

This fuels the depression further.

They say writing can be cathartic.

If that’s true, it really ought to look more like this: AHHHHHHHHH!!!


Stuff like that, right?”

But that’s why, (and I know this is a depressing subject), writing a little bit about depression sure isn’t going to harm me. For one thing, it means I’m at least working, and if I’m not working, then I am just another unemployed guy.

And unemployment, as everybody knows, is depressing.

But then, life sucks in general sometimes, doesn’t it? Life circumstances are one of two major causes of depression. The other is genetics, simple heredity.

We can only hope that it will end at some point and in the meantime we just try to endure—because to survive it is important.


I think depression is triggered by external events to some degree. Your life was going along all right, you had no major problems, and some little thing goes wrong, and then that spiral downwards begins.

No one has a perfect life, but in some ways I tend to avoid irritations. That’s not always possible, but of course deep down inside I must have connected it with irritability—getting angry.

It’s an avoidance strategy, rather than a coping strategy. I think that’s why depressed people tend to isolate themselves. For one thing, they probably don’t want to bring other people down—and neither are they enjoying the simple everyday activities that others take for granted.

And so they keep to themselves, avoid socializing, and over time even get a little paranoid—one of the best reasons for talking it out that I can give.

My personal opinion, is that in the majority of mass shootings, in malls, movie theatres and schools and such, the root cause is a profound depression, one that has gone on far too long and been left untreated.


One of the ways to get out of depression is to do something. Anything is better than sitting around looking at the walls and wondering why everybody hates you. For one thing, it’s not true, and for another, you are feeding your own depression.

And the longer I let that depression go on, unchecked, and just let it eat at me, the more likely I am to go, or do, or say something stupid. That’s my big weakness, isn’t it?

Shooting my mouth off and being full of them negative waves, Moriarity.

That is why it is important to talk it out, as far as I’m concerned.


Once or twice someone has said something about my remarkable sense of humour.

That’s not a gift of heredity. It’s a coping strategy, and it comes from suffering, ladies and gentlemen. 

Everyone has some sense of humour, but then everyone who has ever been born has also suffered, haven’t they?

Suffering is a universal element in the human experience.

That one’s a frickin’ no brainer.


One of the neat things about being a writer is that you can express yourself, and a joke or a good line is a kind of story-telling.

He came by it honestly enough.

That’s a little private joke we have around here, ladies and gentlemen.

I guess you could say the same thing about almost anybody; and it’s not even an insult.


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