“I don’t want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.” – Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
This graphic depiction of depression is one of literally millions to grip the lives of people, real people who, in too many cases, keep their desperation locked in their hearts, fearing that if they opened the door to that darkness, they would be ridiculed, possibly despised, or worse, alienated and ignored.
Whether one pictures pulling a pillow over one's mouth and nose in order to stop the breathing, or walking into the water at the beach, all the way to the deep, where breathing ceases, or jumping from a sky scraper, or throwing one's body in front of a speeding subway train....the pictures are part of the rehearsal for a 'way out' of this madness.
And make no mistake, much of the world's drama is nothing less than sheer madness. Collectively, we seem to be enmeshed in fishing nets whose strings we cannot remove from our arms, our legs, our necks and whose strings seem to continue, however slowly and inexorably, to tighten with each exposure to another act of inhumanity to another person or group of humans.
How can any sentient human fail to notice and be moved, often to tears, with another suicide bomber's decimation of lives of innocent people?
How can anyone fail to wince upon learning of another gun-shot into the flesh and bones and heart and spirit of another person?
How can one fail to harden from exposure to the contrived violence of computer games played repeatedly as both a 'rush' of adrenalin and a medication numbing the pain that underlies too much of contemporary life?
How can anyone hold out against the onslaught of invading images of the abuse of power from the insult of a colleague meant to demean, to the many offensive 'ism's' that seem to complement the sources of hard power to which too many gravitate in order to sustain a modicum of ordinariness?
How can the individual sustain what is simply unsustainable..the kind of pressure to fit into a competitive and combative and hypercritical and alienating culture in which winners have contempt for losers and losers have contempt for winners, and patronizing attitudes and postures pour ointment on the guilt of the underlying truth?
How can one avoid, or evade, the suction of the black hole of indifference that would seem to offer surcease of pain, the pain of the daily diet of the pounding drum-beat of selling another pill, another drink, another trip, another car, another insurance policy the benefits of which have to outweigh the costs, if the economy is to sustain its 75% dependence on consumer buying?
How can any human resist and avoid or evade the objectifying that reduces her to a symbol of whatever...another sale, another impulse of sexuality, another nurse, another trophy, an elevation of status/superiority?
How can one reject the determination of others to paint a target on his back, the focus of demeaning attacks of feigned superiority, another of the quivvers of power in the arsenal of the neurotic?
How can one concentrate on the task of getting an education when all the world seems intent on distracting into a myriad of escapes all made legitimate by a cultural thrust that supports both the acquisition of various "perks" like body/mind mascara, and also "belonging" to an 'in' crowd...and by joining avoid, evade the pain of isolation, alienation, ridicule and indifference?
Closing the drapes, grasping the bedcovers and pulling them over the head, refusing to leave the house, refusing to answer the phone, refusing to eat, refusing to engage through any of the many communication devices from snail mail to digital notes...all of these, while giving respite for a moment, start one on a path of withdrawal and potentially raise a red flag for our companions, if they are paying attention.
However, any of these temporary "closings" can and too often do lead to longer periods of withdrawal. And often those withdrawal periods do not evoke "check-ins" that so many people today need, and need in silence.
Occasionally, in a "healthy society" a news story will focus on the rising numbers of suicides, and mention the efforts of those seeking to prevent such acts of desperation. And then, with all of the opportunities for "busyness" people move on, with or without an occasional mention of depression over the water cooler at the office.
Unlike cancer, unlike heart attacks, unlike a stroke, unlike diabetes....depression, alienation, isolation, aloneness and loneliness, often linked to abuse, right now or unaddressed from the past, together or separately dig a deep hole in the heart of vulnerable people who believe they have no place to go to find solace, options, friends. And once the hole has been dug, and emptied of its energy to beat, not only the blood through the veins and arteries, but also the spiritual energy to consider one's person worthy of acceptance, it often takes a lifetime for that 'hole' to heal.
And even with a modicum of healing of that hole in the heart, one never loses the memory of the experience of the heart being hollowed out. It is as if the body preserves the memory of that 'hole' while the society has never devised, designed or created a surgical operation to repair the hole in that heart.
In fact, most people with a hole in their heart keep their pain locked in the vault of that hole.
For many, to open the vault of that hole is so risky that it has to be avoided at all costs. Opening the vault and exposing the secret of the abuse, of the loss, of the bullying, of the brokenness of the spirit is to risk being targetted as weak, as a cry-baby, as a self-pitying, snivelling, untrustworthy other. It is also to risk being rejected for a job, for a relationship, for an opportunity to volunteer, for an invitation to a party or a dinner.
Of course, there are 'support groups' for those with specific weaknesses like alcohol or any of the many other addictions. And there are support groups for those experiencing bereavements with its accompanying grief. And even to stick a toe in those waters, for many, takes considerable courage, but perhaps less today than fifty years ago.
Yet we are a culture of visible evidence of pain or abuse, while continuing to remain detached from those pains that we cannot see. And all of the pains that comprise any definition of depression, alienation, isolation, indifference, self-loathing (too often enmeshed with all those other pains), are extremely difficult to discern, especially in a culture in which the observable trumps the invisible.
And the culture also barely pays lip service to the invisibles that haunt the lives of millions. In fact, can anyone really say that those invisible "pains" like those holes in the heart, are not an integral part of his or her life? Is there really anyone whose life has passed without an arrow piercing his or her heart? Is there anyone living whose memory is not encumbered with moments of unbearable loss, even if those losses were inflicted without malice, and without intent?
And yet, we continue to attempt to maintain a culture in which our emotional and our psychic pain continues to need a locked closet, keeping the evidence of that pain private, lest we become objects of ridicule, or worse, indifference.
And, to make matters worse, we are almost compelled to witness the parade of power-seeking, power wielding, power-obsessed 'leaders' whose campaigns depend on keeping the doors to our (and their) private locked closets sealed, as if in a collective, even compulsive act of complicity to silence.
Seemingly, if we were permitted to unlock our personal closet of pain, we would inflict such a wave of embarrassment, and drain on the public treasury, that we would wither on the vine of public approbation.
And yet, our denial and our avoidance is haunting so many conversations, so many organizations and so many families, that we are all complicit in a mountain that keeps this volcano locked....
Only, one has to wonder if the mountain has reached its containment limit....given the hourly explosions on the streets, and in the forests and in the floods...and on the television screens and in the political rallies....
And one also has to wonder if we have the collective courage and the collective political will to begin to do things differently...through the open, conscious and persistent address of those frightening clouds on our personal and on our shared global horizons.