(Content note: serious depression, spoilers for the last episode of “Angel”.)
I don’t know how to do this.
A lot of my strategies don’t work anymore. This round of depression isn’t just worse than my previous episodes: it’s different. My symptoms, the things that help, the things that make it worse — they’re different. I’ve spent the last four years learning how to manage depression, and now, at least to some extent, I need to start all over again.
It’s different because the world is genuinely terrible. That’s not the depression talking: that’s a reasonable, evidence-based assessment of reality. You know the joke, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you?” Well, just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean the world’s not terrible. And just because you’re anxious doesn’t mean the world’s not terrifying. I keep thinking about Reviving the Tribe, Eric Rofes’s book about gay men’s lives in the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, and I keep thinking about the question he kept asking: How do you treat PTSD when the trauma is still ongoing?
Yes, the world was terrible and terrifying and traumatic before the election. I don’t want to ignore that. But it’s a whole lot worse now. Before the election, I had a decent amount of hope that we were making many of the terrible things somewhat less terrible. Now, it feels like the stone has rolled all the way back to the bottom, and I may spend the rest of my life just working to regain lost ground. Sisyphus is having a hard time being happy.
And it’s harder to even want to fight my depression. It’s harder to want to peel back the numbing layers of cotton and fog, and really engage with the world. I’m clawing my way out of the pit, fighting my sabotaging jerkbrain at every turn — and when I do crawl out, this shit is what I get to live in? I gave a talk at Skepticon a few days after the election, a talk about the world we’re in now, and one of the things I said was that when we’re grieving, the fact that the world goes on as usual can seem baffling and insulting — but it’s also comforting. It reassures us that when we’re ready to step back into it, the world will be there. What do we do when we’re grieving the loss of the world?
So just reading Facebook, reading the news, or in pretty much any way being aware of the state of the world, is very likely going to make my depression worse. It deepens the grooves in my brain telling me, “The world is awful, pleasure is fleeting at best and impossible at worst, there is no hope.”
But retreat from the world doesn’t help either. Isolation is one of the worst things for my depression. Brief periods of regrouping do help, especially if I do it with other people. But isolation makes things worse. Even at my most cynical or despairing, when I think there’s no hope and civilization is definitely going to collapse, when I imagine giving up and sybaritically indulging until things finally fall apart, that fantasy doesn’t seem fun or pleasurable. It seems like a worse despair than anything I’ve experienced. Nope.
What mostly helps is taking action. Writing. Organizing. Calling my representatives; encouraging other people to call theirs. The few times that I feel something resembling peace are when I’m taking action.
There’s a scene in the last episode of Angel that sums this up for me. Yet another apocalypse is looming, and Charles Gunn is talking with Annie Steel, the organizer of a local teen shelter, who’s packing a truck with supplies for a new shelter:
Gunn: What if I told you it doesn’t help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it’s all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive, and they will never let it get better down here. What would you do?
Annie: I’d get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here.
Harm reduction is always worth doing. It’s worth doing when we see a better world on the horizon, and it’s worth doing in an apocalypse. As long as people exist, making their lives better — even just making their lives less crappy — will always be worth it.
I don’t know how to do this. So I’m just going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m going to keep organizing. I’m going to keep calling my representatives. I’m going to keep learning about my depression, about what’s different about this round of it and what works to alleviate it. And I’m going to keep writing.
Knowing that I’m not alone is helping me. It’s weirdly comforting to know that since the election, there’s been a massive upsurge in demands for mental health care services. It’s not comforting to know that so many people are suffering, of course, but it’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone. So if that helps you too, be reassured. If you’re having an upswing — downswing? — in your depression since the election, know this: You are not alone.