What’s It Like to Not Be Depressed?

The fact that probably very few people will ever see this post doesn’t help, of course, but I’m very, very depressed at the moment. As in, to the point where I can barely function day-to-day, and the smallest of chores seem overwhelmingly impossible. I can’t even watch TV or play video games to zone out, because they seem pointless and inane. And for some odd reason I’m having trouble sleeping during the day, so all that’s left is to stare blankly at the wall.

I’m not necessarily concerned; I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again, and it’s something I know all too well will pass in time. But that knowledge doesn’t alleviate the immense weight that is bearing down on me, making me feel like my life is meaningless, worthless, and destined to end in a pitiful whimper of existisitential boredom.

I think a part of my depression is coming from a deep social isolation as the world locks its doors and I stay home day after day; even for an introvert having limited human contact is psychologically harmful, and I’ve gone from a job where I interact with dozens of people a day to absolutely no one (at least not in person). It also doesn’t help that I’ve been riding a bipolar high for the past few weeks, and I know that this is a natural aspect of the downside of that high.

As I often do during these periods of affliction, I wonder what it must be like to not be depressed. And I don’t mean what it’s like to be happy, because I know happiness; I know joy, and the buzz of the bipolar high and the anxious, burning desire to create. But even in the whirlwind of emotions that come with that high, there’s a trace to depression. There’s a knowledge that the deep, dark despair is just on the other side of the coin, a hair’s breadth away and waiting eagerly to consume me. I can’t ever, ever escape depression, even at my happiest, and I wonder: what must it be like to simply not have these feelings?

I imagine, I suppose, that it must be a little bit like being high, or really, really drunk. A subconscious thread of uncaring, of believing that a better day awaits tomorrow. Sure, you might get sad, you might even feel depressed, but it’s because of something that happened, and eventually you work out how to handle that problem, put it behind you, and move on.

I wonder if living without depression is easy. I mean, I can understand that everyone faces struggles in life, but maybe it just boils down to the age-old glass-half-full mentality: perspective is everything. Is life a road with obstacles to be navigated, or is life all obstacles, and you somehow have to find a road between them? Imagine believing that there’s a road; imagine knowing that there’s a destination, and that it’s good. Imagine, if you can, a world where current events are just a stumbling block, and that the world might actually return to normal. Imagine a world of hope, and not one of despair.

You see, that’s the problem with depression. It’s all-consuming. There is no escaping it. Therapy, counseling, medications … they all do their part to alleviate the symptoms, but in the end it’s always there, underlying everything you think, say and do. I’ve lived with this for nearly twenty years, and despite my mental state’s mutations and changes, it’s one thing that has remained ever-constant.

I wish I could not be depressed. And I don’t mean now, in this moment, the feelings of drudgery and despair that are filling my head because of whatever chemical shift happens to be occurring in my head at the moment; I mean, I wish I could know what it’s like to just … not have to live with it. I suppose, really, what I’m asking for is to know what hope is.

Oh, fickle hope – between that and despair the world teeters. Some of us cling to one, and the rest can’t escape the other.

And in the end, what is there to do but trudge wearily through the snows of life? We can believe that there is sun to be found over the horizon, or we can believe that we will die before the day breaks; it doesn’t really change the realities of the world. The world is indifferent; the world doesn’t care.

But to think that the difference between hope and despair is a choice … that’s a belief I can’t hold. Ask yourself, truly: regardless of your own personal outlook, could you choose to be the other way? If you are depressed, can you choose to be happy? And if you’ve never known the cold, wretched clutches of despair, can you choose to feel that iron grip on your heart?

They say life is about choices, but I don’t know if there is such a thing. After all, you can’t ever know what the other outcome would have been, so what difference does any choice really make? I don’t know if there was ever a choice I made that led me to where I am now, how I feel; in the end, life is just what happens to you, and you can try to make the most of it all you like, but in the end – how much does it really matter?

Like I said, I’m very, very depressed at the moment. I’m not looking for sympathy, or consolation; really, just a way to say what I’m thinking. I know these feelings will pass, but even as I know that, I know they’ll one day return. Is life happy with bouts of depression, or depressed with bouts of happiness?

Who knows; who cares. All I know is that tomorrow is another day; that isn’t a statement of hope, nor of despair – it just is. I’ll probably make it through it, just like I did today. How I’ll feel at the end of it … that’s really anyone’s guess.

Here’s to hoping it isn’t in despair.

What Social Distancing Means for Humans

As COVID-19 spreads around the globe and the world’s governments try to keep the cases at bay, a new phrase has cropped up: social distancing. In a nutshell, it means keeping away from people to limit the spread of infection, particularly when transmitted through the air.

For many of us, this means staying at home when we’d normally be out and about – whether it be shopping, dining out, or simply going to work. Some governments have outright prohibited all non-essential travel (the definition of essential, of course, is up for debate), meaning that for many of us, the normal social contact we would have with other people is at an absolute minimum.

At first, the introvert in me would want to think of this as a good thing; who wants to have to interact with other people anyway? But as the days wear on, it becomes increasingly evident that, even for the most antisocial among us, human contact is an essential part of our nature.

You see, humans – like many, many other animals – are inherently social creatures. We thrive when we are in a community, and perish in isolation. There’s a great deal of study into the psychology of this, but the bottom line is that people need each other to stay sane.

If this is the case, then what happens when we are forced into isolation? Whilst many of us are in isolation with a few other people, there are nonetheless some of us – those who live alone – who now have no physical connection to other people for days, if not weeks, at a time. Even if you live with someone, the limited social interaction of just a couple of other people is no comparison to the wealth of stimuli that comes from being able to simply talk to different people, with different perspectives, throughout your day.

Even as a fairly hardcore introvert (I get easily exhausted interacting with people), my day is usually filled with human interaction and socialization, and I use alone time to recuperate. Now that I’m working from home, the conversations with my colleagues and clients are at a bare minimum, and I find myself at times bored to tears.

Perhaps the only good news is that this particular pandemic has hit us at a time when we’re still able to socialize to a reasonable degree remotely, through technology. In fact, for our children, who are so used to socializing virtually, I suspect this quarantine is having a significantly lesser impact that it has had on adults who grew up having to interact in person. Through FaceTime, social media and online servers, we’re able to at the very least get the input from others that create intellectual stimulus, even if we aren’t benefiting from the more visceral reactions of being able to physically see, hear, and speak to others in person.

I have regular virtual meetings for my work, as does my wife; my son is taking online classes from school through which he can directly interact with his teachers. I can call, text, or message people anytime I like. I can still interact.

But none of this replaces the need we have for physical human interaction, and I worry that society as a whole may soon face a terrible choice: do we maintain our physical health at the expense of our mental health, or do we venture out and about, risking exposure to a potentially deadly virus, just to stay sane?

There are no easy answers at a time like this, but with COVID-19 seeming unlikely to disappear anytime soon, there may be some drastic changes that will have to be made, simply in order to protect the survival of human society. And what happens when the next viral outbreak comes? What happens when a plague of considerably greater deadliness comes around? Without sounding too apocalyptical about it, humanity may have never faced a greater threat to our overall societal well-being.

What are your thoughts? How will we survive this, mentally and physically? And what do you think the long-term prospects for our culture and civilization are?

Thoughts on COVID-19

There’s pretty much only one thing on people’s minds these days. I’ve seen anxiety, panic, hysteria, ignorance, apathy and dismissiveness around COVID-19, but there’s no denying that it’s here, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. (Indeed, it is already being addressed by most governments and businesses around the world.)

In a not-so-funny way, the overwhelming presence of COVID-19 is like a mental illness: a shadow across the mind that can’t be ignored, a thought that presents itself constantly before all others. Every thing you do, every action you take, you can’t help but wonder if you’re furthering your exposure to the virus.

I saw a co-worker go home sick yesterday. Just before he left, he mentioned to a fellow team member – whether in jest or not, I don’t know – that he thought he might have coronavirus. In my mind, that was an unacceptably irresponsible thing to do. Not because people shouldn’t know if he did, but because the way he presented the information – to a peer, in casual reference, and not to a manager or leader – led to a rapid spread of anxiety and panic throughout the entire team.

One of the things I’ve seen over the past few days is that in times of uncertainty, duress, and unprecedented fear, people want to be told what to do. They need reassurance. They need a strong, unwavering and certain leader who sets the record straight, tells the truth that people need to hear, and confronts the feelings of panic and hysteria that are brewing in people’s minds. I saw this at work when no leader was there to tell people how to react to a co-worker potentially having the virus; and I see it in the egregious panic-buying that is going on across the United States at virtually every supermarket in the country.

This level of conscientious command is missing entirely from the United States’ leadership currently. Within the past two weeks, the president has noted that the coronavirus will disappear “like a miracle”, that things were “getting much better in Italy”, and more or less downplayed any effect the virus will have on the US and its economy. Instead of actually leading, it feels more like panic and ignorance from the one person who, in theory, ought to be able to bring things together.

But at the same time, perhaps this isn’t quite such a bad thing; after all, mass hysteria and panic can be what allows democracies to turn into dictatorships. Capitalizing on people’s fear – justified or not – is an easy path to rationalize unchecked executive actions, and in times like this it becomes easier to abuse the power given to those in positions of high authority. So far all I’ve seen from the leadership of the country has been denial and scientific ignorance, which under the circumstances is probably about all that could have been expected.

What the spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated, however, is that the world at large is woefully unprepared to handle the proliferation of such an infectious and easily-communicable disease, and that perhaps it never can be. The world is incredibly fortunate that COVID-19 is not more fatal than it is, although current estimates might nonetheless be too low; were a disease as fatal as, say, ebola to become as transmissible as COVID-19, the world would be in a dire state. Even so, to contain the spread of a disease like this would mean shutting down all physical communication between states and countries, and in a global economy this could put many countries at risk of starvation as their imports dwindle, and poverty as their exports cease.

As the disease progresses, however, one thing that’s come to light is that there are very few places that have yet to suffer, and in this regard there is perhaps a chance for many of the world’s countries to unite in combatting this contagion. If out of hardship some positivity could be derived, then we should look to that light, rather than focus on the devastation left behind.

Or, like what seems to be happening in the United States, we could could become isolationist and leave the rest of the world to suffer in solitude. And in doing so, I think far more people will die.

From a global scale to a single individual, the spread of COVID-19 is a frightening prospect, and how we handle it as people will determine how we handle it as a society. If there is no leadership to be found from the government, then we’ll need to rely on our own resources: read scientific publications, seek out original research, take the precautions recommended by the World Health Organization and the CDC, and most of all, look after your own mental health. Don’t allow fear to drive you, but don’t ignore your own anxieties either; information is your best weapon.