I’m suffering a visit from the Black Dog. I’ve no idea how long it is going to stay. Fortunately for me, it doesn’t incapacitate me, and I doubt that people can detect it by my everyday demeanour.
That, in itself, is a problem. If you look ill, or you sport a bandage or crutches, or you reside in a wheel chair, people can tell at a glance that you are not one hundred per cent fit. That’s not to say that such people do not deserve our sympathy and help. Of course they do. But depression is invisible, unless it render the sufferer unable to function properly.
Much like with IBS sufferers, people cannot see that you are not well, and therefore don’t make allowances for you. This is compounded by the fact that depressed people want to be normal and therefore don’t mention it to people, and suppress, so far as they are able, any external indications of their problems. Outwardly a depressed person may laugh and joke, but, it’s almost a cliché, they are hurting inside. Of course I’m talking about those people who are less seriously affected.
When someone who has depression says that they feel worthless and that life is not worth living or wonders what if it is all worth it, those who they are talking to often nod their understanding. But I’m not sure if they really do understand what it is like to be depressed.
Thomas Nagel once wrote a famous piece on what it is like to be a bat. He argued that it is one thing to imagine what it is like to be a bat, but an entirely different thing to actually experience being a bat. It’s a similar situation to trying to describe a colour to a person who has been blind from birth. The blind person can intellectually understand the concept of colour, in that different coloured objects cause different sensations for a sighted person, but the blind person would not know what it feels like to see colours.
Like the blind man not being able to experience colours, someone who does not suffer from depression is unlikely to be able to understand the experience of depression. They don’t know what it is like to be a person with depression. I believe this to be the case.
On the other hand, maybe suffering from depression is normal, and everyone can experience it. Maybe it’s like grief. Almost everyone is capable of experiencing grief, but a person will not know what it is like to experience grief until they suffer it. Maybe everyone is capable of being depressed, but something external or internal needs to triggers it before they can experience it.
If so, there is hope for depression sufferers that some way may be found to stop an attack of the Black Dog before it appears in your life. Grief, like depression, can be alleviated by medicines, but has to run its course. Grief, like depression, seems endless at the time, but eventually passes.
Trying to operate normally while depressed is a strain. Why chat politely with people when you’d much rather be rolled up in a ball in a cave somewhere? Why bother to explain something that is obvious to you, and apparently causes another person difficulties? This leads to irritation which sometimes manifests as anger. Actually, I’m not sure if heightened irritation is a part of depression or the result of trying to battle through it.
When I’m depressed I hate to be interrupted. When I’m normal, I don’t like to be interrupted, especially if it happens repeatedly, and it may make me a little grumpy. If I’m depressed multiple interruptions to something I’m doing may lead to a minor explosion.
Complex tasks become more challenging during a depressive attack. I’m not sure if depression makes you clumsier, or whether it is the impatience that comes along with it that makes you rush things and therefore bungle them. All I know is that it is harder to do things when depressed. You know you should do them but it all seems pointless. Even if you do do them, you stuff up more than usual.
There is a mental fuzziness which goes along with it. Thinking clearly is harder and remembering things is almost impossible. Words and sentences come harder when I am writing and the Black Dog is around. I look at what I have written and it doesn’t make sense. Well, less sense than it usually does, anyway.
There’s a sort of glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, in that I know that I will come out of it. I’m not sure medication helps, as although it lifts the mood a little there is still a black cloud at the centre of my existence. I know that sounds overly dramatic, but that is what it seems like in some ways.
Looking at that last paragraph, it doesn’t really get close to what the feeling is for me. That’s the trouble. You can try to communicate feelings and thoughts, but when you look back at what you’ve said, you can see that it misses the essence of the thing. Even talking to another sufferer often ends in a stalemate. One’s subjective experience might be “a smothering cloth” while another’s experience might be “all sharp edges, harsh lights and obstacles everywhere”.
That’s not surprising really. We don’t know what it is like to be a bat, and we don’t know what it is like to be another person. We can only convey a little of our feeling through analogy and metaphor. It is impossible to communicate the essence of a feeling. It is impossible to convey a sense impression.
I don’t know what it feels like to you to experience the colour red, for example, though I expect that it is similar to the way that I experience red. That’s not necessarily true of course. I recall someone trying to convince me that certain Chinese characters conveyed an emotion. Well, not for me, but maybe they did for him.
One thing I’ve never seen mentioned about depression. It’s not a matter of depressed versus not depressed. There are levels of depression, and you don’t just sink down and then, some time later, rise out of it. No, you sink down, rise a little only to sink down again, so you may be almost out of it, only for it to pull you down again. At least, that’s what it seems like to me.