“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the teacher.” Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises….All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing” Ecclesiastes 1:2-5, 8
Depression has ended, in the last few months, in at least three suicides (Avicii, Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain), and at least two mass shootings. (Parkland and, debatably, Santa Fe. Although, it is a common thread among mass shooters)
There is a stigma surrounding it. Some insidious blend of the Osteenian call to “just look on the bright side” and a cultural zeitgeist reminding you that “other people have it far worse than you”. These both serve to make it appear that your demons aren’t the monsters you see them as, but little speed bumps that you should be ashamed for not overcoming. Even when we’re not talking about shootings and racism, in America, it seems the evil is always “out there” I’ve quoted this before, but N.T. Wright once observed that our perception of evil was that it was always wild and exuberant outside of ourselves. Inside, we like to think, we have it all under control. So, the idea that someone can’t just buck up and put down their personal demons is obviously because they are weak. If they can’t handle the nothingness in their own hearts, what good are they to the ills the befall the nation in general?
If anything else ended with these suicides and mass shootings, there’d be some massive conversation about them. Hell, after the Charleston shooting, the conversation on racism and violence went into unthinking hyperdrive. There’s no “other side” to be angry at. You can’t even pretend to legislate depression out of existence. We can’t blame the death on racism or another form of hatred or even a physical ailment like cancer. We’re dealing with a different kind of enemy. Instead we have to look at the above and realize that, despite all the cultural slogans and ideas to the contrary, money, fame and success can prove to be vastly unfulfilling. In the States, if not for money and fame, we’d have nothing else to grab on that would serve to add meaning to our existence.
We have stigmatized negativity and internal struggles in this country. There is nothing that can’t be cured with a Job-ian pep talk or a quote from John Lennon or Joel Osteen. If platitudes don’t work, all that should be required is a reminder that someone has it worse than we do.
The problem, is not in possessions, in what we have versus the other guy and some comparison of relative wealth, it’s the aspect that most don’t talk about anymore: meaning and value as it pertains to one’s life. Clearly, if Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Avicii, Chester Bennington, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Robin Williams, Tony Scott, and Dave Mirra can commit suicide, money and fame are clearly not enough, Either it’s cultural myopia that just assumes everyone thinks life at a certain level is worth living, or an insidious notion that if someone doesn’t see it that way, then that person just doesn’t see the sunny world we do and he’ll come around to it eventually (The sun being so plainly obvious from the perspective of those who are trapped in hell). There is, as Edward Murrow once said, a built-in allergy to uncomfortable information: The fact is what we are told as a culture to pursue, money, fame, success, is ultimately unfulfilling.
So, now I feel like I can’t be general for too much longer so let’s get a bit more specific. There is a history of depression here inside your favorite cynic owing largely to one particularly abusive narcissistic sociopath who was in my life for too damn long, put me and some people I know through hell and is no longer a part of any of our lives. To put it mildly, I have felt worthless for a very long time, and this recent bout with the academic world and specifically algebra has made the propensity for failure that much more apparent to everyone who knew I was going through it, which is none of you. What I’ve done now is work my way into a spiral where I really didn’t want to talk about what was actually on my plate and what I’d been through to people that I know would generally listen to me. I don’t put much stock in what I do, and am now grasping more for “content” then whatever you might call “happy” and I no longer know what even that looks like. This shit is destructive to a degree that I am only just now starting to appreciate and the exploration of this is, without any qualification, fucking brutal. It’s a wasteland stretching across 6 years consisting of stagnation, failure and distance from people who have done not one damn thing to deserve it and I have no idea how to reintegrate, and because I don’t care to live in Pittsburgh when my time with the CCO team at LaRoche is over, I don’t really know if there’s a point to it, anyway. Point is, the longer it goes on the more damage it’s going to do while you’re in this mess.
Don’t want to be like that? Think you’re already there? Guess what, this is the when you start to find help. For what it’s worth, let’s stop here and list some resources:
Christian Counseling of Western PA
National Board of Certified Counselors
One who helped years ago:
Jane Ackerman, 135 Freeport Rd, Aspinwall, PA 412-760-8665
In the meantime, think about where you can find worth. Something to get you to that first appointment. Maybe, this is more personal ranting, but let me tell you what keeps me going. Originally, it was spite. The bastard I mentioned, I’m utterly convinced it was his goal to drown me, abusers, evidently, like challenges. They intend to destroy you. (relationship-focused link, I know, but it wasn’t a relationship. I’ve never had one). It has become a slogan of mine that living well is the best revenge, but I used to find some small victory in living at all just to frustrate his goal. The turnaround clicked at my first Jubilee conference, as the team at Point Park coalesced into something of a family, and I myself became a Christian (although, as Dan will tell you, that took a bit of time to admit). Now, it’s a matter of living to serve the small circle that manages to make it through in any way I can. I’ve moved friends from Pitt to Denver, to Austin, Columbus, into a separate apartment here in Pittsburgh, moved one brother to ATL, built a DVD rack to surprise a friend (back when DVDs were a thing. It had the colors of Tron: Legacy so it was around 2010) helped a few friends in other significant and small ways,
As you may imagine, the cynic in me stumbled upon Ecclesiastes and the amateur intellectual stumbled upon Romans. Together, they form what has to be the most damning indictment of the human race ever put to paper, but also something that offers a way out of the mire we find ourselves in. While I have little to say about Romans that can help you, Ecclesiastes accepts the absurdity of life but declares near the end, that life is both worth living, and has meaning in even the small things (Ecklie 9:7-11, 11:7-8, 12:9-14). This meaning, of course, comes from God.
In this matter, however, I don’t wish to exclude those of you who might not believe, nor do I desire to proselytize to you. I can only suggest you not dismiss it out of hand. It is a weapon that is available to you that can become so much more. I am restrained however by going further, as I believe that God and the sacrifice of Christ is that which gives meaning to our lives. If we are worth dying for then, surely we are worth fighting for now, and that fight should not take place solely in some isolated cage in your head.
So go ahead. Call in backup. Look at the list above, talk to your church, a trusted friend, someone to help you regain some footing in your battles. We have seen in the news over the last several weeks that losing this battle can kill people. And yet, it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t, and if we admit that there is no shame in being stuck in this fight, and work as a culture to open and destigmatize avenues through which people can feel justified and free to call in as much help as they feel they need, it won’t.