By ANDREW HERMANN
Blast Boston Bureau
I've been feeling pretty depressed lately. The reasons aren't important.
It's not the change in the weather or my dire financial situation or any of
the usual brushoff explanations. It's much more
complicated than that. Besides, I don't really want to talk about the
reasons; they're too depressing.
I've been seeing a shrink about it for the past year, but I can't stand her
any more. She depresses me, too. She charges a lot and she doesn't have
regular time slots, so I'm constantly cancelling and rescheduling
appointments with her and then trying to frantically cram the context for a
month's worth of miseries into a fifty-minute hour. She won't discuss
anything over the phone other than appointments and payments because that,
of course, would be dispensing free advice, and she won't refer me to
support groups because then I might stop coming to see her. And contrary to
what they advertise, you can't really discuss everything with your shrink.
"So what's on your mind, Andy?" "Well, my shrink has really been pissing me
off lately...oh, sorry, that's you, isn't it?"
During our sessions all my shrink does is listen, which I find doesn't
really help all that much. I want to be told why my life is such a
shambles. I want to know what the hell I'm doing wrong. Even if I can't fix
it, at least then I could identify it and go on doing with it an air of
defiance instead of an air of tentative regretfulness. At least I wouldn't
have apologize for skulking through life like an emotional leper, infecting
everyone around me with my black moods. Hell, I could be part of the
post-grunge-era depression movement -- "bleak chic," as I like to call it.
I could paint my fingernails black and listen to discordant music and hang
out in dark coffeehouses with my cynical, unmotivated friends and sneer at
all the shiny happy people blithely failing to succumb to this fucked-up
world we live in. The fools.
I have to say, as someone prone to genuine bouts of depression, that I
really resent the growing media impulse to make this faux- depressed
as-ironic-detachment subculture into some kind of generational touchstone.
It's made depression seem like just another pose, like an immature cry for
attention every bit as shallow as dying your hair purple or crushing beer
cans on your forehead. Not that depression isn't a cry for attention, but
it's a confused, primordial one, not the unified-front social statement you
see at a Nine Inch Nails concert. Among the truly depressed there is no
unified front, no social clique to mingle with. You can't form an effective
social clique out of a group whose defining characteristics are
self-loathing and indolence.
There are times when I wish it weren't so, believe me. I watched the
coming-out episode on "Ellen" and found myself wishing there could be a big
coming-out for depressed people. I wished we could
have our own clubs and coffeehouses and theatre troupes instead of our
miserable groping support groups and online chat rooms. I wished we all
knew how to have fun together and support each
other and say, "Good for you. Good for being who you are."
But such a thing is probably impossible, for one very simple, hard-
to-admit reason: depressed people are a pain in the ass to be around. We're
whiny and self-absorbed and desperately seek
approval and constantly perceive slights where none was intended. Even
happy, ebullient people generally find us exhausting to be around, so you
can imagine how much of a drag we are to one
But who knows? Maybe some Ellen-type celebrity will lead the way toward
wider acknowledgment and acceptance of actual depression, as opposed to the
bleak-chic variety -- Janeane Garofalo, perhaps, who rarely uses the "D"
word but is about as far out of the depression closet as anyone in the
public eye these days. Whoever it is won't have an easy time of it.
Mainstream determination to dismiss depression as a pose, a coverup for
something more dire
(usually drugs), or sheer brattiness is still strong. Kurt Cobain needed to
blow his brains out before his detractors would say, "Gee whiz, maybe it
wasn't all just an act." And recently, when Mets
pitcher Pete Harnisch admitted to depression as the cause of his poor
performance, the reaction of sportswriters everywhere was: "Yeah, right.
You've just lost your stuff and you're too chickenshit to own up." Pete was
luckier than Kurt -- it took pills rather than shotgun shells to make his
nay-sayers change their tune.
Which brings me to my next quibble with depressives' relationship to the
mainstream: the overwhelming trend to sweep the depressed folks under the
soothing carpet of mood-boosting drugs. I admit that for people far worse
off than I am -- the ones who are literally at the point of
non-functionality -- Prozac and all those other nifty medicaments are
necessary and even beneficial.
But I object to the impulse to medicate everybody who gets bummed out more
than some arbitrarily determined societal norm. Because, frankly, I think
the depressed people are on to something. And
if we silence their whining with drugs, the world will be a much less
I subscribe to a theory known as evolutionary psychology, which is the best
explanation I've heard for why the ranks of the depressed seem to grow
faster than they can concoct new drugs to stop us.
Basically, what evolutionary psychology suggests is that our culture has
evolved faster than our brains, so we're not wired to function
appropriately in our current fast-paced, high-tech,
convenience-laden global village. Deep down we still want to be out on the
Great Plains chasing buffalo, not standing in line at McDonald's. We want
to be part of a tribe, not an anonymous
development tract or a bank of cubicles. We don't want microwaved food or
electronic music. We have the minds of people from a ten- thousand-year-old
civilization, and we're trying to function in a
world our great-grandparents would hardly recognize.
Depression, I think, is nature's way of telling us to slow down and
reconnect with the things that make that ten-thousand-year-old brain happy.
I've noticed my ten-thousand-year-old brain seems
to have a particular predilection for cooking, long walks, and Ben and
Jerry's ice cream (which hasn't been around for ten thousand years, but my
brain doesn't seem to notice the difference). Who
needs Prozac when you've got Rainforest Crunch?
Oh, yeah--hugs are good, too. Except of course I can't get any of those,
because I'm too much of a whiny, depressed, pain-in-the-ass to be around.