So a friend of mine shared this incredible article from NPR
, in which ‘Fresh Air’ interviews Allie Brosh, the author of the celebrated digital comic strip “Hyperbole and a Half” about her writing, stories from her life and depictions through one of the internet’s most popular comics, despite it’s very crude and colorful drawings. What I found incredibly compelling about the podcast interview was Brosh’s emotional honesty and authenticity about her experiences battling depression. Frankly, she describes the process of emotional deadening that happens before you realize you’ve spiraled into a depression rather well. She also does a superb job of bringing to light the sense of panic and quiet desperation that arises when people don’t know how to respond after you’ve asked for help.
“I feel like people are reluctant to experience joy around a depressed person, because it’s almost like they’re flaunting it.”
Brosh notes that it’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. And so it creates this strange tension where they want to be supportive. They want to help, but they don’t quite know what their role in that process is. And she notes how hard it is to cope and easy it is to feel ashamed from not being able to connect to people and the things that you are passionate about in a meaningful way.
One of the other things that Brosh articulates really well are the complicated peripheral emotions that arise from the perspective of both those afflicted with depression as well as from the role of the caretakers because their is this tension that often results because of the stigmas associated with depression when these days more people experience it than ever before.
You know, I’ve always sort of secretly thought of feelings as a weakness. I think, growing up, I always wanted to be someone who was tougher than I am. And so when I first started not having feelings anymore, I felt, oh, I’m finally this person who doesn’t react. I’m not sensitive anymore. And I enjoyed that for a short time, especially when I hadn’t lost my feelings completely, where I just felt like I was emotionally very strong. And then once all my emotions disappeared, I very quickly realized that emotions are the only thing that provide variation in your life, and so not feeling them doesn’t really allow you to enjoy what’s going on very much…
Brosh also shares that there’s a common misconception that depression is about something, or depression is sadness or some form of negativity. And it can represent a sadness or a self-loathing, as the first half of her depression did. And it actually contributed more – it sort of circled back on itself and made her dislike herself more because she was so sad, and she didn’t know why, and she felt like she needed a reason.
…There are all sorts of things that people are telling me to do that can help myself, and it also creates this weird tension, where I feel almost pressured to accept the help and act like I’m better so I don’t disappoint anyone, or make them feel like they’ve failed or be frustrated with my progress…
And having survived some things myself, things that some people can’t even imagine, I can definitely understand Brosh’s peripheral guilt associated with not fully understanding why you aren’t happy. The spiral that degenerates when trying to resist falling into depression can be daunting, especially is there is a fear that people will assume that the reason you are unhappy is because you haven’t taken responsibility for yourself or your own happiness. The self help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that profits from selling the idea that your dissatisfaction with your circumstance means that you’re somehow at fault for not investing in whatever trick they’re selling that you’ll need to develop some aspect of yourself. And it does, create this tremendous pressure to seek out empty, external, quick fix solutions so that you don’t let yourself or others down.
And this isn’t a self imposed expectation, but rather something that we as a society have often accepted as a verifiable norm, that if a person is not happy, or if a person is unsuccessful, it’s because they didn’t invest the time in really learning how to better themselves.
In literature, the purpose of traveling upon a “Hero’s Journey” is to become more deeply connected to the people, land, and one’s own divine spirit through this process of rich cultural exploration and deepen our understanding as we integrate these teachings. The dramatic transformation that takes place in storytelling as our characters shift from the stagnancy of the status quo into the dynamic involvement and movement through this journey is designed to mold those of us who choose to invest ourselves into the outcome into our better selves through this process of reflection, immersion, and strenuous practice along these spiritual expeditions. As we become more conscious and aware of how to use the abundant resources and gifts available to us we begin to expand our ability to transform ourselves and our environment into something beneficial and complete as we continue this practice. And if we really look for the lessons to be found along this journey of discovery and adventure, we find that our true wealth lies not in material wealth and security which is fleeting, but rather in the art of discovering that every aspect of life, no matter how liberating or disruptive, can be viewed as sacred and can be celebrated along this path of enlightenment.
One of the lessons I have gleaned from listening to Brosh’s story is that people sometimes put a surprising amount of pressure upon themselves. Having come from a math and science background, I can definitely relate to the need to find balance and to see measurable progress in a particular outcome. So when the effort that we invest into what we find meaningful doesn’t pan out, or even worse when we lose interest in the things that we care about, how this can be distressing and it becomes easy to blame ourselves.
Failed expectations sometimes require a bit of a grieving process, but when we are unaware of the fact that we are grieving for the loss of something that we held dear, especially when it is an idea or a value that we held sacred, we may look for reasons why we are unhappy and potentially create an even bigger problem for ourselves.
I made a promise to myself years ago to start taking more responsibility for my own happiness. But I realize now, that all of the pressure that I’ve put upon myself to overcome my own doubts or disillusioning moments may not have been fair or constructive way to nurture myself. Something that I’ve had to kind of learn the hard way over time. And to be completely honest, each major disruption in that belief system, in which the outcomes did not align with my expectations for success have all been some accompanied with some degree of confidence in my own capacity for sound decision making and how I respond to my own self doubt.
So I took more of a spiritual journey. I buried myself in intellectual pursuits, service work, vocational labor, social programming and so on and so on… And it wasn’t until I watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk; Your Elusive Creative Genius
that I began to feel comfortable with the idea of relinquishing some of those unnecessary, burdensome ideas and learning how to live a much more liberating truth instead. So now I’m ready to embark upon a different kind of journey and emerge as my more gracious and empathetic self.
I think that our college president, during a recent talk, probably said it best; that he liked to think of running a college like several men trying to balance a sailboat. You might have variable influences impacting the boat, like
- the educational system framework as the water,
- the administration as the guys hanging off the side trying to keep the sails unfurled
- the students as the rudder directing the boat
but even with all of those factors competing against the ship, you still need to step back and allow those systems to work in a way that’s going to create the conditions that can allow you to navigate the direction while still respecting each individual contributions even when these needs compete for attention.
I think that it’s important to occasionally reassess our understanding of how view complex situations like depression or any of the other disruptive conditions that make us occasionally perplexed or that make us feel vulnerable. I think that doing so builds empathy for others and allows us to reemerge as the spiritually mature people we need to be to be able to understand many dimensions of a complicated problem and to understand how to determine what we need to assess the situation so that we can come up with a solution that provides a real, measurable impact toward mitigating the problem.
I want to start making the contributions now that will positively influence the way we protect and nurture our caretakers and change makers to be better leaders in the future, and we do this by learning how to set others up for success.