21 June 2015

Days to commemorate something

Over the last many days, my social media feed has been inundated with people celebrating. Birthdays. Graduations. Father's Day.

Most of these are perfectly valid reasons to have a party and gather friends and family.

I however don't (or at least didn't want to) celebrate any of these things. I've very rarely enjoyed being a center of attention for a birthday. Graduating from anything doesn't feel like an achievement where things were done that were of difficult note. It's more like an endurance test for putting up with other human beings long enough to get through high school or college. Celebrating one's parents would in large part require that one must first celebrate their own existence. And I'm fairly resolved by now having observed other tiny humans that the production of tiny humans is not something I wish to undertake, so no one else will be celebrating this feature in my honor either.

I wrote at some length about depression and social anxieties related therein last year. I would remark that not much has changed in circumstances or social position that my situation feels any different, better or worse. Some days are difficult. Some days are full of a minor but sufficient purpose (to complain about something, if nothing else suffices). I have however, in my powers of introspection noticed some elements.

Depression's primary attribute is to turn any feeling of triumph into immediate failure. As a minor social attempt, I have attended trivia gatherings with a small group of acquaintances (rarely would anyone carry a nomenclature of friendship, I think this number is never higher than about 5-8 people in my life. My last post should make clear that I'm really slow to apply labels to much of anything). I spend most of the downtime afterward fretting over those handful of questions I somehow missed rather than exulting that the group clearly finds my broad set of random knowledge of otherwise useless facts useful.

I write quite a lot of words on many topics. Some of this is that I know a little bit about many things. Some of this is that I feel compelled to comment in the effort to feel like I did something that day, or at least because the cause itself requires it. This is not however coming across to myself as a depiction of myself as a skilled writer and communicator. Some small number of people read things I write. Some number of those people receive from this a vague perspective into my odd notions of politics and reality, as best I am able with my tool set of communication skills to provide at least. I had at various points believed this writing task was something I am good enough at that it should be a modest form of living. This is not something I believe is likely today. I don't put in enough practice at it, and have a disdain for symbolism in my writing that makes anything symbolic difficult to do. Which makes it less clear for others and less likely to translate into entertaining forms of speech. But it's also difficult to see that anything I've written has had a significant impact on other people, their modes of thinking or appreciation for complex topics. Which makes it difficult to see as purposeful other than as "just something I need to do that day to get through the day".

Depression's main attribute also makes maintaining communication with other people more challenging. Other people, in my view, are always very far away. We know them, even in our most intimate relationships, only slowly and with great difficulty. We are complex beings. We get used to what other people might do or have to do with us, but the great swells of feeling, pain or pleasure, are difficult to share in. Lots of things that other person enjoyed or endured and how or why they did so remain undisclosed to us or only come out in very close friendships, and probably with a lot of mind-altering substances involved. When someone else dies, in our loss and grief we have to condense what is lost into a set of stories and memories we have about that person and our experiences with them. That is enough for our purposes to have a set of treasured memories (and sometimes some not so treasured), but it isn't a good and full depiction of who that person was. It's a piece of a puzzle that is now missing most of the pieces, some of which are carried by others who knew that person as a child, or as a student, or a teacher, or a friend, or a lover. Or an enemy or a rival or a bully. As such, maintaining close ties to people that care for you, or that you care for, are of a vital task for a lifetime project. You get to carry some of the pieces for someone else's life and represent to others that person and that person's impact on yourself and your experiences. That's a crucial and special thing in life. You help humanize other people. No matter how terrible others think they are or how wonderful others think they are. They are only people.

But it's a lot harder if you feel like your existence is an added task for them. A burden. Something they have to put up with rather than a full person to treat on equal footing. Essentially what you find is that all other people get to know is the depressed and incomplete version of yourself. Maybe there are other pieces in there, but they got swallowed up and might be missing. A lot of time and energy is spent searching for this missing "utility function". Because if it can be recovered even partially, it's kind of like a life boat in a storm. If other people still see value in your existence, why can't you? What are you missing? Or is it possible they're just confused, clinging to a memory of someone you used to be, that they used to know. And that person is gone? Introverts have this mask on already to deal with a world that is heavily social. This becomes a different level of one. Depression is a different identity. It's a mask that gets put on to disguise its existence at best. Or it is a darker and heavier presence that feels like it must be sucking the life out of all around it. It's also an identity that never fully goes away, unlike a mask that you could just take off (as with the introverted state of being, one can retire to their books and games in peace and tranquility, free of the demands of others for a while). It pursues constantly, looking for gaps in the often futile attempts to rid oneself of its weight and presence.

A third feature is that a large quantity of people simply don't expect this to be the state of being for other people, or worse, don't tolerate its existence as any sort of problem. There are moments where it must be shoved aside. Where the obvious pain and grief and suffering others is heavier and more important than your own. An acquaintance of mine, a friend of a friend, recently lost her teenage son. In what little I can do in the aftermath of this, I have made appearances to listen (mostly to my friend, but really anyone speaking), to (in small doses) help watch tiny people who remain active and rambunctious beasts in need of moderating tones (which I mostly do not provide, as an "uncle" it is my sworn duty to subvert parenting attempts and let kids be corrupted by the freedom of childhood), to eat food, to make beer runs, maybe make a few jokes, and generally keep track of objects that are placed down as people move about their homes or make mental lists for people whose minds are understandably more scattered than mine. I've mostly avoided discussing my somewhat odd notions of death, and my perhaps creepy comfort with death as a facet of life and existence, out of a somewhat reasonable concern that they're not something that may be necessarily helpful right now. None of this seems particularly important. That's the depression part.

And yet it is favorably compared to others who haven't made any appearance at all, or who have provided too many pushes that don't give room for grief to work its way out when needed. I observe that the patience we have as a society, as families or friends even, with what is actively and obviously a painful experience, losing a loved one, is very, very short. Some of this is our own discomfort with grief. Many people are not so comfortable in seeing death and they will not wish to be confronted with the knowledge that others are having to be more comfortable than they would wish.

But if our patience is this thin with death, where we will not let others pause to gather themselves when needed, what hope is there to have patience with those who are stricken with a bout of depression on a particularly grim-faced day? To whom should we be able to disclose this ill news? From whom is there aid and comfort? How can this oppressive sensation be dealt with if it is to be ignored or treated unseriously? Death is not so complicated and difficult to understand, though certainly not an understanding one reaches comfortably and with a pleasant and distinguishing smile. There's a certainty and inevitability to death which is simpler to comprehend. The nasty business of living is the trickier part, and it includes among its resume the prospect of dealing with unpleasant experiences, with suffering, and the suffering of others. Sometimes at our own doing, sometimes through the hands of our friends or family or others of those closest to us, sometimes through events out of our own control. This is not unusual. It is common. But it isn't very likely to be talked about.

It is hardly something to be celebrated if one's existence consists mostly of providing small aids and comforts to others, spilling lots of ink onto pages and calling it words and writing, and knowing strange things and attempting, rather poorly, to convey this knowledge to others in the hopes they will be wiser from it. But it is a thin premise around which a life is formed. That is enough for most days.
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