I am what you might call a “depression snob.” I have a rather high opinion of people who suffer from depression and anxiety. I assume that if you carry bottles of Zoloft, Prozac, or Xanax in your purse, you are a deep feeler, brilliant thinker, compassionate healer, and funny joke-teller. My stereotypes haven’t failed me yet.
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t seek out for depressives. They find me. Or we sort of migrate toward each other. They laugh at my jokes and see the bizarre connection I make between Thing One and Thing Two. They don’t fault me for viewing the world through the impractical lens of a poet, for judging “not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing,” as Walt Whitman wrote.
Depressives are complex, interesting people because they can’t stay still for long. The voices of self-doubt will catch up to them and shout lies in their ears if they do. They are spiritual because some days their faith in God is the only thing that keeps them alive. This sensitive bunch uses their suffering to evolve into better people: Emily Dickinson transcribed her pain into the 1,775 poems and fragments found at her death. Teresa of Avila emerged from her dark night to found the Discalced Carmelites and become the first woman Doctor of the Church. Dorothy Day transcended her tumultuous past to co-found with Peter Maurin the Catholic Worker Movement, a community of lay people working on behalf of the poor.
I agree with Kay Redfield Jamison, author of “An Unquiet Mind,” that “intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways that less intense emotions can never do . . . and that those who have particularly passionate temperaments and questioning minds leave the world a different place for their having been there.”
Illustration by Anya Getter.