In the lives of the saddest of us, there are bright days like this, when we feel as if we could take the great world in our arms and kiss it. Then come the gloomy hours, when the fire will neither burn on our hearths nor in our hearts; and all without and within is dismal, cold, and dark. Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.
In the Greek myth, Sisyphus, with great effort, rolls a large rock up a mountain. At the top, the rock, of its own inertia, rolls back down again. Doomed to roll the rock up the mountain over and over again to no avail — this is what life often feels like to those in extreme despair.
When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered a few feet off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say, “My tooth is aching,” than to say, “My heart is broken.”
When you are depressed, you need the love of other people, and yet depression fosters actions that destroy that love. Depressed people often stick pins into their own life rafts.
If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a golden slipper on a gouty foot.
Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering — this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary daytime advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work — and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.
Sandra had studied psychiatry in order to understand the nature of despair, but all she had really learned was the pharmacology of it. The human mind was easier to medicate than to comprehend.
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. . . . Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.
Down here, where life hangs heavy like a suffocating cloak, I can’t remember that I’ve ever felt any other way. I need to be reminded that there are reasons in the world to hold on, even if I have forgotten them; I tell myself if I can just hold on I will remember them, these reasons; they will come back to me.
As anyone who has received or dispensed psychotherapy knows, it’s a profession whose mainspring is love. Nearly everyone who visits a therapist has a love disorder of one sort or another, and each has a story to tell — of love lost or denied, love twisted or betrayed, love perverted or shackled to violence. Broken attachments litter the office floors like pick-up sticks. People appear with frayed seams and spilling pockets.
I remember sitting in his office a hundred times during those grim months and each time thinking, What on earth can he say that will make me feel better or keep me alive? Well, there never was anything he could say, that’s the funny thing. It was all the stupid, desperately optimistic, condescending things he didn’t say that kept me alive; all the compassion and warmth I felt from him that could not have been said; all the intelligence, competence, and time he put into it; and his granite belief that mine was a life worth living.
I got well by talking. Death could not get a word in edgewise, grew discouraged, and traveled on.