My Depression Is a Shitty Lantern
We depressed people have the unique blessing of feeling like something is always wrong. The person next to you in the elevator took a half step to the left when you entered? Can’t you read body language? A whole step left would be normal, but a half step? Not good. Maybe it’s because you smell like shit, you idiot. Or perhaps it’s your deodorant, which, by the way, is definitely giving you cancer.
It sounds exhausting, and yeah, it definitely can be at times. Some researchers consider depression merely a disease of excessive introspection. It’s why many depressed people are smart, creative, and intuitive, but it’s also why they so easily fall victim to the vicissitudes of the mind.
Instead of shining a spotlight on parts of the mind, depression turns on a lantern, revealing everything at once. Depressed people’s flashlights are a little too bright, and sometimes they show a little more than what’s desired. Shining a light on your upbringing or that one time you faked a stomachache at your Bar Mitzvah party so you wouldn’t have to dance with girls isn’t something that really serves you. But depression doesn’t discriminate: It shows it all.
Personally, I’ve spent my entire life dealing with the shittiest goddamn lantern, dimming it down to an average level and thinking it would help me blend in with the people for whom the concept of happiness and stability come so easily.
Accordingly, I’ve lived most of my life with a cautious hand on the dimmer, always watching for those spontaneous moments when the lantern erupts into a blinding fluorescence. It’s exhausting, so I hated it when people talked about it and made jokes without first earning their stripes.
I Was an Asshole
It seems logical that a global pandemic and subsequent social restructuring might make one’s depression feel even more major. For me, however, that wasn’t the case. Because I’d lived with depression for more than 15 years, I’d become an expert in what worked for me and what didn’t. In fact, I’d tried a litany of medications, therapy styles, and holistic approaches that had finally led me to a place where my depression didn’t have to always feel major.
Still, when governments and leaders began to forecast grim social outlooks and employ highly restrictive measures to combat COVID-19, it felt as if someone was trying to pour black ink all over my mental health playbook and the routines I’ve worked so hard to maintain. On top of that, people began posting about how the pandemic was making them “OCD about germs” or “so depressed that restaurants were closing.” And that really pissed me the hell off. All around me, the world started panicking ad nauseam. People worried about what their lives would look like in this dark and fearful future all the while co-opting the language of mental health to express their emotions.
How did I react? Defensively. COVID-19 made me bitter, and I found myself unable to sympathize with the people around me. Their struggles annoyed me. I didn’t want to be around them, and I rejected their fears and concerns. When I saw people exhibiting their own versions of anxiety and depression — while I had my own depression under control — I was outraged. My not-clinically-depressed friends didn’t deserve the right to be responding this way. They didn’t earn the right to use my language. They don’t have depression. I do. If I can thrive in this environment, they should, too.
I’m pretty sure you can see where this is going. I was an asshole. While I never intended to come across as anti-intellectual, I did, and it was through a cocksure and fractured lens.
Mushrooms, M&Ms, and a Phoebe Bridgers–Induced Musical Catharsis
This brings me to my experience with magic mushrooms, which mended my fractured lens and gave me the kaleidoscopic worldview I desperately needed. As a firm believer in psychedelics’ therapeutic potential, I’ve seen firsthand what they can do to treat mental health disorders. I’ve been interested in psychedelics’ effect on depression for many years and have personally experienced how they can radically change negative thought patterns and destructive mental schema. So around late June, I had just finished reading Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, an overview of psychedelics’ history and their promise in treating mental health disorders, and decided to make a change.
I knew something was up and I didn’t enjoy feeling spiteful, so I turned to mushrooms to lead me out of the mental mud, muck, and mire I found myself in. And it wasn’t until my rapturous rendezvous with mushrooms and Peanut Butter M&Ms — which are objectively the best M&Ms — that I realized my scorn toward the people using jokes to talk about depression was really about something else. It was about something much more personal.
Besides writing “OPEN UP TO LOVE!” and other cliché platitudes in an old notebook (it’s honestly too cringe to open it ever again), I was fortunate to have a little tête-à-tête with my brain, one that provided me the rare opportunity to see my emotions and behaviors through an outsider’s perspective.
With a bloated stomach of M&Ms and psilocybin, I was cross-eyed listening to Phoebe Bridgers on a comfortable blow-up mattress when an insightful realization hit me: My un-empathetic behavior was just a classic case of projection. I was reacting the way I believed others reacted to me and my depression, that it annoyed people, it was something that people didn’t want to be around or hear about, and it was something that people would reject me for. How I thought people perceived me was precisely how I was perceiving them.
There was a little selfishness there, too: Everyone else’s COVID-19–induced mental health struggles made me realize that there was a level of sameness between myself and others, and I didn’t like that. Why? I was clutching to the idea of depression as something that I owned, a quality not just inextricably linked to me but also the major characteristic that defined me.
And although some of these people were the very ones I felt contributed to the trivialized language of mental health, I realized my emotions were rooted in selfishness rather than in a socially conscious drive to make a difference.
The topic of mental health is unique in that it’s deeply personal for each individual. Unfortunately, each person’s mental health is experienced alone, is self-contained, and solipsistic, so it’s impossible to really understand the fundamental nature of another person’s suffering. Some people make jokes. Some eat shrooms. Some have a good cry. Some can’t feel anything at all. It’s essential to be open to each experience. It can help other people, and who knows, maybe it could even help ourselves.
This realization was a decisive moment in my mental health journey, and it also helped me recognize that I had an unhealthy attachment to my depression. For me, all it took was a meal of magic mushrooms, M&Ms, and a Phoebe Bridgers–induced catharsis to see it clearly.
The Caveat to Treating Mental Health as Comedy
For whatever reason, we sometimes cling to the things that hurt us the most, and in doing so, we overlook the possibility that perhaps we’re holding on to pain more tightly than it’s holding on to us. I have had to let go of that attachment and understand that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it stands in relation to the people around us.
And people around me are having a tough time.
That is why it is imperative, now more than ever, to have discussions about mental health to prevent these psychological effects from worsening or lingering far longer than they should. While people should be free to speak about their mental health however they choose, we are doing ourselves a disservice to the world if we do not have open, honest, and informative discourse. One of the most important things we can do is speak openly about our pain, externalizing it so the people we love can help take on its burden. Comedy is one way to get the conversation started, but it only goes so far.