Monday, August 18, 2008


Yesterday, for some reason, I was in a funk. I get in funks pretty often, but this was a rare kind; it was just complete and total ennui. Everything was boring. Music was boring - I kept flipping through my playlists hoping for a good song, but nothing sounded good. Food was boring - I'd look into the fridge, the freezer, the cabinets, but nothing looked good. Games seemed like chores. Usually food, music and games are the three things that can always cheer me up if I'm alone. When my friends got online even that wasn't fun. Even in lieu of fun, I couldn't find anything *interesting* either. My emotions were just switched off. "Comfortably Numb" comes to mind (although even that song, which I love, didn't sound good yesterday). It was like there was something I needed and was desperately searching for what it was, but couldn't find it. It almost felt like being sick, when you try and try to find something that makes you feel better but ultimately just have to wait it out. The ennui finally broke a little when Spiffy, Terry and Buncy all decided to join me in a Literati game.

Today was better. Today I'm actually in a great mood. Every song on my playlist is taking me to that higher level that great art should take you to. I just ate a piece of cheese danish that was like what gold would taste like if you could eat it. Showers are soothing, pillows are comfy, jokes are funny, games are fun. It's nice to have feelings back, but what's weird is that I don't know what the difference is between yesterday and today. Maybe I slept better or ate better, or maybe it's a chemical thing. Maybe it's a spiritual thing. It's really hard to tease apart all the factors in a "mood". It'd be nice if moods were like the Sims, where you just have to eat food and go to the bathroom and have comfortable chairs to be happy. But real moods have an intangible mystery element. Doctors seem to have decided that element is serotonin and have tried to bottle things that let you use more of it. But there has to be more to it than that.

When I was a teenager, I had depression. Some of it was circumstantial, "I'm a teenager and people don't understand me and my life sucks" depression, but there was a real chemical thing going on too, and I had to be medicated. The medication gave me a kick start, but it was fake happiness. Really it was more like a jolt of energy, which I needed, but energy didn't solve the problem. The only thing that did was to grow up and not be stuck being a teenager anymore. Maybe the problem could've been solved sooner if I'd been taken more seriously, but teenagers almost never are.

I have a lot of friends who have (or have had) depression, and one or two with its poorly-understood cousin, bipolar disorder. Not being inside their heads, I don't know if their problems are more chemical or more circumstantial, or a combination of both, or maybe existential or spiritual or Frith knows what else. I think in either case it's disrespectful to symbolically lobotomize a person and declare their experiences to be just a chemical thing. But I think it's interesting that there's this kind of pattern in the people I feel drawn to. I also think it's interesting how many of the world's great artists, poets, writers and musicians have struggled with their moods. I think it's a matter of depth. Maybe experiencing dark, confusing moods gives you depth and insight. Or maybe it's the other way around and having depth and insight allows you to see the problems in the world and that can be depressing. Maybe one feeds the other. In any case, maybe it's that depth that draws me to people - both friends and artists, and indeed most of my friends are amateur artists of some type or another. Or maybe it's just that depression runs in my family and those are the kinds of people I'm most comfortable being around.

I think maybe there's a tendency, in recent years, to want to force happiness on everyone. Certainly everyone wants to enjoy their lives, and I want the people I love to be happy. But happy doesn't look the same for everyone. There's a tendency to think happiness looks like summer and love stories and perkiness and a big grin on your face. Personally, that's never been me. I love winter, and rain, and night, and music in a minor key. I like purple instead of bright blue, silver instead of gold, black instead of white. I hate stories about romance. I love stories about ghosts and strange diseases and people who went mad. I like Van Gogh and Goethe and Poe and Pink Floyd and Rammstein, and Jack Nicholson before he started making "feel-good movies of the year". I love small, dark spaces. But these things don't make me feel gloomy and sad. They make me feel deeply, spiritually happy.

Back when I was still letting society tell me, to some extent, who to be, I shied away from dark things, fearing they'd make me feel darker. I surrounded myself with neon colors and glitter and upbeat music, hoping it would make me happy. In truth, it had the same effect as the Zoloft I took in high school: it pumped me full of energy, made me hyperactive, but really didn't fill me up inside. Now I seek out whatever I think is interesting. Sometimes those things are lighter, to be sure, but much of the time they're on the darker side. And that's fine by me. What I ultimately found out is that when I gave myself permission to be gloomy, I got a whole lot happier.

The point I'm working towards here is that there shouldn't be a false standard of wanting people to be outwardly happy. Maybe when you see someone frowning, maybe they're still feeling pretty good inside. We could all learn a lesson from Ren and Stimpy's "Happy Helmet", which forced Ren to smile and bounce around a lot, but was so contrary to his nature that he smashed it with a hammer as soon as he got it off. If you're truly depressed and can't enjoy life - if you have crushing pain inside, or no hope, or that horrible ennui I felt yesterday - that's different. That requires help. But if you're just a darker sort of person, embrace it! And if you're not, try to be more understanding toward those of us who are. Don't accuse us of "bringing you down". If you need to be around other sunny people to be happy, surround yourself with them. But when you meet one of us moony, rainy, wintery people, try and give us a second glance. We're probably happier than we look.

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