The Big Dark: A Meditation
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
Grief, like a cloud,
Obscures everything except that for which we grieve—
But allows us the comfort of memories.
Depression is a heavier cloud,
A threatening darkness that descends to overwhelm,
Turning even our fondest recollections against us.
Depression is longing without hope.
Joylessly feeling joy.
Coveting but not attempting.
Having your free will revoked as punishment for an unnamed crime.
In a mildly depressive state, everything could be better:
The summer breeze on your face,
The kiss on your cheek,
The compliment paid,
The balance of your account,
The food on your plate,
The music you’re listening to,
The world in which you live.
In the grip of severe depression, none of it’s worth a damn.
Everything is the depressive’s fault.
He is likely to hear all utterances as a choir of condemnation,
And he will eventually add his voice to the choir himself.
Maybe the best way out is to bore through
Not climb out
Let it change you; trust the growing light to be your guide.
Depression heeds no advice.
The only immediate reprieve comes from believing it is temporary,
Which is difficult in the moment.
And, for some, a falsehood.
No matter how profound or long lasting a bout of depression,
Someone is enduring one more profound and longer lasting.
Your next one may be better, or it may be worse, but there will be a next one.
These are disappointing truths.
When all artifice peels away,
Revealing a drab world overrun with human animals
Whose customs and interactions are low and predictable …
That is depression talking.
Yet depression has an unfortunate, undeniable allure,
Providing respite from the noise and responsibilities of life.
Because of this, we invite it in—
Those of us who are prone—
As we might a vampire.
Dreams are the opposite of depression:
Freeing where depression constricts,
Compelling where depression is dull,
Alive with possibility where depression is rote in the extreme.
But dreams and depressive episodes have this much in common:
It is a relief to leave the bad ones behind.
Depression can come on like a sudden sadness,
But that only masks the sense of worthlessness that lies in wait.
At its best, depression comes with a layer of fear,
Which can keep you tethered to reality and prevent the onset of absolute apathy.
A dubious oracle,
Depression seduces us,
Reduces us to a single eye that sees only the truth.
Nothing is prettified or made polite.
That doesn’t mean you’re actually seeing the truth when you’re depressed—
Only that it feels that way.
Like being drunk.
Depression is different at different ages, too.
In my twenties I could drink it away.
In my thirties I could fool myself into thinking that time was still on my side.
At midlife there is no assuaging the Dragon.
It must swallow the elderly whole.
To grow depressed is to grow self-centered in the extreme,
Which can lead to guilt and despair so heavy they're like slabs of stone
Piled onto your chest.
That horrible nagging sense that you’ve forgotten to do something,
But you can’t quite remember what it is ...
Imagine that what you finally remember
Is having forgotten to pick up your child from school,
And now you’re on a plane hundreds of miles away and your spouse is overseas.
Learning that the plane you’re on will never land …
As with flame, depression has no single color.
The ochres of its awakenings are oddly beautiful,
As is the surge of violet in its retreats.
But the battling reds and yellows of its burning
Are breathtaking mostly in their ferocity.
It's impossible to know for sure whether a familiar transaction with the world
Might trigger or intensify a depressive spiral.
But certain situations make me more nervous than others:
Waking from a really fine dream, for instance,
And being able to recall every glorious detail.
Depression can be a big black crow
Flying toward you from some sudden, distant point,
Its course an erratic multitude of miscues and false starts.
That it finds you in the end is a kind of dark miracle,
For the crow is an easily distracted bird,
And none too eager for human companionship.
It is possible to be so depressed that you cannot bear to look at yourself in the mirror.
You might avert your eyes while washing your hands,
Or when stepping out of the shower.
Pity anyone whose despair regularly plummets to such a depth.
Depression is like the schoolyard bully who never fails to show his face
When you’re basking in the first rays of hopeful delight you’ve known in weeks.
Through his taunts and insults he aims to convince you
That your joy is based on false evidence,
That you deserve to be miserable, not happy.
His pleasure seems to increase as yours diminishes;
He drains you of resolve and good feeling,
Leaving you ashamed of having asked for more than was your share to begin with.
You won’t make the same mistake again soon.
Depression is sometimes a hell born of sound realizations,
While other times it arrives as if on a foreign wind.
This unpredictability is a loyal reminder that the demon is only ever hiding,
Thumbing its nose at any banishment you have hoped to sentence it to.
Any dent we can make in our depression, though,
Has the potential to break through the cynicism of the disease
And prove that there are steps we can take to relieve our discomfort.
If we build on those, one small step at a time,
Eventually we will emerge into daylight once more.
Depression is fatigue, illness, and a weight,
All bearing down on you at once, often suddenly.
Is it any wonder that it can be a herculean task
To pull yourself out from under all that rubble?
But if you truly wanted to give up the fight,
You would have done so long ago.
Life remains precious,
Just not as perennially enjoyable as we’re led to believe.
Sometimes depression has nothing whatsoever to do with pathology
But is simply the mind and body’s reaction to a psychic trauma—
As expected as being drowned in an ocean, shaken in an earthquake,
Or burned in a fire.
What is the relationship between such depression
And an underlying syndrome?
Perhaps it is like two raindrops becoming one large raindrop:
One plus one equals ONE, to paraphrase Tarkovsky.
When depression, anger, and anxiety blend together
It is like riding a raft through a maelstrom.
Getting away from it is like trying to free yourself from wood glue in a nightmare.
I feel physically heavier in the clutches of depression.
My bones press toward the earth, my skin hangs lower,
And my spirits take on mass and volume.
It is a cruel destroyer.
I cannot create, or even be productive, when deeply despondent.
A project has to matter in order for me to tackle it.
Nothing matters very much to the depressed.
When you stop being hopeful that there is hope, you are in despair.
That, too, is depression.
Depression is an ocean I call the Big Dark.
I’ve had seaside property on the Big Dark for a long time,
And leaving isn’t an option.
I guess I’m like the guy who refuses to move off the volcano that’s about to erupt.
It’s my home. I’m comfortable here, and I like it fine.
But there are bad fish in those waters, and at high tide there’s nowhere to run.
As a result, everything I build, I build with an acute awareness of that tide.
I’ve learned to be cautious when it comes to long-term planning,
To mistrust a strong sense of security or lasting tranquility.
On the other hand, I’ve come to appreciate the walks I take along this peculiar beach
With an intensity I wouldn’t have any inkling of
If I hadn’t been pulling scaly fiends out of the Big Dark since I was a boy.
Depression is a weight you carry, even when you’re not fully depressed.
It’s always there to remind you what might have been
If less of your time had been squandered in the Big Dark.
Yesterday was crash day.
Smooth sailing turned to rough waters as the day faded
And I failed to steer myself away from a clutch of black rocks hiding in a dark sea
At the swollen climax of twilight.
Today has been a little better, but I’m still some meters from the surface …
And running out of air.
Nothing else simultaneously fills and empties a vessel as completely as depression.
To be in its throes is to be engorged with an inky oblivion,
A nullity crammed to bulging with weightless heft,
And floating density.
It leaves the same way, allowing the world back in as it empties us of itself.
Some days there is little difference between being depressed and not being depressed.
Am I the yin with a black dot or the yang with a white one?
What’s the difference?
C'est la vie.
Depression pleads with you to give up, yearns for your failure:
Meat, I suppose, for its endless voracity.
And oh how it wears you down!
I suspect that an overall lack of resilience marks the depressive anyway,
When compared to the normals of the world.
To have that small store diminished over time by the gnashing fangs of depression
Leaves very little room for resolve or second chances.
The Big Dark convinces us that we can measure the happiness of our lives in thimblefuls,
Even though our intellect knows it can fill canyons.
Have you ever hated yourself so much that you wished you could calve your doppelgänger
And beat it to death?
Coming out of a depression carries its own struggle,
As you start to see how easy it is to look back on your suffering as self-obsessed,
Even though you know it was not within your control to put others first while in such a state.
Then, a nagging question comes:
Is that how you seem to people, self-absorbed and limited of empathy?
Perhaps, however, the opposite is true
And it is your sensitivity and imagination that open you so wide to pain.
The worst bouts of depression seem to come during my most productive times.
I’m sailing along, thinking maybe I’m on the path to something better after all,
A creature of the Big Dark rises from its brackish waters
And folds its leathery wings around me in a chilling embrace.
Then it whispers in my ear,
“Who do you think you are, rising out of mediocrity like that?
Do you honestly believe I would ever let you enjoy the kind of success you’re after?
Don’t make me laugh.”
Is this what it’s like to be a flower in bloom …
Emerging from the Big Dark into a world you don’t quite remember
As being a crusher of dreams
And haven’t yet discovered to be a bringer of agony?