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[Personal Essay] Depression: Letting it in and sitting it down

One quiet summer night at the UM graduate library reference desk, I abandoned my post to retrieve The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, whose record I had just discovered in the online catalog. Flipping through it, I happened upon the entry for Depression, and realized that until then, I had only understood symptoms of and treatment for depression, but hadn’t encountered an attempt to describe its entirety anywhere between a dictionary definition and the full experience. A scholarly, subject-specific encyclopedia entry had the advantage of being both concise and considered, and there are few things I enjoy more than a comprehensive overview.

The entry said that according to one major psychological theory, depression is understood as “suspended grief,” i.e., depression happens when a person gets “stuck” in a normal process of grieving. The stuck place can be anger, sadness, denial, abject fear, or any of the other grief stages, and they may masquerade as one another.

I found that helpful to think about, and that book and I spent many quiet reference shifts together (I was also in therapy at the time- highly recommend if you’re at all able to find a good one you can afford). I learned, through a mix of books and people and experience, that a necessary ingredient to recovering from /episodic/ depression is to identify precisely what I believe I have lost, so that I can distinguish the emotional side of the situation from my thoughts about both the situation itself and my feelings about the situation.

Identifying the losses that are, of course, validly causing the grief, is an important step towards feeling buoyant again, and it is, on its own, not enough to “overcome depression” — knowing is half the battle, but only half. The other half can take an overwhelming number of steps, and sometimes people stay depressed, sometimes for tragically preventable reasons, like experiencing systemic oppression in a way that deprives you of enough time between losses to heal, and further disenfranchises your grief so that it isn’t socially or culturally “appropriate” to express it at all in mixed company. “Disenfranchised grief” is something else I learned about from The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying that summer.

I’d like to offer now that, in either case, being together with other people and animals you care about and who care about you is another of these necessary ingredients. Humans are, largely, herd animals – we need each other. We don’t all need to be one monolithic group (we aren’t anyway, there’s no use trying), but linking up with even just 2 people (or one human and a comparable number of animals, or sometimes only animals but very special ones), every now and again, forever, does a lot of the work of helping us get by, get through, get over, and, when when necessary, get around and under, all those things that haven’t killed us yet.

I believe strongly that strong communities depend on strong relationships and strong individuals, but nobody has to be strong all by themselves all the time. I know I have felt best these last few months (and in other times of heartache) when I’m with other people on purpose. Please remember that you care about other people who also care about you. Friends are only a text away these days, send out all the love you can, and send some back to yourself with each one.

These are tough times, for some more than others, but for everyone I expect is reading this. Hugs won’t topple fascism (constant, unrelenting mass outcry does that) and forced-hugs will surely make everything worse, but real, genuine people (+/- animal) time – in any form – can ease the burden. Hope you have some on your calendar early and often, forever.



artist (music/poetry/film) with a day job (non-profit finance/operations) in the bay area.

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