Amplified self-loathing is one of the worst aspects of depression. It’s been vicious for me lately, and I’m feeding it with everything from news stories to Facebook. I go around in the emotional equivalent of sackcloth and ashes, dwelling on the fact that while I struggle to carry out the most basic functions others are working to change this troubled world.
Yes, I also hear the voices telling me that even my guilt and self-loathing is ultimately another sign that I’m unworthy; that it simply marks me as self-absorbed. I also know that even the more functional among us are subject to feeling as if they’re never doing enough because the world’s supply of suffering and injustice isn’t running out.
I haven’t stopped believing the things I wrote about in Are We Disposable? But the voice that’s been dominating my thoughts is a part of me too–and someone, somewhere, might need to know they’re not alone in thoughts like these. So here it is: in the darkest moments, what I want most is to believe I’m useful. And when I can’t believe it, I just want not to be a burden anymore. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and consume resources and imagine the contempt others feel toward me.
I don’t want to die–not really–but this frustration makes me want to rip myself apart. To sink claws of intention deep into my chest and tear it in opposite directions; scatter the pieces into a new configuration that might work better. I want the spirit of this world to rip me up like a worn-out quilt and make something useful out of my remnants.
Take my eyes and give them to one who is blind. Take my hands and create, build, fix what is broken. Take this pretty-good soprano voice, that sings so little, and play lullabies for children fighting nightmares. Send these feet to march in the protests against racism and social injustice. Take this brain, hammer out these kinked chemical impulses, and turn its intelligence toward solving the dilemmas of our species. Take these words and craft them into speeches that will liberate, or into the right phrase at the right time for someone who needs it.
Take this neglected flesh and feed it to starved dogs in dusty fields. Take the food I’ll no longer eat and give it to the hungry. Take the phosphorus and minerals from my bones and replenish the tired soil of my planet.
These thoughts are real, and the guilt that feeds them is a real feeling. But the melodrama and extremism associated with them is something I need to question–if I’m going to get through a dark phase, there needs to be a part of my mind that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
When I was wrestling with my need to write something and break my silence of many days, a bit of that grace came to me. An irreverent corner of my brain latched onto these “take me apart and make me into something useful” thoughts and linked them to an old Gilbert & Sullivan number: in the play Patience, a man named Bunthorne is desired by all except the one woman he wants, Patience. He decides that if he can’t have the woman he wants, he might as well do something useful with himself. He’s later found, surrounded by the group of damsels who have been pursuing him, passing out tickets:
Heart-broken at my Patience’s barbarity
On the advice of my solicitor
In aid, in aid of deserving charity
I’ve put myself up to be raffled for…
So, this bit of song got into my head and kept nattering on there…and, wouldn’t you know it, the association started to make my extreme thoughts seem a little silly. I began to see the ridiculous Bunthorne, on the stage, magnanimously waving to his simpering admirers and their bunches of tickets. The opening of the song began to beat in my head as I dragged myself from one lackluster task to another…Come walk up and purchase with avidity, overcome your diffidence and natural timidity, tickets for the raffle should be purchased with avidity, put in half a guinea and a husband you may gain!
It’s extremely hard to concentrate on dramatically self-destructive thoughts with that catchy, annoying tune going on. It’s just another example of unlikely grace in my life; the idea that anything can turn into a totem or talisman–and there’s no way to tell which of millions of experiences might do so.
I’m still quite depressed. I know I need help, both emotional and spiritual, and I’m looking into getting my meds adjusted as well. But an obscure and silly tune is, at this moment, helping me.