Our current socio-political maelstrom is a totally legit reason to be depressed. Sure, you’re active: you march, you donate, you subscribe to a newspaper, you check your sources when you post, you volunteer, you call your senator – all, some, or other than the above – but there’s so much happening all at once. You’re numbed by the intensity of the emotion, your personality changes, you lie in bed for 2 days, eat a family-size bag of corn chips in one sitting, kick the dog, and boom – you realize you’re depressed. If not clinically, colloquially. It sucks. You really want to get back on your feet, but, on the other hand, nope.
Or you might feel depressed for other reasons. There are plenty of reasons to stare into space like a forgotten graveyard bust. Some are quite serious, while others are – you know – kinda silly but they nevertheless have their hooks in you, and you just can’t pretend you don’t feel a certain way (that never works).
You don’t even really need a reason. Could just be chemicals.
Turns out, you’re a human; this is a thing that happens to humans – at least in the modern world. You might need professional counseling, so look into that. In the meantime, we offer you what we have: books and book-like things. So, hoping we can help you take the edge off, in-between visits to your pro counselor, here are a few bookish anti-depressants…
Coloring Books (adult and otherwise)
Our man Artie Sheldon wrote about coloring books before. He’s not the biggest fan, but hey – some folks swear by them. If you really want to escape for awhile, consider a two-layer approach: watch Game of Thrones while coloring the Game of Thrones coloring book, ditto Harry Potter, Doctor Who, etc.. The addition of a coloring book makes binge-watching less of a zoning-out kinda thing and more of a meditative kinda thing. You think those Buddhist monks at Ryoanji rake the rock garden because the rocks needed to be raked? Nope. There is some level of… something… (The Force?) that you can get to thru careful, repetitive physicality. Couple that with storytelling and you’ve got yourself an hour or two of non-overthinking.
I am tempted to say that I’ve never been much into poetry. It’s not true. My list of favorite songs, the Psalms, snatches of Shakespeare – all of these have sustained me in dire moments and all of them are… poetry. And the reams of notebooks I abused with my own verse in college – I say I am not into it, yet I have felt compelled to create my own. Poetry is a pretty great antidote to chaotic emotions. It can be emotional, of course, but it must also be precise. Do you have a dark-tumor growing on your soul? Laser that thing off with the cutting edge of finely honed language. Even just one or two solid lines of poetry can be what cheezy self-help mantras wish they were: true.
Journaling is like breathing for some people and like flossing for others (in that it happens, but not very often). Journaling can take a lot of forms. The thing that is potentially stabilizing about it is that you’re forced to put amok feelings and thoughts into words, and usually those into sentences. It can be like turning the light on when you’re in a room with a monster: still not an ideal situation, but you have at least some idea of what you’re dealing with. Also, you might find that the slowing down process of having to formulate sentences leads to clearer thinking. It’s dancing, as opposed to seizure-like flailing. And if it’s just too difficult to deal explicitly with what’s going on inside you, how about using that journal to transform your inner buzz-cloud into a story or poetry?
Novels, stories, fiction – – oh pish-posh with all that silly faerie tale escapism — no, you shut it, naysaying, judgy superego, bite me. As Le Guin, Tolkien and Lewis all indicated in various ways, there is nothing ignoble about escaping if you are in a prison. The lie is that present bad circumstances are somehow more real than the better circumstances that we hope and strive for. It is the other way around. Bad things are just a temporary twisting-out-of-shape of good things. Perhaps, like playing a game or going to Disneyland or having a really excellent dream, the escape of a really solid novel is like cleaning your spectacles: Oh yes, I forgot that the entire universe is not really dirt-colored. Don’t hesitate to read a good book just for the fun of it. You are a myriad-faceted human being, not a single-use spork.
Histories and Biographies
Don’t forget what has happened before. If things seem dark now – for you or for the nation or for whatever your brain won’t let you stop thinking about – read about similar situations from the past where things have gone right. It is a fact that Light overcomes darkness – even if we’re in a bit of a slump. Read about Dunkirk, when regular folks in England jumped in their little boats and crossed the channel to rescue their trapped soldiers from an enclosing Nazi army. Read about Martin Luther King Jr and how he stayed in Alabama even after white supremacists fire-bombed his home, and – while we’re in Alabama – read about indomitable Rosa Parks staying put in that bus seat. And what about MLK’s namesake Martin Luther; read about his death-defying work to crack open an elitist church culture by making books and reading (and salvation itself!) accessible to regular folks – including teaching young women how to read. There are so many incredible things to be both inspired by and challenged by, things that really happened, things that could give you new hope — and hey, speaking of New Hope, if all that real history seems too distant, go back and relive that time we blew up the Deathstar against all odds. Cynicism is just an attitude; hope is evidence-based reality that we’ve come out of bad spots before and we’ll do it again.
Don’t think we’re dismissing depression as something you can just “snap out of”; maybe that’s true if it’s really mild, but if it’s severe, professional help is in order. If you can break a rib or tear a muscle, it makes absolute sense that you can have a chemical inbalance or an overload of negative emotions. Nothing to be ashamed of. Well, here’s hoping that these bookish anti-depressants might be preventative medicine, french fries to the hamburger of pro counseling, or they might at least get you through a rough night. CS Lewis said we read to know we’re not alone. We’re not. You’re not. Don’t kick the dog; get your face in a book.
You can totally finish off that Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Milk Chocolate Bar, though.