Wear That Depression Like A Friggin’ Grown-Up

by Bill Brenner on April 12, 2011

Two of my closest friends, God Bless ’em, always think they can read my mood in real time based on something I wrote in this blog a day, week or month ago. But sometimes the written word is just a snapshot in time — a feeling that either intensifies or goes away in short order.

Mood music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXahja5V9Wo&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Friend: “So, you’ve been kind of down lately, huh?”

Me, startled by the comment because I’m in a good mood at that moment: “What do you mean?”

Friend: “Your blog posts have been kinda dark lately.”

They’re just behaving like concerned friends, and I love them for it. But it illustrates the bigger challenge of writing a blog like this.

Since I deal with the darker side of human nature, the tone will inevitably be cloaked in black. Even when I write about feeling hopeful or joyful about something, it can come off dark because to express why something feels joyful, I have to compare it to some of the more depressing episodes in my life.

I don’t apologize for that. It’s the way it must be. You need to experience hell to understand just how good heaven is. And you need to paint an image of both so the reader will know the difference.

The fact of the matter is that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days, bad moods and outright depressive episodes.

Back when I was mostly unhappy and pissed at the world, I could display sunny moods that gave people a false impression of what was going on inside my head. It’s actually pretty typical for an unhappy soul to come of as happy because they mask what they feel through copious amounts of humor. Humor is a great coping mechanism. Abraham Lincoln certainly understood that.

Some of the most gifted comics in history lived brutally unhappy lives. Charlie Chaplin and all Three Stooges come to mind. Curley’s life was downright heart-breaking. Why he never picked up a machine gun and unloaded in a Hollywood parking lot is beyond me. Henry Rollins, a pretty dark fella whose spoken word performances are actually quite funny, once made this gem of an observation:

“I’d rather be funny than happy.”

I used to latch onto that quote for comfort. Fuck it, I’d think to myself. I’ll never be happy, so I’ll just be funny.

But that came with a price: My brand of humor lives on the razor’s edge. If I’m not careful, doing what I think is funny turns out to be hurtful to someone else.

That’s just as true today as it was during my deepest period of unhappiness.

Just as my dark streak is all over my writing today, even though I’m a much happier person.

How can I be happy when life can still be so difficult? I guess it was a case of lowering my expectations. By not expecting too much out of the world, I’m let down a lot less often. And as happy as that makes me, the statement is still pretty fucking dark.

It just goes to show life isn’t as black and white as some make it out to be.

The bottom line is that my writing will always be somewhat dark. It’s the product of where I’ve been. I’ll also continue to go through my periods of depression. It’s a chronic condition to be managed. But you’re never really cured.

I’m ok with that now. You might say I’ve learned to wear my depression like a grown-up.

When I wore it like a kid — which I did well into my 30s — melancholy could radiate off me like the stench of a decaying body. I’d walk into the room, and while I might be cracking a joke and smiling, you knew I wasn’t in my right mind. The body language said it all. My eyes said it all. And my inability to stay in that same room for long said it all.

Now, I can walk into a room and stay there for hours, talking freely with people and not really worrying if a piece of the last meal is hanging off my facial scruff.

But under that, I can still be depressed.

It’s all good, because while depression can still make me unpleasant at times (just ask my wife and kids), it can’t make me unhappy like I used to be.

I’ve learned that happiness is a state of inner peace and the feeling that if you keep trying to do what’s right, everything will actually turn out alright.

I prefer that to a simple good mood, which can be all too fleeting.

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