So, yesterday, we left off talking about fatigue, suicide and the play “‘night, Mother.” Today, we’re going to start with Greek myths. (It’s been awhile. You’d forgotten that I jump around like that, hadn’t you?)
I believe that I may have mentioned King Sisyphus before. His story is one of my favorites and one that I think is applicable across many circumstances.
There are a couple of different versions of the story; but, the main point is that Sisyphus pissed Zeus off and, as punishment, spent eternity pushing a huge boulder up a hill all day, every day only to have it roll back to the bottom every night. Sisyphus was condemned to an eternity of labor that he could never successfully complete. He was to spend all time fighting a battle that he could not win.
As I said, I don’t know the answers for all who make the tragic choice to end their lives; but, for those with chronic depression, I have an idea and I don’t think it has anything to do with cowardice. Even more than in Jessie’s case from yesterday, I think that it’s really more a question of the frustration of fighting a battle that can never be won and the sheer exhaustion of waging the battle at all.
Chronic depression is a monster that lives in the sufferer’s brain – all the time. It’s not situational. It’s not transient. It’s permanent. It’s constant. Modern medications can keep it on chain and under control – when they are working. If a depression trigger is flipped, the meds may not be as effective, loosening the chains, allowing the monster to move around a little bit, make a good bit of noise, throw the depressed off balance and give everyone a nice little scare. From time to time, however, meds may stop working completely or the sufferer may not be able to afford them. In those cases, the monster gets off chain and the true terror begins.
I’m sure that there are many who kill themselves at this point since perceptions are so skewed and horrifying. However, I believe that more danger comes not during the crisis, but just afterward, when the sufferer realizes that the monster will always be there. They can fight it (and they will have to) for the rest of their lives, but they will never win. The monster will always be there, waiting in the dark recesses, waiting for the chains to loosen, waiting to break free. Fighting it takes courage, sure. But, more than courage, it takes energy. The endeavor is Sisyphean in the extreme – ultimately useless effort and unending frustration. At some point, the sufferer may just become too tired.
From the outside, it may appear that the depressed should just “get busy living or get busy dying.” From the inside, it’s not that easy. The sufferer is, in many respects, trapped between the two states of truly living and actually dying.
The daily battle of the chronically depressed is more pervasive and braver than a non-sufferer can know. The choice to end that battle is not a cowardly one and has nothing to do with anyone other than the depressed. If someone dear to you has chronic depression of any kind – bipolar, unipolar, whatever-polar – love them, be there for them, watch them for signs of fatigue.
Don’t bother looking for cowardice. For, with the fight they wage every day, you’ll find none.
For another view, see Hyperbole and a Half: Depression, Part Two.