When I picture that rock-bottom feeling, I remind myself of my plan: Assuming I’m still in decent physical health, I will get myself a minimum wage job consisting of motions one can go through even when profoundly depressed. Then, on evenings and weekends, I will go to a homeless shelter and ladle soup, another simple action one can perform while depressed. That way I won’t sentence my family and friends to a lifetime of wondering if they failed me, and I’ll also be confident that I’m still pushing back on the world in a positive if small way.
I don’t think that earthly life is infinitely precious—I think there are other worlds and we have other chances—which is why I’m okay with abortion and committing suicide if your body and/or mind is decaying in some unfathomably terrible way. But I do think earthly life is sort of precious, which is why I think we should spend our time here helping people instead of, say, killing them or doing PR for Old Navy. Hence my plan.
But when I read the New York Times obit on David Foster Wallace today (is it just me or is it a little tacky to try to mimic an author’s style in his obituary?), I didn’t feel that mix of anger and sadness so much as just sadness.
His father said, “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”
In that way, depressed people are dealing with a kind of unfathomably terrible mental decay. My rock-bottom plan assumes a lot of things, not the least of which is that I’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning to go to the aforementioned easy job and soup kitchen. I’ve been picturing the kind of depression I know, the kind where you might feel like you’re moving through water, but you can still move. And in my scenario, my little puritan work ethic and my belief that the world is worth saving—that morality and even reality are real—are still in tact.
I’m basically asking people whose every cell tells them life isn’t worth living to believe that life is worth living, which, by definition, they don’t. And while that kind of depression may seem self-indulgent, it’s also undeniably true. I think the most we can do is to try to make sure the world is a kind enough place that people don’t kill themselves for circumstantial reasons (being gay, the stock market, lack of access to health care, etc.), and that those that do, for whatever variety of star-crossed reasons, are mourned instead of condemned.