When You Gaze into the Abyss of Other People
My whole life I’ve seen people close to me fall into depression. I was also nearly there myself, so close I could almost taste it: the darkness, the despair, the feeling there was no way out and everything was meaningless.
My escape was narrow, others are not so lucky.
Depression has always made me feel quite helpless, especially whenever I witnessed it on other people. There’s a sense of wanting to help, to fix things, but not knowing what to do — and then anything you try to do comes clumsy at best, and poisonous at worse.
Try telling a depressed person to see the good side of things, or to simply “cheer up,” see how helpful that is (spoiler alert: it’s not helpful at all).
Sometimes, depressed people can benefit from simply knowing someone is there for them, by their side. Knowing you’re not alone, however, doesn’t always equate to you feeling less lonely. Sometimes loneliness is a given, regardless if you’re surrounded by a crowd.
Depression reveals the abyss that exists in each and everyone of us. It’s a place we can mostly avoid when we’re healthy, but that becomes inescapable once depression takes hold.
When someone close to you is depressed, you might get a chance to gaze into their own personal abyss — and that’s when the abyss gazes back into you. It’s what happened to me the other day. As I spoke with a friend who’s battling his worse inner demons, I stood at the edge of the abyss.
And I gazed in.
I discovered that sometimes, at the bottom of the abyss, there’s a mirror.
This mirror doesn’t provide you with a clear image of yourself, but with an image of who you could be if you were in that situation. It’s an image that frightens too many of those who attempt to face it. It shows us humanity raw, abandoned to its meanest demons and left to face its own limitations.
Another thing you see at the bottom of the abyss is your own inadequacy, your personal inability to deal with the problem at hand, to say the right thing, to make it better.
Some people are blessed with the talent of knowing what to say, some go into training to acquire the relevant knowledge to make a difference in these situations, but a lot of us stand paralyzed — whene we don’t shove our feet in our mouths, that is.
We want to help because we genuinely care about the people that matter to us. We want to help because we see in them a cautionary tale: beware of your own mind and heart, or you’ll end up like me.
We look into the abyss of other people hoping we’ll never really have to look into hours. We hope we’re different enough, more resilient, perhaps build of better materials, so we don’t suffer the same fate as theirs.
We gaze into the abyss of other people hoping we’re ready for whatever we might find, but what we see rarely fails to surprise us. We somehow hope our beliefs and emotions won’t be quite as challenged, but they invariably are.
There might seem to be no advantage of looking into the abyss of other people, and we often shy away from doing so. But there’s bravery in doing it, and often enough our efforts are indeed rewarded. We learn a lot about ourselves in the process, however painful the learning process may be.
Besides, we need to gaze into the abyss of other people from time to time, to open ourselves to experiencing it, if we forever avoid it we risk losing touch with our humanity — yes, we sometimes need to meet our humanity through its darkest facet.