The Dark Passenger

There’s no easy way to describe depression without sounding like a pretentious douche-bag: you either romanticized it or got it completely wrong.

For some people it is a malaise, a sadness that hugs you like a wet blanket. For others, it’s a consistent emptiness or a hollow void in your chest. In the former description, it’s easy for other to assume you can just shrug out of that wet blanket at any time. If that were the case, depression would be as easily treatable as a headache — take an aspirin and it’s gone until work stresses you out or a family member vaguely says something critical of you and you just take another one again. The latter description, on the other hand, seems ostensibly wrong and archaic. The feelings of doldrums and self-pity, in this case, are just a matter of you being bad and not thinking correctly. There are starving children in Biafra, goddamn it! Starving children! And here you are feeling bad about yourself when you could be out helping others! For shame! But in either case, it doesn’t exactly fit me either.

One of the most honest descriptions of depression comes from Allie Brosh, who describes depression as both the complete absence of feelings and then the inability to correctly interact with anyone due to the lack of feelings. Even better still is her “my fish are dead” metaphor, in which she describes her depression to other people as having a handful of dead goldfish and no one recognizing that her fish are indeed dead. Allie, who can make you laugh and cry along with her, experienced her depression differently than I do mine. I still feel feelings and I’m still able to interact with people. However, I find myself just feeling those feelings less than I have before and my interactions with people are limited and at arm’s-length.

For me, my depression isn’t a malaise and it isn’t a void. My depression is a Dark Passenger.

The show Dexter touched on this. But unlike the title character felt compelled to murder people because he had a Dark Passenger instructing him, my Dark Passenger doesn’t go that far. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to hurt myself. My Dark Passenger is a shadowy, genderless, almost formless figure that sits in the back of my mind. I don’t talk to it; it doesn’t talk to me. It’s just there, watching and waiting. It lingers in the corner at parties. It sits at the empty table across the room in fancy restaurants. It sits in the back seat of my car. On good days, it’s farther away. On great days, I don’t always notice it. I can function normally knowing it’s there, but small or at a distance — maybe it’s across the street instead of in the same room with me.

On bad days, it’s at my shoulder, breathing down my neck and drooling on my flesh.

I try not to personify my Dark Passenger any more than I can. That’s the one power I know I can wield. That’s why I haven’t given it a gender, a face, a form, or a voice. It’s just an object following me around for now. In spite of this, I can still feel the influence it has over me, ruining the things I touch and love.

When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, the worst grade you could give me was a 90%. A chronic over-achiever for the sake of over-achieving, I equated everything less than that as a failure. To get a 90 on a test or paper meant there were TEN MORE PERCENT POINTS I could have achieved but did not. They were there. I just didn’t get them because I wasn’t good enough. Any 89%, 75%, or even outright 60% and below felt bad, but know where nearly as badly as I did about getting a 90%. If I got a 91% or higher, hurray! I did it! I achieved and I won! The other 9 or so points didn’t matter. Hey, after 90%, those were just extra points that I didn’t need! I was in the clear! No, it didn’t make sense that an extra 10% devastated me but 9 or fewer were ok — depression and obsession have no grounds in reality.

That 90% was my median. Depression makes me feel like everything I touch, do, or say is at 90% and keeps me from getting any higher.

The food I make. The pictures I draw. The work I do. The movies I watch, the books I read. The words I write. Everything is turned down to 90%. Think if you opened up a picture of a sunset in Photoshop and turned the saturation down to 90%. You know there’s more. You know the colors are brighter. You’re now emotionally colorblind.

You’re probably wondering why I wrote this blog entry, when there are so many others who have waxed eloquent about depression. I’m not trying to open a dialogue. I’m not trying to challenge another person’s description of their depression, either. I’m doing this because one of the things my Dark Passenger taints for me is writing, which has always been one of my greatest loves. I refuse to let it take it away from me. By being honest, maybe I’ll fight it off. I’ve never really written about my depression as myself before. As characters, of course. That’s easy. No one expects your characters to be real. Writing for myself, as myself, is an exercise in therapy.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll turn those colors up again.