To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 5: Gravity

Egg is depressed.

Egg, you might remember, is a mastery candidate, a nurse, and my friend. And, at the moment, he’s depressed. I hadn’t know this, but apparently he’s had recurring depressions for a very long time and, right now, it is recurring.

I have to say I do not understand this. I don’t understand depression. I mean, sure, I get how a person might be sad or discouraged by life events, but as far as I can tell, nothing in particular is wrong in Egg’s life right now, and anyway, nothing is different in his life this week from last week and last week he wasn’t depressed. I don’t understand why he can’t just pull himself together.

I understand that he can’t just pull himself together. I’m not an asshole. I believe Egg when he says he can’t just wish it away. He’s not the first person I’ve ever met who was depressed, either. But I don’t know how it works. I have trouble imagining what it’s like.

So I asked.

“It’s like living in a vat of molasses,” he explained. “Everything is darker and more difficult than it should be.” I tried asking more questions, but he cut me off. “Look, Daniel, I can’t talk about this right now. Ask me again when I feel better.” His voice sounded grey and flat.

He doesn’t seem to have any energy. As a mastery candidate, he has classes and workshops he teaches, but he’s called out of them. His talks and seminars are cancelled and his workshops and classes have been taken over by substitutes. At the same time, he has a couple of things he has to do, a kind of simple schedule that isn’t negotiable. He doesn’t have to put much energy into figuring out what he’s going to do every day, and he doesn’t end up just hiding in the dark in his room, either. The schedule was Allen’s idea and Egg agreed to it, but neither of them knows yet if it is a good idea—it’s just something they’re doing.

“Think about how you feel when you have a bad cold,” Allen suggested to me. “You don’t feel like doing anything and you can’t really focus on anything. I understand depression feels something like that."

“But why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you ever get depressed, Allen?”

“No, I don’t. I get discouraged or upset sometimes, but it’s not the same.”

I had breakfast this morning with Egg and Greg. I mean, I hadn’t set out to eat with them, but I was looking for a seat and hardly anyone else was at their table, so I asked if I could join them and they said I could.

Of course, I asked Egg how he was feeling. He shrugged and said he wasn’t feeling very well. He still sounded flat and listless. I told him I was sorry.

"I don't mean to discourage empathy," said Greg, "but I'm not sure judging feelings as good or bad is really productive."

"How do you...navigate the world if all feelings are equally good?" I asked. "I mean, I don't want to sound like a hedonist, but I do a lot of things because I enjoy them, or because I don't enjoy other things. Without that, I think I might just sit around doing nothing a lot."

Greg smiled a little.

"Which might not be a bad idea. Sitting around doing nothing is highly under-rated," he said, and of course that is what he spends a lot of time teaching people how to do. "But that isn't what I meant. It's not that seeking enjoyment and avoiding pain are bad, though making a priority of it is counterproductive. Certainly I'd never discourage anyone from seeking treatment for depression. What I meant is to not rush to judge pain or discomfort as bad, not to close the mind on the basis of assumption."

"I know I don't like being depressed," said Egg, "It's exhausting. But I wouldn't choose to have it taken from me. There are thoughts I think when I get like this that I need to think."

"Is it like what Joy says about wounded healers?" I asked. Joy is his master, his teacher, so I know her ideas have a big influence on him. She's often said that the reason why some people and some animals sustain grievous, apparently unfair injuries and illnesses is that the woundedness itself empowers a person or animal to become a healer. But Egg shook his head.

"It's not that being depressed makes me more compassionate," he said. "Right now, I really don't have any energy left over for anything but taking care of myself. But having been depressed helps. When I feel better and I can work again, remembering this keeps me humble. And knowing that the whole world can seem to change just when my mood changes, that helps, too. I don't take my experiences on face value very much. But it's more than that. It's like depression is part of the wholeness of my experience. Something happens to me when I'm here at the bottom, something I would not wish to ignore or truncate."

It was the most I'd heard him speak in a week and he he returned to slowly eating his miso soup. But he must have remembered me and my questions about what depression is, because emerged again from his silence after about a minute.

"This is just me, Daniel," he explained. "I'm sure if you asked some other depressed person about it you'd hear something different."

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