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Hey, Why Are You Crying?

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
November 14, 2011

Depression. It’s inexplicable. It just happens. And you can’t shake it. At least not quickly. “Allie,” who’s got a blog, Hyperbole and a Half, tells about her experience, and she does it beautifully, in an unlikely form: the comic. The images are hers. The words, too.

Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason.

It’s disappointing to feel sad for no reason. Sadness can be almost pleasantly indulgent when you have a way to justify it – you can listen to sad music and imagine yourself as the protagonist in a dramatic movie. You can gaze out the window while you’re crying and think “This is so sad. I can’t even believe how sad this whole situation is. I bet even a reenactment of my sadness could bring an entire theater audience to tears.”

But my sadness didn’t have a purpose. Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn’t really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason.

Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness.

And for a little bit, that was a good enough reason to pity myself.

Standing around feeling sorry for myself was momentarily exhilarating, but I grew tired of it quickly. “That will do,” I thought. “I’ve had my fun, let’s move on to something else now.” But the sadness didn’t go away.

I tried to force myself to not be sad.

But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.

When I couldn’t will myself to not be sad, I became frustrated and angry. In a final, desperate attempt to regain power over myself, I turned to shame as a sort of motivational tool.

But, since I was depressed, this tactic was less inspirational and more just a way to oppress myself with hatred.

Which made me more sad.

I’m going to break off here, but if you go to her website, you’ll see that as Allie struggles, her frustration mounts, she gets angry, then numb, then she sort of empties out and then she has a breakthrough.

She’s standing in a video store looking, she says, like an “Eskimo vagrant,” being gaped at by another customer, when something happens. The nice thing about her blog is you can see it happen. You can watch “how my depression got so horrible that it actually broke through to the other side and became a sort of fear-proof exoskeleton.”

It’s something to see.

I don’t know diddleysquat about Allie. She chooses not to tell. But her website is filled with strange adventures; her discovery that she’s a cake-o-holic, and the cake she is desperate to eat has been baked for her Grandpa’s birthday. There’s another one about her fear that her dog may not be smart enough to exist. The not-so-secret thing about Allie is that even when she’s desperately sad, she’s still slyly, eloquently funny (and she let me share this cartoon).

[Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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