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Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half book coverThanks to All Things Considered interviewing Allie Brosh I have discovered the blog “Hyperbole and a Half“. Allie Brosh has a book out, too, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.

Depression is not a topic that’s commonly or usually helpfully discussed. It’s difficult enough to talk about with close friends who know you well, but trying to explain it to others? who don’t have it? Forget it. Partially difficult because when I’m in the midst of it I don’t have the energy to describe it in a balanced way (that isn’t overly morbid and negative or too flippant and dismissive) and when I’m not depressed it’s difficult to inhabit/ re-create the subtle worldview and unique logic/ experience/ knowledge of depression enough to describe in order to explain it. Also difficult because while it is a “thing” (something that one feels, knows, experiences and therefore exists) it is a negation, so how do you describe what isn’t there in a way people who haven’t experienced it can understand? And not scare them away? Or have them thinking ‘if she’s talking about it this carelessly she can’t really be depressed’?

I cannot express how elated I was to read Allie’s post Depression Part Two, to read someone saying “I don’t necessarily want to kill myself… I just want to be dead somehow” (elated in a I’m-not-alone-oh-my-god-someone-nailed-it-on-the-head sort of way). And the questions of how to socially appropriately broach this topic and not freak out loved ones? Not something you really read about. But she writes about it wonderfully and illustrates it superbly.

Here is something I’ve been thinking about lately: There are a couple common responses (to the statement “I’ve been depressed”) that are not helpful or supportive though people who say them feel they are being helpful or supportive. When I screw up the courage to let someone know I’m depressed (even to friends and family) it *actually makes things worse* when you reply with plucky aphorisms and go get ’em suggestions… because to a person in the midst of a depression they’re inane and as useful as a bicycle is to a dead fish. As Brosh put it, those “hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.”

Examples of Not Helpful Responses: “Why are you depressed, you have your health and people that love you and…”, or, “Plenty of people have it worse than you…”, or, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass/ It won’t last forever”, or, “Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air/ Go to the gym–get those endorphins going”.

<– These do not help. These are in response to what you think you know about depression, but not actually what depression is, and therefore inappropriate, not useful, and possibly (probably) hurtful and may well alienate the person who has just screwed up a bunch of courage and energy to confide in you and you just blew it off or seemed to blow your nose in it.

These solutions/ suggestions are not answers to the problem of depression. And they deny the experience of depression and the challenges and pain it brings. Which makes the suggestions more harmful than helpful.

Allie Brosh-depression as dead fish and not useful suggestions people make

from Allie Brosh’s blog post “Depression Part Two”

Brosh likens it (this situation of having depression, and when you tell others they respond uselessly as mentioned above) to “having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.”

The problem might not even have a solution,” Brosh writes in her post (emphasis mine, here and below). “…you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions. You’re maybe just looking for someone to say ‘sorry about how dead your fish are’ or ‘wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though.'” And for these things, for the metaphor of the dead fish and how others respond, I thank her deeply.

I appreciate that “Hyperbole and a Half” is written and illustrated with wit and humor and an earnestness that does not shy away from the uncomfortable experiences of depression and the difficulty in expressing these to others (“uncomfortable” because in our society we really don’t deal well with depression).

This is a complex and multifaceted discussion that I’ve been wanting to explore. I’ve been unsure of an approach–I do not want a clinical discussion, or one bogged down in negativity or self-indulgence. Because though depressing or morbid, depression in its singularly unique manifestation is also humorous, or at least absurd. Absurd in the way that nihilism and existential terror are absurd. When you stare at the Abyss, and it stares back at you tenfold, what else is there but to laugh?

*I regret that I have no images of my own. Thanks to Allie Brosh for these images, and for inspiring me to attempt to draw a few of my own.*