Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
Was Obi-Wan’s apprentice depressed and is Depression a part of the dark side?
I would like, gentle reader, to muse on Depression, connect it to the Sublime, and possibly elucidate how the two can add considerable Force to your writing, dark or light, Sith or Jedi.
One way to look at Depression is making it a spectrum – instead of 50 Shades of Gray think 666 Shades of Black, where one end is the homesick, heartsick nostalgia of Civil War times and the other is a place so dark, life isn’t worth living, in fact, it’s worth dying to escape this kind of Depression. Think Homer’s Iliad:Father Zeus! rescue the sons of Achaea from these mists and give us clear weather. Let us see with our own eyes. Even destroy us, so long as it be in daylight.
Rest assured, this is no linear spectrum, but something with multiple tangents branching off into more and more tangents. I do not intend my musings to be prescriptive, or to offer hard, fast definitions, but more of a walk, enlightenment, possibly even a place to start writing. This first installment should do nothing more than get the gray matter moving. Let’s start with some feelings.
Depression is darkness, blackness, a deep, dark hole that one discovers only after he or she has fallen in, fallen close to the bottom of a bottomless pit. One cannot, in most cases, pull oneself out of this hole; the gravity is too great. Attempting to climb out, a natural inclination, is thwarted by the strength of the gravitational pull of emotions gone awry. Nothing is what it seems to be and everything is shrouded in a dark mist.
I feel like I’m underwater, only my fingertips break the surface, and I can’t move, only hold my breath, hope for help, or wish for death.
To get out of the depths of darkness, one who is depressed would welcome destruction in exchange for daylight as the sons of Achaea desired. One finds that he or she cannot even accept the help of others, mere mortals; only the supernatural, a miracle, can restore the light. Family, a friend or spouse, anyone close to the individual is incapable of providing deliverance. The knowledge that there are rights and wrongs, good and evil, love and hate, does not matter, they are powerless; the despair grows, consumes, and plunges them into deeper darkness.
Causes, treatments, not my point, but an idea, a description, the feel, the sense of Depression, a starting point is what one must have to begin to see into the darkness, reap the whirlwind, but like darkness, storms, the weather, each of us may find Depression differently. Sometimes there is no deep, dark hole, one doesn’t fall into a bottomless pit, or feel they are beneath the surface of a murky, dead sea. Depression is a stumble into other places just as bottomless and black, dark paths, anger, fear, aggression.
This route is deceptive, the individual is just as trapped, just as helpless, but there is movement, change, hundreds of shades of black in reds, golds, greens, and every other color. There is a false sense that nothing is wrong, it’s just another up and down on Life’s road. In many cases, the individual finds his or her way out, but only by Chance or with Luck’s help. Sometimes the Fates play a part leading us to a bisecting path, which leads back to light or warmth or a semblance of normalcy. In reality, it is usually a distraction, a different shade of black, a new path, but one still near to the dark side.
The individual develops coping mechanisms, exercise, a hobby, writing, or in many cases, self-medication via a number of choices. Overall, these choices subconsciously allow those of us on these paths of gloom to avoid the label Depression. We’re just stressed, or not on our A-Game, or sad; we forget or deny that no matter what flavor the Depression is, or how harmless it seems, consume you it will.
I have been on this these paths, have left them, and will probably return to them. I have been married to, the father of, a son, grandson, or friend of individuals who have been in the dark hole, the bottomless bit, the deep lake; some of these souls never returned. They opted for sunlight through destruction. Some are still in denial, a select few have found help, but I digress. The point is I have seen Depression, walked its paths, and found the bisecting paths back to some sense of function. I have also followed other paths back into the darkness.
What can this have to do with writing?
Sometimes, a dark path or two is a good thing, sometimes it makes us appreciate the good, the opposition in all things, the light, and it can spawn great ideas for stories, and not just dark stories, horror stories, or bad literary fiction. The problem: how does one write when he or she is depressed or lost on dark paths, or how can one write when they have returned?
I came across these words and it describes rather well what I’ve been suffering the last several months:
Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Raging, shame, wandering, blackness of darkness for ever – sounds great, poetry, a great writing prompt, but how do we write in this dark place, about this dark place, distance ourselves from it, or even escape it and find a place to write about it? When the darkness stops us, we medicate, self-medicate, try to find a way back, or get lucky and have a moment of sanity. In these rare opportunities, I usually make the mistake of thinking I’m Vader, Obi-Wan’s apprentice: I will do the right thing in the end, the end justifies the means, I am the chosen one, and I will bring balance to the Force.
Yes, it sounds delusional – I prefer the term Romantic – and the term can be interchangeable with the Sublime, and with the Sublime, always, comes terror and darkness, a sense of overwhelming awe, maybe the opposite of Depression, but definitely fear is involved.
To understand the Sublime and Depression, we must understand darkness. John Locke opined that darkness was not naturally an idea of terror, but was something planted in the mind. Edmund Burke believed it an association which took in all mankind, an idea making darkness terrible, an unsafe place impossible to know what surrounds us in it, what danger lies in wait, or what precipice we may step off of, or even if an enemy approaches; there is no sure protection in darkness.
From another point of view, darkness, Depression, and the Sublime are emotion-based, emotions akin to Lovecraft’s familiar the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Is Depression still the unknown? Does this give it power, make it Sublime, and tweak our senses into fearing it and giving up our power or our freewill? As writers, what can this darkness do? When we want to terrify or horrify, to create or build suspense, or keep the gentle reader turning pages, how do we show this emotion, this unholy Pathos; is there a way to harness this shadowy power without beating our readers over their heads with telling? Can we get out of our own dark paralysis to write something powerful?
This dark and debilitating emotion does not lend itself well to translation, especially into literature; it does not help us, not even out of bed; most days; we feel like a derelict wishing to fall down and dissolve into dust. I find forcing myself to sit in front of a laptop or PC, to record my thoughts, or to take notes almost impossible. What I do type, record, or write ends up being great seeds, a good line here, an idea there, but nothing happens. The mists clear from time to time, but I fail to take advantage of the clarity and write about the murky ambiguity.
So, working through my own darkness has brought me to the end of this first installment. I just saw some old friends, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake, that may make an appearance in the next installment. My dark path has taken me to the Romantics many times and beyond. I hope to see you next time, part two, delving a little deeper into writing Depression as Sublime… and remember, the Force will be with you, always…I am your father.