Tomorrow my sister is going under the knife to have a benign tumor removed from her parathyroid. It's an outpatient surgery with little risksinvolved, but as a family we are all still nervous. The surgery will leave a small scar, which my sister is not very happy about, but the operation will greatly improve the quality of her life. Apparently having a tumor on your parathyroid really messes with your appetite and cicada rhythms, and having it removed will have an immediate impact on how she feels. Imagine going to the doctor one morning, having a small operation done, and have your life changed for the better by the time you went out for lunch. We are a pretty close knit family, if not a little dysfunctional, and I can definitely feel the nervous energy between everyone as we wait for tomorrow to arrive. -
I've dealt with bouts of depression over the years. I've never had to deal with the terrible, soul crushing depression that tears so many people apart, but every once in awhile I'll have a month or two of dealing with a constant dull ache in my psyche. It can be hard to function with any sort of depression, as even trivial tasks like doing laundry and making a meal seem out of reach. When I start to feel one of these cosmic lows sweeping in I find it's really important to stay active and in the moment, because when there is too much time to think, the doubt monster swoops in and takes residence inside my mind, killing all possibility of creating or self-improvement. In recent years I haven't had a serious bout of depression, but it's always something I try to stay mindful of.
Last year the author that I connected with most was David Foster Wallace. Wallace is the author of Infinite Jest, a book that in many ways changed the way I thought about what was possible as a writer. The way Wallace mixes surrealism with hyperrealism creates a world that is more vivid and interesting than anything I've read in the past couple of years. His essays are also remarkable, especially the seminal works: "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" and "Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All." Whether Wallace trying to capture the allure of a state fair, or the existential horror of what it means to be on a luxury cruise, you'll never read anything quite like it. Wallace dealt with depression for most of his adult life, and in 2008 he took his own life. It's hard to read Wallace without the words being filtered through the knowledge of his depression and suicide. Wallace wrote a lot about depression, and his definition of the term is as powerful as any.
A level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it
a double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible
a nausea of the cells and soul
There's a bit of a cult surrounding David Foster Wallace, or at least a group of readers who cherish him to the point of finding him almost saintlike. There's a incredibly earnestness to his prose. For someone with such a giant intellect and almost clinical ability to explain the world around him, what Foster wanted to do most was write empathetically. For a writer who is so obviously influenced by postmodernist like Pynchon and DeLillo, Wallace wanted to turn his back on the jaded, irony filled literature of his contemporaries and try to get to what connects us all on a human level. I think in a lot of ways this writing was a way to try to fight the depression, to cut through all the masks that we put on when we are feeling down, and truly try to reach out to someone else, even if it's a reader forever displaced by time and distance.
There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about Wallace. In a different life I could have verily easy attended Illinois State University during the time Wallace was teaching English courses there. I often wonder how my life would have changed if I had a chance to learn directly from my favorite author. It's these kinds of missed connections that keep me out some nights. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Nirvana, like so many people my age, and wrote a lot about Kurt Cobain for school research papers. Now that I'm almost 30 it's the works of DFW that impact me most creatively. Depression impacts us all on some level: whether you are dealing with personally, know a loved or friend coping with it, or just enjoy art created by someone who battled it at one point or another. What I'll leave you with is this, if you are feeling down at all, weather it's a piercing pain or dull ache of the soul, I implore you to talk to someone about it. Go see a doctor. It could save your life. By that same token if you noticed someone around you who is having a hard go, do your best to be present in their life, let them know that you are there for them. You may be saving their life. It's these little moments of kindness that make all the difference.