Friday, April 2, 2021

A Little Better

My dad lost a few decades to depression. Somehow, via a herculean feat of will, he managed to relocate and reinvent himself in the desert southwest; I'm still unsure how he managed it at his advanced age and in his lethargic condition. And he felt better once he was there. A little better.

One day while I was visiting, I returned from shopping to find him in a chair staring glassily in the late afternoon gloom. As I engaged him in conversation, he perked up a bit and declared how relieved he was to have kicked depression!

I figured this was stark raving bonkers. But I've come to realize an essential truth people don't much notice or discuss: when something's super bad, and gets better - even a lot better - it can still be pretty bad. Even though you feel fully restored.

I've had severe foot pain for a solid year. I haven't really been able to walk, aside from a giddy brief respite in the fall. After bergs of ice and wads of money spent on special invalid shoes, custom orthotics, greasy anti-inflammatory ointments, and no fewer than four MRIs, I finally feel no pain whatsoever. This absence of pain feels like pure pleasure. My feet feel like happy frolicking puppies. They're like a field of daisies. They live in a feminine hygiene commercial.

But there's something I understand - intellectually if not experientially - from my father's example. I may actually still be in fairly bad pain. I honestly have no idea. There is really no way to know.

It's not that I'm cuckoo-pants bananas. It's that human perceptions are infinitely pliant. Lightness doesn't register as lightness without a baseline of darkness to judge against. There are no absolutes. Among other things, this accounts for how very gradual degradations - the proverbial frog boils - are so tough to notice. We can be lulled into losing touch with our baselines. My baseline right now is agony, which leaves me easily pleased!

If you walk around in a miasma of bitter negativity and depression, and a single ray of light errantly penetrates, you'll feel unequivocally certain that all problems have been solved, that all burdens dropped, and that the heavens have left you minty fresh (this posting provides a visceral impression of such transformation). Three drops of rain in a parched desert feel like Niagra. Slightly cracking open a window in a stifling car wooshes in a seemingly lush torrent of life-giving oxygen. We simply cannot gauge. It's quite impossible.

And it's not just external perceptions. Internal framings are relative as well. When we lose our baseline, our mooring, perspectives can seem stark raving bonkers. This is how, for example, a nation of wealthy, supremely coddled and comfortable aristocrats can manage to feel universally deprived and aggrieved.

I have a long-standing fantasy of buying a Tesla. I'm not normally tempted by luxury consumer goods, but I do like cars and gadgets - especially gadgets that continuously update themselves over time in delightful ways. And while I can't afford a Tesla, I do hang out in Tesla forums, where I pretend to be in the market and ask lots of eager questions.

A while ago, I mentioned there, in-passing, that, of course, all Tesla owners are rich. And you would not have believed the hue and cry among forum participants, all owners of >$60,000 vehicles. They wished to inform me, often with considerable pique, that they are certainly not wealthy. Truly wealthy people, I suppose, own jets. And to jet-owners, truly wealthy people own football teams.

Further readings on Depression:
A Unique Perspective on Depression
The Main Cause of Major Depression
Depression Resuscitation Kit
A Surprisingly Uplifting Examination of Suicide
The Evolution of a Perspective
Framing as Hilarious or as Catastrophe
All writings on depression in reverse chronological order

No comments:

Blog Archive