Depression. We talk about it like it’s a hole, a swamp, a muddy trench. The “slough of despond,” the “pit of despair,” a “ditch” we fall into. For me, in 2018, depression was an all out war, and I was losing.
It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in the trenches and it’s not likely to be the last, but it was real and devastating. And I know that others are there, in that same place now, too.
I walked a lot that year, as I had for several others. It was part of my job growing plants: checking row after row, house after house. Watering here, scouting there, repairing this or that, refilling and applying nutrients, planting tray after tray after tray of seeds.
Plants don’t make great conversationalists, and as I rarely found myself working alongside other sentient beings I took to thinking a lot, and listening a lot.
Audiobooks, music, podcasts. I listened for hours.
During that time I happened across a history podcast called Hardcore History by Dan Carlin. For about 25 hours one work week I immersed myself in the story of WWI while I went about my daily tasks.
I hadn’t written a song in months. I couldn’t muster the will to give voice to anything. It was all I could do to simply stay.
There was something in the misery of that first World War that gave me a way to think about my inner war.
In it the past met the future. No matter how gallantly a young soldier may have ridden his horse into battle, he was not made for a new war built on freight trains of metal–metal in tons–bullets per second, and poison gas.
The nihilism that seeped from the WW1 trenches felt like my own in that depression.
“What can it mean? Is there a reason for anything? The dead have a glory fit for altars and for flames.”
Feeling is elusive then. Meaning is oppressively absent. Glory is an obscenity. There is not even grief–there’s…nothing. Life feels like no more than a cruel game we’re all forced to play.
“There’s no room for grieving in all of this noise, there’s no room to bury the soul with the joy. This war’s just a game, this life’s just a game, it’s a cruel kind of game that we all have to play.”
In those deepest moments it felt like the best I could do was nothing. Not anything…just don’t do anything.
No Man’s Land was the space between the trenches of WW1. The space a person went only once.
From the misery of a trench soldiers would hear the delirious ramblings of the injured in No Man’s Land. They had to listen to their desperate cries, and they could not forget the sound.
There was only one way out of the hell of No Man’s Land, and there were times when the misery of the trenches made that way out seem like a gift.
I am thankful that my mind is better as I write this today. I can offer no prescriptions to the hosts among us, like me, who fight in such a war–my pain is not theirs, is not yours. I simply acknowledge that the struggle is real, and I sense today what I could not sense then, that the glory of living is not obscene.
Then it sounded like a cannon. I flinched at it. Hid from it.
It felt like the mud I could never clean off.
It reeked of decay; of ends, not beginnings.
Now it is quiet.
It is new growth.
Now it buds and blooms.
I know it was there all along. Somewhere. But I also know I could not see it as such.
I grieve for those who suffer, though I could not then. To be well is possible.
It is. Some scars may remain for a time, but life renews. Hope can return in time.
May we care for each other, even in this war, when all seems naught. Even more than our own ambitions. May we care. There are more people in those God-awful trenches than we may see.
Depression is not sadness. It is something else entirely. And to those who would suggest that it is a feebleness of mind or will, or a moral failing, I say nothing.
But inwardly I wish that you would be silent. Sometimes silence is best. You don’t need to say anything. You don’t need answers. And if you think you have them… you. don’t.
Sometimes it’s best just to listen, be present, and wait.
The World Was Naive The world was naive in 1914. All glory and gallantry muzzles and manes. The horse and his rider, all red in the rain meet man’s big achievement in metal and pain. The soldiers march on, no one quite knows why, while the war to end all wars illumines the sky. And the mud in the trenches, the dead in the trenches The fear in the trenches digs into the mind. What can it mean? Is there a reason for everything? The dead have a glory Fit for altars and for flames. I’ve been naive and I’ve tried hard to please the major above me who looks out for me. But I slipped and faltered the day that I found My brother’s torn body alone on the ground. There’s no room for grieving in all of this noise There’s no room to bury the soul with the joy. This war’s just a game, this life’s just a game. A cruel kind of game that we all have to play. ‘Cause only the dead Can ever reach the end. And, when life thrives on stealing all of the living that’s been spent I listen to the cries in no-man’s land And consider whether I should lift my head. I listen to the cries in no-man’s land And consider whether I should lift my head.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255