"We’re more accustomed as readers to the memoir model, where depression — or addiction, or even ordinary anxiety — appears as a monster from the past, one against which you still have to bolt the door every day, but one that’s not there right now, not interfering with your writing about it, not writing about it with you.
But there’s something to be said for the currency of Brosh’s vivid, sometimes nervous-making chronicles, or of Glover’s scribbled notes. It’s very sterile and very misleading to hear about battles only from people who either have already won or at least have already experienced the stability of intermediate victories. It presents a false sense of how hard those battles are. It understates the perilous sense of being in the middle of them. It understates how scary they are. Compare the feeling of listening to a 911 call from inside someone’s house while they’re afraid a burglar is inside to the feeling of hearing them tell you a week later what it was like that one time they were afraid there was a burglar in the house. The second will give you their reflective version of what happened; the first will give you their out-of-breath panic.
There is a developing candor about depression, addiction, and ordinary day-to-day struggles that can feel uncomfortably intimate to people who either are very private themselves or prefer other people to be very private. There are absolutely times when you read something and feel that you’re encountering details you shouldn’t be seeing, perhaps offered from a person not in the right frame of mind to be deciding how much to give away.
But consider the brief but indelible post about depression that comedian Rob Delaney wrote in February 2010, which makes the rounds on social media periodically, simply because writing it was an act of service. It begins, “I deal with suicidal, unipolar depression and I take medication daily to treat it.” It goes on to discuss things that people who’ve never been depressed might find hard to imagine: “My mind played one thought over and over, which was ‘Kill yourself.’” At the time Delaney wrote the post, he was only a year and a half past his second major episode of depressive symptoms, and the immediacy of not waiting until he felt entirely safe is part of what gives the post power, and part of why people who are depressed know that he’s not lying when he says he knows what they’re feeling.
First-person cultural narratives about major battles are often written through the distorting haze of a long memory — that’s what David Carr was trying to counter when he investigated his own past for his memoir Night Of The Gun. But there’s no substitute, really, for the necessary honesty that comes with currency. Allie Brosh is Allie Brosh right now. You can wish her well, but she’ll tell you she’s not sure how it’s going. That’s part of why people with depression believe her. It’s part of why they trust her so much. She told The Telegraph about depression: “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.”
If you want to know how hard it is, she’s telling you that’s how hard it is. Not was, is. And as uncomfortable as that might be, it’s a perspective worth offering.