the walls

Content note: probably depressing.

One of the things that helped bring back my confidence a tiny bit when I was depressed, was an informal writing group. I was really scared about this, because one of my main constant concerns was about having nothing to say. With nothing but a blank page in front of me, after 45 minutes how would there be anything left other than a blank page? Well, one time I did write something and I got the feedback that while it was really, really bleak the writing wasn’t actually that terrible.

I was writing about one of the experiences of being depressed. While most of my experiences of the world were negative, they weren’t all exactly the same and so describing what something really felt like gave me a little bit of material to write about.

I haven’t done any of that here though, describing what those experiences were like but suddenly I feel motivated to do so, so brace yourselves.

I didn’t (and usually don’t) think much in metaphors, but I had this metaphor of the wall.

Walls serve lots of purposes: they offer structural support, they help maintain a temperature differential, they offer privacy and so on. But I was focusing on the most basic feature: they stop you from crossing them.

In this worldview that I had, everything was somehow surrounded by a wall. At the most basic level, familiar objects have a sort of permanence to them. They’re there, and then the next moment they’re still there. They are not (as I supposed during the earlier psychotic phase of my episode) about to transform into a fairy.

Some objects, as opposed to just being, offer some kind of affordance. There’s a juice carton over there that is associated with a sense that I can, and indeed should, throw it in the garbage. At the end of this transaction the garbage is slightly fuller but nothing important has changed about my life. Other objects don’t offer affordances at all. There’s a lot of junk scattered all over my apartment right now that is in that state: I know that it needs tidying up, but looking at each particular thing I am not given an immediate action that I am supposed to take that would help with that. Things don’t have a spot where they are supposed to be, or there are other complications that I won’t go into.

This rigidity, this sense that things can only be manipulated according to certain obvious rules, can apply to more than just physical objects. It can apply to society or our own lives as a whole.

Anyway what being depressed was like, for me, was that everything was like that.

It was like being a prisoner, or a mouse in a lab, or playing a video game that’s early in its development and lets you pick up some objects and move them around but whatever you do you’re still just stuck in the room having not accomplished anything.

Somehow it was not just about attitude, but something about how the world looked or felt. I am guessing that most happy people (and myself in my usual state) go through life just not noticing all the walls, all the things that are irrelevant and you can’t do anything with. Instead, being successful is about noticing the things you can do and being able to take advantage of them. The world will look a lot more cheerful and interesting if you see it as a sporadic sequence of opportunities than as an almost constant sequence of non-opportunities, even if mathematically those would represent the same structure.

Not really sure where I’m going with this. But it’s a habit of thinking, which I guess I can still fall into sometimes, which I’ll call the walls.



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