When I think back on it, I think it's fair of me to say that I've lived most of my life with depression. Even though I've not been its particular victim, it's never been all that far away. But proximity hasn't helped me understand it, if indeed it can be understood, especially by those who are in the neighborhood; but then, I'm not sure it's victims understand it either, if anyone does.
Several years ago I was doing a book of stories about Southeast Asian immigrant Christians, telling their stories. Most all political refugees tell tales unlike any North Americans could even invent. Brutality, violence, concentration camps, dangerous deep-of-night escapes through rivers and jungles. Any one of them could make Indiana Jones look like Tom Swift.
There was a time, back then, when I thought it might be interesting to videotape all of those interviews. In order to get that done, I'd take someone along to run the camera. One of those students was a kid I knew with depression--I assumed it would do him good to hear the story.
That night, for three hours I interviewed a man who, I don't doubt, killed people once upon a time, a man who'd then ended up in the area when some church decided to take on a refugee family. Incredibly, one day in a grocery store, he ran into another Lao man he knew back in the old country--in fact, they'd been enemies of a sort. Imagine that--two Laotian tough guys with histories ending up in the same aisle of a grocery store in some Iowa town, literally a whole world away.
One of them had been here for awhile and become a Christian. The two of them got together after that chance meeting and soon enough the other became a believer as well. His was the story, and it could have made a movie.
After it was over, our things were packed, and the two of us were back in the car on the way home, I said to the kid, "That was something, wasn't it?"
The kid didn't really even look at me. He simply gave me a tepid shrug of the shoulders.
At that moment, I understood something I'd never before picked up. There is no room for anything else in a mind that's possessed with depression--nothing. That night, the kid had kept the camera trained on the subject, but he'd never really heard the story, not because he wouldn't listen but because, really, he couldn't. His own concerns were so obsessive that they simply filled up his consciousness. Nothing else got in.
Depression sometimes seems, to those on the outside, the most insidious form of pride one could imagine, not because it has any arrogance to it. Most depression starts from the other side of the ledger--from incredibly fragile or non-existent self-image. But its manner seems a species of pride because in the darkness that forms in the lives of those who are depressed, it's that person's own unique and obsessive concerns that eclipse the light of day. The depressed simply can't think about other people; they are the only people on earth who really matter.
But not by choice--and there lies all the difference.
They can't help it.
I'm not sure we can either.