Art and Depression
I’m sitting in a puddle of sweat on a sofa that Craigslist rejected. I’m in my apartment near the beach, it’s summer, the sun is out, my air conditioning is broken, I’ve just drunken a twelve pack of cans and smoked too much and eaten too much Jack in the Box again, I’m depressed, I’m sweating, I’m listening to Knxwledge and J. Cole mixtapes, I’m Lazy, I’m restless and I’m sweating, I’m hungry and miserable, and everything smells like dirty socks, and these things happen. We are young and alive, and depressive angst is a generational pastime. In those moments of complete and wretched self loathing, I look to escapism just like too many other twenty-something soul-searching artists, running away from an existential crisis with our eyes closed.
One fried brain cell at a time.
And then I sleep it off, I wake up, I get moving, I drink some Orange Juice. I walk to the beach and have feelings. I throw-up maybe, I laugh probably, life goes on, I write something about it, I listen to Bob Marley, I listen to Guru, I make an omelette and lemonade, life goes on. Like every Lost Generation before us, we find art in pain, color in grey, our hands building something beautiful from the fear of nothingness; depression and creation have been at war always, always will be. And we’ve always looked towards escapism while caught in the middle. And we’ve always slept it off; life goes on, nothing new under the sun.
Except I see a new look in your eyes like you haven’t woken up, like you can’t sleep it off. I see a monkey on your back singing old Weeknd songs and forgetting all the words; I see him reach into his purse and pull out another pill, a different color than the last one maybe, an old classic back in rotation that tastes familiar when it deadens your fingertips. I watch lily-white all encompassing nothingness leave his monkey hands, dance over your lips and into a heart that is getting too accustomed to not feeling and not walking to the beach. I see the Zombie taking over.
I want to hold you. I want to scream in your ear until you can’t avoid the ringing. I want to tell you in words that will matter to you: “If we can’t sleep it off and feel again in the morning, art and life don’t stand a chance.”
I know the struggles of a depressive addictive creative with no back-up plan. I know it’s easier sometimes to reach for that bottle again, or whatever you prescribe yourself to blunt the everything. And I know that, eventually, you have to snap out of it; you have to write about it, or dance about it or sing about it, or make in whatever way lets your heart breathe deep from the gorgeous shit that keeps you alive about it. You have to swim in it. You have to process something, you have to feel something; you have to be something that answers your questions, you have to feel something, anything.
I’m afraid of my own worst destiny when I see those dead eyes that haven’t slept it off, and I’m afraid of yours. I’m afraid you won’t make it back up for breath. I’m afraid that everything you could have created, everything you could have been and brought into the world and every fingerprint you could have left on someone else’s heart who needed it, every piece of art you finished in a dream is being stolen from you one pill at a time, one escape at a time, one bender that never ends at a time.
Until there’s nothing left to feel but nothing.
I’m afraid for my generation’s soul when I see another artist I love diving deeper into something they can’t wake up from, and I’m afraid for what’s next if we can’t feel in the morning. If we never stop chasing the deeper grey one chemical reaction at a time, one nihilistic creation-suicide at a time, one denial of anything and everything at a time. “Generation Zany Zombie” isn’t held down by a pill or boxed in by a world too grey; there have always been pills, there have always been clouds that make you forget that the sun’s still warm. Our problems aren’t new, our escapes aren’t novel. But the total acceptance of total numb by so many of us, and the way the rest of us look on totally accepting that numbness, is scary.
I’m afraid we’ll all start believing the statements we make in this forfeit to nothing-grey: that depression wins always and forever, and that art can’t save us anymore. That we need to reach for a pill to survive, when the only way we can truly thrive is by feeling the anything that that pill defeats and bringing that anything to life. I’m afraid of what the world will look like when we lose the will to speak because it all sounds the same anyway, lose the power to express what’s in our hearts because we’ve forgotten how to listen to the beauty they whisper in each beat.
I know we’ll make it through; I’m not sure what that “through” will look like.
Maybe we will chase the nothing-grey too deep. Maybe we’ll never wake up. Maybe Generation Zany Zombie is here to stay, and maybe art lost to depression in all of us, and maybe we’ll all die lukewarm too-grey deaths with empty note-books in our backpacks and songs whispering softly still in our hearts that won’t leave our lips and works of magic only finished in our dreams.
Or, maybe, we’ll sleep it off and wake up and feel. More Chance the Rappers defeating the numbness with sunshine, more Marshall Mathers pulling something powerful from the wreckage of stories that won’t let you escape forever. I know we’ll make it through; I hope that on the other side is a poem that says
“It’s ok to feel sad, just feel something. Set down that escape and make something about it. Your art/life depends on it.”
Summer is gone. I’m getting on a train again, and letting a friend escape a hug that I miss before it’s over. She looks at me, really looks at me, and begs me, really begs me: “don’t smoke too much up there, ok? Don’t numb everything, I just saw Andy and he looks like he’s been through hell. Don’t do that, ok?” I smile a bit, not with my eyes, and mean it when I look back, really look back, and tell her “ok, I’m gonna be ok, it’s ok.” I get on the train, sleep it off, wake up, and feel; our art/life depends on it.