My Depression
A Picture Book
Elizabeth Swados
(Seven Stories)
I'd say this is one of the more whimsical if not ludicrous books on this vastly depressing subject, Depression. In thebase contradiction of grim reality and exquisite humor, this volume is right up there with Sic: A Memoir and Most of Me.

"I've had depressions on and off for most of my life," says Ms. Swados. Many of us are right there with her, but not so sure that we should be bragging. It's a bit like touting the big nuclear plant they are building over on the beach nearby.

Furthermore, our experience is that when we're in the midst of one of these sieges, we are surely not be found reading a book, not even a comic book like this one; especially one named Depression.

It may be the hair of the dog, but thank you, during these boring home movies, we'd prefer not to read at all. It's not just a matter of preference. The sucker just won't let us out that easy.

Half-way into the film of these sieges, we find ourselves stuck: What's going on? Why can't I climb out of this pit? So we go on hiding in the back room there where, as she says, "Each moment feels like it lasts forever."

There are, they say, always pills, and booze, and television. Me? I prefer watching golf tournaments, because golf is about as brainless --- and thus even more comforting --- than a FOX newscast, say. Or a "reality" show. (Why do a reality show while we are right in the middle of one of our own, anyway?)

There are some other exercises you might do while you are hanging around with what Winston Churchill called "the black dog."

You can telephone noble if sleepy friends at 3 am who've volunteered "whenever you need me." Not knowing that 3 am is the preferred hour for the various head-spooks.

Or, you can always contemplate suicide, as in Swados' Suicide Mobile --- EASY TO DO. HARD TO FORGET.

She lists several eminent artists who have wandered off on this truck, including Virginia Woolf, Curt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Mishima (missing Sara Teasdale, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Vachel Lindsay, and, alas, my favorite writer, who I would have wished had called me before he took off --- except he didn't know we were hanging out in the same slough --- Richard Brautigan).

§   §   §

Ms. Swados also lists various options which include "a fast motorcycle on a greasy road" and "attracting psycho dates." Her personal favorite seems to be wandering off "into the Sahara" which, I maintain, would do disservice to the ideal most of us have: that is, checking out most peacefully; certainly not getting fried by an unbeatable sun while breathing in dust, thus probably just wheezing to death. It doesn't seem the perfect storm for this case.

Rather, we Jack London fans recall his oblivion story in White Fang about the guy lying in a snowbank there in Alaska, far from any unintended help: where soon enough the chills and shakes go away and a small hazy warm spot turns up way down inside, and you become more cozy and the warmth grows, and starts to takes you over . . . very sleepy now. And soon comes the time when you are allowed to pass comfortably on.

§   §   §

One of the many millstones we self-appointed depressives have to put up with are friends who want to try to lead us out of the maze of our own making (as in, "I made up my mind," in both senses of the word). Swados' friends offer such comforting thoughts as, "Look at the people with AIDS. They really need medical research and attention," and "My father came over from Latvia with nothing. Could he go to a psychiatrist? No!" And my own personal favorite, offered as help to me by one of my friends when I was at the apogee: "Why don't you just stop being so self-indulgent. Jesus!"

I would never poo-poo Swados comic book, for it shares with Art Spiegelman's Maus and R. Crumb's Why Bother? making a bizarre joining, the built-in contradiction of a depressing message stuck in one of the most comic forms, a 21st century Falstaff, Hamlet turning up as a late-night episode in Saturday Night Live.

Swados' big message towards the end here might be the best . . . if you're still around to get it. That is, you've had it, you've done it. Now you know that your worst horror doesn't have to be realized.

You may have thought thought the black dog would never go away and just leave you alone. But you were wrong. It did seem to take forever, but now it's done with you.

It may blow into town again, sometime, but you've done it once now and survived and you'll probably survive the next one, too. And when it comes bounding back, you'll know it is possible to outlast it without doing personal harm to you and your loved ones.

And, then, you begin to think: what a nasty message, no?

For the chances are high that the dark bastard will return.

What then?

--- Pamela Wylie
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