“How are you?”
So, this is a pretty common question. It’s my standard conversational opener with people, and generally I do in fact mean it as an invitation for folks to tell me if something’s bothering them (if they’re comfortable with that). I’m aware, however, that most people see it as a sort of conversational nicety, the idea seemingly being that a certain ritualistic exchange (“how are you?” “fine, and you?”) has to happen before Real Conversation can begin. Because of this, I’ve been trying to find alternative ways of opening conversation, that don’t adhere quite so nicely to an exchange that’s basically become meaningless in our society, but it’s rather difficult to fight such a firmly entrenched narrative.
Lately, however, I’ve begun pushing back at this script a bit. It wasn’t even really intentional at first. I tend to answer the question fairly honestly, is all. But I’ve started thinking a bit about the response I’ve been giving recently, and people’s reaction to it, and I think there’s definitely stuff to talk about.
That response, since it seems an appropriate time to clarify it, is the one in the title of the post. When asked how I am now, I tend to answer along the lines of “depressed, but otherwise pretty good. And you?”. This…throws people off. It doesn’t fit the script. Firstly, most obviously, because you aren’t actually supposed to say how you’re feeling, but also because a lot people don’t see how both of those concepts (“depressed” and “otherwise not bad”) can co-exist. And that’s what I want to try and explore a bit here.
Here is, I think, the root of the problem: the word ‘depression’ means something different to most non-depressed people (that I’ve spoken to) than it does to me. To them, it’s a sudden thing. A bad mood that comes on for a couple of hours, probably with precipitating cause, and then goes away again. And while it’s present, because of its rarity, it’s consuming. They pay attention to it. When they’re upset, that is what is going on with them.
I don’t work that way. I can’t, and you know why? Because for me, depression is basically a constant. I’m never NOT in a depressed mood. Or at least, very rarely. Certainly, I also experience the more sharply-felt bad times that people seem to be referring to when they use the word, but depression is also my ground state. It’s just worse sometimes.
Because of this, I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in it. I don’t! If I did that, my life would be the most unpleasant thing in the universe, because I would do nothing else. I need to find ways to work through it, to enjoy myself despite feeling shitty. So, that’s what I do! I go out with friends. I spend time with people. I do things I enjoy with folks I like, and I do genuinely have a nice time.
But the whole time, I’m depressed. It doesn’t go away, which is what the people who are puzzled by my response don’t seem to get. I’m depressed. But I can also be fine. Certainly I don’t always pull off that balance, but often enough I do. I have my bad times, where being depressed really is all that’s going on–if asked how I’m doing during one of those times, I’ll most likely say so, too!
But most often, I’m just being honest.
Maybe they can’t be both at once, but I must be. I have to be, because otherwise I would break.