Knowing one can teach you how to approach the other
Image via Instagram/Lara Briden
If you’re one of the more than 16 million adults in America affected by depression, and the current advent of fascism feels like a one-way ticket to hell, know that you’re not alone.
Watching the country I now call home unravel one headline at a time knocked me off my feet for most of January, threatening to undo my attempts to rebuild my life after I spent more than three years incapacitated by major depressive disorder.
The fog has only intensified since Inauguration Day, smothering America in a thick blanket of bizarre language and threats—doled out in “presidential” tweets and surrogate TV interviews alike—all the better to conceal laying the foundation for dismantling the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the night, among innumerable other heinous policies.
Now, when I can get to sleep at all, I wake up aghast at how quickly the new regime is pushing through executive orders and taking apart democracy.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]You understand the political ailment because you already have firsthand experience of living under a dictatorship of lies.[/quote]
Much of the time, things feel desperately hopeless.
It mirrors the pain of depression; when it’s become so debilitating that you collapse further into yourself, sometimes the energy required to get out of bed is all you’ve got — never mind getting out in the street — and you end up feeling completely bereft, like you’re somehow failing at being human.
Well, you’re not.
Instead, you’re being defiantly alive in the face of an illness that has the power to kill you.
Amid the rampant confusion of our current times, it’s easy to overlook how similar depression and fascism are. If you understand the mental illness, you understand the political ailment, because you already have firsthand experience of living under a dictatorship of lies.
What’s more, if you’re already resisting depression, then you’re automatically equipped to resist fascism — so even if you feel far from well, safe, or strong right now, take heart … because you’ve got this.
Both depression and fascism thrive on fear and terrorizing their host — be it your mind or your country — until you systematically question what your eyes, ears, and heart are reporting back to you—until you no longer trust your senses and either endorse the agenda of that which seeks to destroy you, or just give up.
For its part, depression gradually injects doubt into every aspect of personhood. It may undermine a once-competent professional until their skills appear worthless and unemployability certain; it may shred someone’s self-esteem until they believe a romantic relationship can only exist out of pity rather than love; or it may put the kibosh on one’s dreams ( because, let’s face it, what future is there for someone who’s such an incapable and unlovable waste of space?).
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Both depression and fascism thrive on fear and terrorizing their host.[/quote]
At its most virulent, depression corrodes your sense of self and erodes your identity, and the parasite feeds until only the physical representation of the host remains.
Our fascist leader is having the same effect on America that depression has on an individual. And he’s doing it the same way: by distorting reality, strafing journalists and citizens alike with falsehoods.
In both cases, the aim is for lies to supplant reality altogether.
If the farce endures in its grotesque glory, it’s because it takes initiative, courage, and knowing exactly who you are in order to stand against what you’re being told to accept as the norm, whether by your mind or by the new White House occupier.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]It takes initiative, courage, and knowing exactly who you are to stand up against what you’re being told to accept as the norm.[/quote]
To the unsuspecting onlooker, when I was in the throes of deepest depression, I looked as I always had. But whenever I opened my mouth, it was clear that it wasn’t me speaking, but depression—through pained, inarticulate self-doubt.
To the unsuspecting onlooker, America still mostly looks like it always has. But whenever our leader opens his mouth, it’s clear it isn’t democracy speaking, but fascism, through absurd sentences almost entirely devoid of syntax or meaning.
Similarly, just as I remember a different life before depression flattened me, many of us remember a different life before our current political regime began normalizing hate.
Now that white supremacists are in charge, they believe that order can be restored by returning anyone who doesn’t fit their norm to their respective sub-human category, ranging from most similar and tolerable (healthy, able-bodied, straight American-born Christian white women) to most different and undesirable (anyone else). Plainly put, many of us are now regarded as inferior, as lesser than, based on national origin, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, skin tone, reproductive choices, physical and mental abilities, etc.
Our leadership would like us to believe that this hierarchy is “normal,” — but it is not.
That we should have the audacity to define our own identities and demand equality — because America was founded on the basis of all people being created equal— is to invite shaming, if not mockery.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Shame and mockery are devastatingly powerful tools.[/quote]
With depression, too, shaming wields great destructive power.
When depression became larger than life itself, it bullied me into identifying with it. The illness kept me under house arrest, stewing in shame because I couldn’t work, and therefore I couldn’t afford to consume health care and get well enough to work, a conundrum familiar to many sick Americans.
In the eyes of a staunchly individualistic society like ours, in which we’re always supposed to win, to achieve, I didn’t pass muster. I failed to measure up; I was weak, a “ridiculous loser.” Depression also built a wall around me to keep out other humans, chipping away at my self-esteem and declaring isolation as the new normal.
Under such conditions, staying alive — that is to say, performing the most basic human functions required to do so — becomes the greatest act of resistance you’re capable of.
Trite though it may sound, “While there’s life, there’s hope,” and your making it through each brand new day is proof of this.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Do not ever discount the hope of better days buried deep inside you.[/quote]
In America, we’ve now got a Muslim ban, and soon we’ll even have a border wall to keep out other fellow humans. Those of us who refuse to fall in line with the regime are constantly being othered, divided, derided, debased — and yet we keep coming together regardless because we remember life before.
Do not ever discount the hope of better days buried deep inside you. As the intellectual ability to envisage alternatives to what is, hope is one of the most powerful weapons of all.
The modus operandi of the illness and that of the new regime are one and the same: to break you down little by little by destroying your critical faculties until you no longer protest, until you abdicate your own agency and trust them to do what’s in your best interest.
Like protecting you.
Like providing for you.
For the record, here’s what depression did for me — for over three years, it took away my ability to think and write so I could no longer earn a living, convincing me I’d become unemployable and forcing innumerable hardships onto my household.
My downfall was gradual and contradicted everything in my life at the time. On the surface, everything was great — love, marriage, immigration to a new country, a fresh start — but depression took hold regardless, because deflecting torrents of abuse and lies is unsustainable in the long run.
It’s exhausting, and it wears you down.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Your one job is to keep yourself — and the hope contained within you — alive.[/quote]
Whether the lies are manufactured by your own mind or your own government, the desired end result is the same: capitulation.
The enemy thrives on confusion.
But remember that the impact of depression can be lessened, as can that of a fascist regime, so long as you resist them.
Your one job is to keep yourself — and the hope contained within you — alive, which has the added benefit of inconveniencing those fascism enablers who may bully you for being a “snowflake.” If you feel up to it or just for fancy a laugh, remind them that one of the collective nouns for snowflakes is an avalanche.
Little do they know that depression has made you a veteran of resistance.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273-TALK
This piece is published in partnership with The Establishment.