“Valediction” by Sherman Alexie
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
That I could not have convinced you of this.
But these dark times are just like those dark times.
Yes, my sad acquaintance, each dark time is
Indistinguishable from the other dark times.
Yesterday is as relentless as tomorrow.
There is no relief to be found in this,
But, please, “Yours is not the worst of sorrows.”
Chekhov wrote that. He meant it as comfort
And I mean it as comfort, too, but why
Should you believe us? You didn’t believe us.
You killed yourself because your last dark time
Was the worst, I guess, of many dark times.
None of my verse could have saved your life.
You were a stranger. You were dark and brief.
And I am humbled by the size of your grief.
“These dark times are just like those dark times.” Brother, don’t I know it. Or at least that’s what I picture myself saying every time a leaf drops on my head and I assume it must be the sky falling. Or a missed doctor’s appointment insinuates that my immune system is now compromised. The sudden dial tone at the end of a call brings sadness, closed offices are rejections, and Sundays are terrible weights on the rest of the week.
Dark times abound when we exercise our abilities to create them out of normal sadness. Sometimes we don’t even have to start with sadness, but with those little lapses in productivity that make us doubt that our lives are as directional and as thrilling as we always imagined them to be. Far worse, in my opinion, than other forms of hypochondriasis, that invention of fatalism poses the more lethal threat of becoming real. “Dark times” becomes the story we tell ourselves when we’re overwhelmed with the prospects of what’s ahead, or what’s behind us that we have to live with. “Dark times” becomes the fiction that guises itself as reality through so thin a layer that it becomes another love story to fall for, and then some people never make it back.
Depression tends to run laps through and around my extended family, so I speak from a place of bias but also as a spectator of its effects. From what I’ve seen, depression is as much a perspective as it is an emotional state. I stopped believing that there is whole separation between the clinical kind of depression that’s based on serotonin, dopamine, and “mood level tests” and the kind that keeps us in bed on a Saturday afternoon with our phones turned off because we want a little break from the world. They both employ the same lens – the former is unfortunately curved to a greater severity that can do irreparable damage to the looker’s perspective. Sometimes it’s just a bigger lens, too.
I like to think that the deciding moment arrives on Sunday morning, when we’re still lying in bed in yesterday’s clothes, feeling the weight of the week settling on top of us already, and without realizing it we’re suddenly up and getting dressed, making coffee and checking local weather updates to decide if it’s a sweater or a jacket kind of day. It’s a sign that the sky is of course not falling down and that we have better things to do than plan for its inevitable collapse.
I’ve known people who miss that moment and end up tied to the bed by their own weight. I’ve been the kind of person who has to stand by the door to wait for someone to wake up properly, and I’ve been the one to make others wait. “Yours is not the worst of sorrows” sometimes does the rousing trick. “But these dark times are just like those dark times” is sometimes convincing, too. “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know” is the easiest to hear on both sides.