Depression & Despair: 2020’s Prom Theme

By Jack Canfora

I get it. I totally get it. Whatever you’re feeling at this point in 2020. Anger? Sure. Fear? Totally? A seemingly intractable sense of existential despair you can’t quite name but nonetheless is the ambient soundtrack of your days? Depends on my level of meds at the time, but oh my God, yes, absolutely: 100%.

Please allow me to introduce myself; I’m a man of little wealth and questionable taste. It’ s an honor to be posting my first of what I hope will be many posts on “Pointless Overthinking.” The title of this site alone makes me feel heard and understood in a way I haven’t since probably late during my second trimester. I look forward to hearing from you all, and am grateful for the chance to share my occasional two cents. 

I do not believe a sense of loneliness and despair is endemic to the human condition writ large, but I do believe that it is for many of us. I have struggled with depression virtually my entire life – before I knew there was a word for it, and well before I knew not everyone felt this way. At times  – sometimes long stretches – it has dominated me; at other times I’ve been able to hit back hard enough to force into a strategic retreat. 

To be fair: I think it’s helped me develop some of my better qualities: an appreciation for kindness, a striving for empathy (some days I do better than others), and whatever meager talents I may possess, I feel sure they’ve been whetted by my depression. Most critically, it dissuaded me in the late 80’s from making any serious attempt at break dancing, which I think turned out to be a blessing for us all. 

But this post is not about me (which is odd because, as a writer, I tend to assume most things are), but rather an attempt to share with those of us who are both lifelong members of this club (our coat of arms is a person lying in bed, with a half eaten box of donuts lying on the adjacent pillow), and those who may be experiencing it for the first time, or at least more intensely, during this annus horribilis (believe me, for obvious reasons, I took great pains to make sure I had that spelled correctly.

No matter your politics, I think we can agree that there is something despair-inducing about seeing America, and indeed much of the world, so riven with seemingly intractable hostilities. Most of us have lazily on some level bought into the old bi-partisan saw that “What separates is smaller than what unites us.” The past few years have made it harder and harder to believe that. There are a million reasons why, and we’ve all heard them, and most of them aren’t new.  Some have argued that we’ve been acceleratingly alienated form one another and ourselves since at least the Industrial Revolution.

I’ve long held to this belief in theory. But to see it take full bloom in the hothouse of media-induced chaos – both of the corporate and social varieties – has driven that alienation and corresponding rage and sadness with a despairing regularity. Perhaps, worst of all, we have no sense of when we will return to a sense of normalcy, whatever that word implies. As master pop-craftsman and de facto philosopher Tom Petty long ago instructed us, “The waiting is the hardest part.” 

It does, however, raise an interesting question: what, and who, get to define “normalcy”?  For many of us, “normalcy” has meant a persistent and exhausting struggle, marginalization, and fear. Whatever happens in the next year or so, I feel confident about this: the world will have shifted, at least slightly, in a new direction. Could that be a direction more tolerant of hate, vulnerability, and so-called “otherness” than ever before? That’s certainly possible. But I’m optimistic this ugliness, this despair we’re all embroiled in to one degree or another, is a tragic but necessary step to take towards improve. In one, very, very small way, I’m glad racism and prejudice have felt free to come out or their dark corners and into the open these last few years: we, especially privileged White guys such as myself, can no longer pretend in good faith that everything’s fine. 

I’m also hopeful that, eventually, we’ll get a little closer to forming that “more perfect union” (the insufferably pompous writer in me despair’s of the Constitution’s phrasing of that: surely perfection is an absolute state, therefore one cannot become a more perfect union. But then I remind myself of the wise words many friends and family have counseled me with: shut up). America has always been an aspirational society, an idea. An idea, which it has never, not once, lived up to. But in general, we tend to move a bit closer to it, albeit, as these last years have shown, not in a straight line. 

Winston Churchill once remarked (and I’m paraphrasing, and my God, Google is but a keystroke away), “America always does the right thing, after it has tried everything else.” While, like all pithy remarks, it’s reductive, I believe that’s true of humanity at large.

I don’t pretend to have the cure for ending despair. Hell, I can’t even figure out how to program my DVR. But I strongly suspect part of at least reducing this pain lies in looking for the good in people in moments like this: and, as usual, there is no shortage to behold. Heroism, kindness, and empathetic action abound. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. Try, to whatever extent you can, to be a part of that. The amazing thing about that is that it not only makes the world a little better, it will bring you some degree of relief, too. 

I know we’ve all heard this stuff before. That last paragraph was a carnival of clichés. But clichés become so for a reason. There’s something irreducibly true about them.  Find a community: family, friends, and like-minded souls. A sense of belonging, along with a sense of meaning and purpose, has always been a balm for me. 

I think the good people out number the bad. I believe why the forces of hate and disenfranchisement have been screaming louder than ever: they can hear the evolutionary tock clicking, even if they don’t believe in evolution. Or even clocks. 

That’s all for now. Stay calm and kind, even to yourself. Or at least try to. I promise to do the same.

Visit Jack’s blog at http://www.thewritingonthepaddedwall.com

Follow him on Twitter @jackcanfora

41 thoughts on “Depression & Despair: 2020’s Prom Theme

Add yours

  1. I can say this much, the year 2020 will always be stigmatized by the coronavirus sadly. Out of this I now have a psychiatrist and a counselor to talk to. As far as we are all united I personally think that families have become so scattered that along the way we, or at least me, have lost sight of family values and traditions. Here’s another quote I often use, “Who needs Grandma’s advice when you got Google”? I like posts like this to get your thinking cap on.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. First, I want to thank you for making laugh out loud at least three times this morning – which makes for a good beginning.

    Secondly, I agree with your assessment: ‘In one, very, very small way, I’m glad racism and prejudice have felt free to come out or their dark corners and into the open these last few years: we, especially privileged White guys such as myself, can no longer pretend in good faith that everything’s fine.’

    We seem to be experiencing a “dark night of the soul”, as if our collective shadow here in the states has made its presence quite clear. So I believe it IS an opportunity for collective growth, which may be quite uncomfortable as growth often is.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. If you mean by a more perfect union that we get to have our opinions and not be cancelled, chastised and harassed then please sign me up. The worst part of our evolution to more freedoms of expression is the willingness of many to harken back to the past and try to silence those who have a different point of view. Your post was a fantastic read and very compelling, indeed who gets to decide what “normalcy” is, and further who gets to decide what happens to those who dont comply with it? I disagree with a lot of people, but I respect their rights to think and feel how they chose. When those thoughts manifest themselves to actions that harm others, that is the line in the sand I feel we should all push back on.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I am a member of your Club and view depression and its onset in me in remarkably similar names. It ho=it me too before I knew there was such a thing. Looking at my blog since 2018 however gives me the feeling that I may have defeated it. Or at least learnt its whiles well enough to be no so bothered by it. Much of my earlier writing was full of anger against an undoubtedly unjust world. Now I recognize that that is just the way the world is and always has been. I have turned inwards towards peace, quiet contemplation and ignoring the 10,000 things. Let chaos reign without; within I seem to have found ” fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
    And a few lilies blow.” I hope you do too.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Dude, I hate to tell you this, but I Googled your name and then did a video search. I found what looked to be an old video of you break dancing. (Or, at least that’s what I think you were doing.) That’s just an FYI…

    Great first post! Welcome to PO!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Great post Jack. I too have suffered from depression for many years. I often think overthinking is a big part of the problem. But then I again I also think that many people don’t think enough. Perhaps this year is exactly what the world needed to really force that thinking? Maybe the silver lining in all this is a future where we no longer take our freedoms for granted. Where we no longer pretend that we can ignore problems that affect all of us. Where we start to value things like honesty again. Then again I might just be dreaming. Thanks Jack. I look forward to reading more of your work going forward.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. “Featuring” – shouldn’t that be a word highlighted somewhere in between this post ? Because I know, I have been eager to know –

    Who’s the new Pointless Overthinker ? The answer is, as he introduces himself, the Dissuaded Dancer, dancing with props of periphrasis on the stage of blogging, that I have really enjoyed reading.

    Apparently, I have not followed everything at first read, partly because I do not seem to share the anger or what one might say, “global depression”, especially whenever I stare at the Nature and get the “natural impression” that ‘living is actually simple and easier when we do it in harmony’, or as you’ve said, in a “more perfect union” – a pleonastic expression of neoplastic depression of society, which has eventually become transpicuous as I have, to quote your words differently, “been acceleratingly alienated (myself) from … the hothouse of media-induced chaos.”

    And lastly, like an ideologist of progress, I like the typographic mention of “evolutionary tock clicking”, imagining what clicking at present redirects to the unknown ‘tock’ at future through the marketing of elusive stock of illusive lifestyles.

    Looking forward to more delivery of your “pointless” posts of “overthinking”.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Depression is a close friend of mine. We argue a lot but just can’t seem to split up.

    The funny thing is there is nothing new going on today. If anything, the things that divide us are less than they were when I was a child. Racial inequality? Hostility to LGBTQ/A people? Life expectancy? Access to health care? Police brutality? Climate? Today is so much better then it was decades ago.

    It is just that today we are more aware of it. Because of the internet, everything gets focused on and reverberated inside our filter bubbles. The most extreme examples of a movement get presented as the face of the movement. Demagogues of all kinds take advantage of this. Hate grows.

    It is possible to become so angry and so hateful that you make the problems you are angry about worse rather than better. It prevents you from seeing the other guys as legitimate people with legitimate concerns. Dehumanization of the “bad guys” is always a very bad thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Welcome to PO, Jack! This is a great first post, with so many good points! I related to many of them as a non-American! I also related to your positive perspective amidst all of the negative-seeming things around. Looking forward to more of your writing!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Jack, I still believe the good outnumber the bad. 🙂 It’s my view that our present leadership has incited and emboldened the unhinged and the haters to be more vocal and more violent. They make the news every day. The news does also feature many everyday heroes and acts of kindness. I am grateful for that. ❤

    All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. 2020 for me has been a reminder of what’s important. I am fortunate to live in New Zealand, where we have managed the coronavirus well so far. I have spent more time with family and friends, being present mentally as well as in the same physical space. I’ve organised my schedule to contain more time for writing and making music, while reducing the time and energy I spend on social media and other avenues which can sink resources.

    Thank you for your words, especially the honesty and humour within them.

    Liked by 1 person

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