I read David Foster Wallace’s short story “The Depressed Person” about a week after I withdrew from study abroad. The story is eight pages in Harper’s (January 1998; you can download the PDF from their website). It took me several hours to finish. It was too hard to read in one go.
When I Googled it later — but why would I ever? — I saw words like “hilarious,” “self-obsessed,” “parody.” Embarrassing: that was not what I’d thought. I can tell now, looking back at the story, how insane it is, but at the time it only felt like Wallace had broken into my brain because it was so incredibly, intensely true for me.
I sent a quotation from the story to a few close friends who had played that “Support System” role. They did not recognize me in it. That was horrifying, because, I (using the royal “we,” I suppose; I don’t want to speak for others) wrote —
It’s really hard to say I identify with this story. It’s dramatic and narcissistic — though the second adjective, I didn’t realize till an article used the word. That girl, though — to everyone except the Support System to whom she seems like an insecure, blabbering narcissist, seems normal and happy. She looks all right. Maybe she’s a little sad, or a little stressed, or a little frazzled, but she’s all right. She might be having a bad week or going through a challenging phase, like the rest of us.
It’s dramatic and narcissistic, but it is no less true. It is no less fucking true. Life like this might seem fine and livable, and that’s part of what makes it so so horrible and hard and horrible and horrible. We hate imposing on you. We hate being different. We hate being sad and miserable. We hate ourselves. We despise ourselves. We mock ourselves.
In a piece for Thought Catalog, Liz Colville writes of how “we long to feel our abnormal is normal” and to feel “less alone, less different, less damaged, less strange.” Wallace’s story did that.
I want art to continue to acknowledge and see the human condition, with depression and everything, everything else. I want everyone, depressed or not, to read, and to grow quiet, under a grave cloud of thought, and to go forward: live with hope.