It is lonely thing, to fight depression. The hardest, endless, unforgiving struggle with your internal demons can end only in your death, promises nothing from victory but another day of battle beyond. It tests your soul like nothing else, and it is faced alone when it is at its fiercest. There is one who knows, one who will stand beside you in this struggle, and one whose gifts offer some little aid.
Depression is a funny thing. I don’t mean there is humour in it, or if there is, it is the gallows humour that civilians seem to get horrified when they hear from veterans and others who have learned to laugh among the wreckage. I guess you had to be there.
Depression is funny in that it isn’t what most people think it is. Depression is not “feeling sad”, that is an effect, not a cause. You don’t cure depression by thinking happy thoughts or not dwelling on bad things. Depression, if you are actually suffering from it is the root of your thoughts, not the effect of them.
You can make yourself depressed by putting yourself in negative thought cycles, it is an act of self harm and one that those who are depressed really need to be careful of, and people who shouldn’t be depressed based on their current physiology certainly can wound themselves enough to put themselves in that place by continuing long enough, so there is that much truth to the warnings about negative thoughts. You can also make depression dangerously worse by indulging in those cycles, because they are self harm, but thinking of sunshine and kittens will not magically get rid of actual depression.
Actual depression is a thing, an energy sap that drains you. It is a monster that wraps you up, feeds on your energy, your will, your strength until every simple action requires almost heroic effort, and the usual reward cycle your brain offers for success does not pay off noticeably. It is a motivational killer.
I have heard it described aptly as walking up the stairs. Your friends, co-workers and family are all walking up the same stairs, but you are carrying an eighty-pound pack. They are not. You face the same stairs they do, but what it costs you to climb those stairs is greater, your reward is the same. When they see you struggling with stairs they easily handle, you will experience the effects of shame at your struggle and failure which compound the problems you already face. You must put in twice the effort for half the returns as other people, and for that effort receive scorn, shame, and the feelings of failure, weakness, and futility which further empower your depression. Your pack is now a hundred pounds, and you are no farther up those stairs.
As a thought model, it is effective and evocative for those who believe happy thoughts will alter it, I suggest you fill that pack with a hundred pounds and walk up some long flights of stairs and see how long you can remain energized and positive. Understand, they can’t take the pack off, they will not be done, there is no rest, this is baseline while depressed.
The gods understand our struggles, because the best of them share them. Thor is the god best loved by our folk in ancient times. Thor’s hammer is the sign our folk chose in this modern age, as we did when we first had to deal with folks of other faiths, to mark ourselves as Heathens. There is a reason. The wisdom of Thor is not the sort of deep mystical knowledge that has Odin’s followers binding themselves to trees and journeying between worlds. Thor is a god whose lessons are accessible to all, whose nature is pure, elemental, and fundamentally more human in more respects than other gods. His trials, his triumphs, his spirit holds for us gifts more precious, and more accessible than those of the gods with more mystical bells, whistles and sparkly trinkets hidden like obscure game quests (I say this as a collector of sparkly trinkets myself).
Thor is not always depicted as the brightest of gods, but he is not stupid, only uncomplicated. Joy in the struggle is the heart of his nature, joy in the storm of life, the test of it, the sheer absurdity of it. Thor is defined not by Odin’s scream of rage, but in the booming laughter he sounds, frequently before picking himself up off the ground.
The legend I love him for best was his fishing trip. He was tricked into a wager by an enemy that wanted to win his dread hammer Mjolnir from him. Thor boasted he could catch anything that swam in the nine worlds, and wagered the greatest life taker in the nine worlds that it was so. His foe took him out in a small boat to prove it, and Thor’s cast caught not fish, not shark, not whale, or even dragon. His cast caught the Midgard Serpent; Jörmungandr.
This is the battle he cannot win, and that cannot end. Jörmungandr and Thor will battle at Raganarok, and from that battle both will know their doom. Thor will strike the serpent down at the end, but take no more than nine steps back before falling into death himself from the serpent’s venom.
His enemy laughed as Thor realized he was trapped in that little fishing vessel in the battle that could not end, save in death. At this point, only loss was possible, there is no bright ending in a struggle with a foe that takes all of your strength, and ever will, until they day you have no more, and die.
Thor belted himself to the mast and fought on. He reeled in Jörmungandr like any fish, and when the serpent struck at him, he pounded it back, not with the hammer he was not free to draw, but simply with his fist. Trapped in a struggle that could not end with him living, in which he could not even reach his greatest weapon, he did something that is strange; he laughed.
There was no point, was no chance, was no good end, but it did not matter. He laughed and threw himself into the struggle with all he had. It did not matter that it could not be won, he did not have to lose, and chose to take his joy in the struggle for as long as he may.
Neither Jörmungandr nor Thor had any give in them, but both the jotun and the boat did, and as the boat began to break up, the jotun released Thor from his wager and begged him to let Jörmungandr go before they all died. Depression is equated with darkness by many for one of its insidious side effects; blinding us to any possibility other than loss and defeat.
Thor was not wiser than us to see a victory was possible, he did not see the possibility at all. He just didn’t care. He chose to fight on anyway. He chose to accept his limitations, his circumstance, and simply shrug and battle on anyway. He won victory, we can all win victories, even if we have no clue upon rising to fight another day what that victory is, or even always know it when we have actually achieved it.
Depression is Jörmungandr, the serpent that spans our world and wraps it in coils even a god may not break, but Jörmungandr did not win either. Thor will not smite that serpent for us, nor will he carry that heavy pack for us up the stairs. What he will do is stand beside us on the deck, even when it seems the serpent will shatter it beneath us, he will keep that ship afloat so long as we battle on. He will stand beside us on the steps not only while we climb, but when we are spent, and can take not one more step, for he understands that being knocked down is not defeated. It is simply the place from which you will rise again to fight.
Like Thor, we have no magic hammer to protect us in this fight. We have only the will to battle on, the stubborn stupid unwillingness to give up, the defiance in the face of despair. We do have one more thing, a small, almost unnoticed thing. When you are feeling small and helpless, battered by wind and wave stronger than your every effort, when the darkness has closed in and you lack the strength to rise, and wonder even if you have the strength for one more heartbeat, if you listen closely, you can hear the laughter of Thor, not in victory, not in triumph, but in the awareness that he had been beaten, been tricked, and still chose, as stupidly as it may be, to struggle on anyway.
Depression tells us one truth. We cannot win, for a definition of win that means we will never have to struggle against it. Jörmungandr spans the world and cannot be escaped. Thor tells us another truth, you do not have to see a way out to find one, do not have to think you can win to do so, and you do not have to give up just because you believe you are beaten and cannot do anything about it. Sometimes too stupid to give up is not about stupidity, it isn’t even about hope, it is about choosing to not give up because that choice is yours to make, and the serpent may not take it from you. That victory is yours to take; neither depression nor the gods themselves can take it from you.
Heroism is not found in the battles you may win. Heroism is found in the battles that cannot be won, but you chose to fight anyway. Heroism is looking the serpent in the eye and saying simply “Not today” and chosing to fight on.
If you are locked in that struggle without end, you do not have to enter it alone. If you can’t think of any good reason to go on, or any point in fighting, perhaps it is time not to seek a god with secret knowledge, but a god just too stupid to give up, and too great hearted to let you stand alone.