(Last DFW-related post for a while, I promise.)
In a story David Foster Wallace wrote in college, “The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Things,” the protagonist describes depression like this: “Some people say it’s like having always before you and under you a huge black whole without a bottom, a black, black hole, maybe with vague teeth in it, and then your being part of the hole.”
He returned to this idea a few times, and—to use a group-therapy phrase—I really identify with it.
I’m very lucky never (so far at least) to have experienced the kind of horrifying psychic pain that Kate Gompert feels in Infinite Jest, the depression memorably described as “the Great White Shark of pain,” and “a nausea of the cells and soul.”
But my experience of anxiety (and there’s pretty good evidence now that all these obsessive brain disorders are at least somewhat related) is very much like the feeling of being unable to escape the hole and then beginning to feel that I have become the thing that surrounded me, as if the obsessive worry has enclosed me and then emptied me out.
The curious thing here, of course, is that the anxiety is almost always pretty insular and narcissistic, so “you” feel like you’re losing control of yourself as you fall into/become this dark hole, but in fact you are literally doing nothing except thinking about you.
This in turn makes you feel worse about yourself (at least if you’re me), which only makes it harder to think about anything else. There is probably a term for this narcissistic cycle, but I don’t know it.
The nice thing, though, is that by having language to describe this and metaphors to understand it, the whole affair becomes a little less terrifying. And you can even use language to reconstitute yourself, to say, “I have not become part of some infinite vacuum; I am a human being.” Language is insufficient treatment, of course, even for my relatively minor psychological challenges. But it’s a very useful one, and I think the central reason that David Foster Wallace’s work has become so important to so many people is that it made them feel unalone, even in their most deeply solipsistic places.
the thing is
when i say “I have not become part of some infinite vacuum; I am a human being.”
it doesn’t help me feel like i’m reconstituting myself
there is always a “but”
and that but is generally the kind that asks what is a human being? and the answer comes back “bit of dust, really…” and so i am a mote of dust full of problems that don’t make sense to me because i am a mote of dust on a bit of dirt in an actually infinite vacuum so why does it matter… it matters because somehow i, the mote of dust, have decided it does. but if i can decide that it matters, why then can’t i decide that it doesn’t matter and then just be okay from there out?
and on, and on, and on…
bad dust metaphors aside, i am finally convinced that i have to read Infinite Jest.
if only because reading things like John’s words and seeing certain videos are how i feel less alone. even if it’s only a little better… at least it’s something to hold on to.