It burns away what ties me to other people: the love, the relationships, the shared experience. What it leaves behind is the ashes of loss, emptiness, desolation. The taste in my mouth is that of fear—fear of a particular something that is palpable, yet cannot be named. The blood is pounding hard and burning hot.
Depression is not always cold, and it is not always laconic. When depression burns, it moves at the speed of a forest fire, and its energy screams out of every pore in its explosive urgency. This is because depression does not eliminate emotion, even though the awareness of emotion can be numbed completely. Emotions are physical in origin, birthed in the spasmodic laughter of the diaphragm, the worried tightness of neck and shoulders, the excited fluttering in the stomach. Emotions are of the body, and are not easily suppressed.
The sense that emotions are depressed is in part a function of memory: in a period of depression, the emotional component of memory is altered, even stripped away—depressed. Anger, though, is difficult to forget. Recalling white-hot rage also serves as fuel for self-recrimination, negative self-talk, and a desire to avoid other people—ideal nesting conditions for this spirit. Instead of forgetting the experience of anger, it’s the warning signs that anger is building which are depressed. That can lead to the kind of outburst which is awfully memorable, both to me and to those caught in the blast.
Courtney Weber, one of the people who agreed to speak about the experience of depression for my book Empty Cauldrons, knows about anger and memory in depression. “I was always angry, but I didn’t know the source,” Weber said. On the other hand, “Sometimes my first thought [upon waking] is guilt and remorse over something I said in fourth grade.” One might suspect that this is a feature, not a bug, of the condition. While other emotions might be smothered like vegetables in a thick, simmering tomato sauce, anger inevitably comes to the surface like a bubble of gas that causes the sauce to spatter. The emotion is more violent by virtue of not being released in a controlled way.
Any fire can be controlled, given the right tools and skills. The fire of emotion will never be extinguished in an embodied spirit; emotion is proof of life as humans know it. That doesn’t mean that anger must run roughshod over that life. The tools of control include a mood journal, and the skills include meditation. Each contributes to self-awareness, making the manipulation of memory more difficult. Grounded in that knowledge, it’s possible to move from forest fire to candle, but not to shut it off completely. That would be like blowing out the pilot light of a gas stove.
Excessive fire in the life is a sign that there may be depression hiding in the shadows. Fire sustains us, but if anger is turning to outburst then fire may be consuming you, instead. Meditate. Track moods. Check in with friends. Be open to accepting help from professionals. Your fire is sacred, and nurturing it requires a group effort.