She felt like crawling under the desk and hiding. She was alone in the room. No one was looking for her. She had no idea why she was so afraid. But she had to hide. The room was her only refuge to keep away from others, and yet, it stifled her. She gasped for breath and flailed her hands around. She sat by the sill, stuck her head out the open window, trying to work her nostrils and mouth. It was no use. Her body breathed the air, but seemed to have forgotten what to do with it. The windows, and the tree outside, were now familiar with this everyday ritual.
We all feel sad, dejected, or morose at some point in our lives. And while those feelings aren’t easy to do deal with, they’re not crippling. Some of us, though, might have to battle a whole other kind of ‘low’, to put it mildly. We’ve all heard of depression and we’re willing to empathise with those depressed. But do we really understand what it means? Can we imagine being unable to breathe, despite inhaling? Can we comprehend being fearful of nothing in particular? Can we understand not feeling hungry or sleepy for days in a row? Can we think about not wanting to wake up ever again?
Most of us are strangers to a depressed person’s hopelessness. The closest we seem to get to understanding depression is through literature and art; they help us empathise more easily. After all, nothing else comes remotely close to explaining this sad state of mind. Take Emily Dickinson’s poem I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, or Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, or Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, for instance. The poet, the writer, and the artist were known to be depressed for a major part of their lives and it reflected heavily in their works.
But that’s not all these three creative giants had in common. Dickinson had a reputation for hiding behind the door from neighbours and communicating only through letters. Plath rarely ever left her home, often masking her isolation with wifely and motherly duties. Munch spent several decades at a time in solitude, giving his works an “obsessional introverted-ness” as many art critics observe. Apparently, Dickinson was a classic hermit, Plath a compulsive recluse and Munch a pensive eremite. They were introverts, who preferred least amount of human contact, but continued sharing their work with the world, albeit (almost) invisibly.