There comes a point in all of our lives in which we diagnose ourselves as depressed. It may not always be depression in the clinical sense (i.e., major depressive disorder), but simply depressed in the sense that we are severely arrested by that lowly feeling. It is a feeling often considered synonymous to being sad except that it lingers longer and affects us more adversely. I could enumerate a number of reasons behind our familiar feelings of depression, but for some readers’ sake, I wouldn’t want to say anything that might trigger these feelings. I’m not talking about reasons like not getting your way over your friends’, but something more extreme. Sometimes we’re not even sure why we are depressed, but more often than not, certain groups of people—Filipinos, for example, based on personal experience—seem to manage it better than others. It can be easy for outsiders such as myself to say so when it seems to us that many Westerners choose to seek treatment while most of us simply ride it out without a doctor’s help. This brings me to Craig Gilner of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. A clinically depressed teenager with suicidal tendencies and an eating disorder struggles with growing up and the stresses of school and other issues of adolescence. The topic itself is quite heavy, but the novel is hilarious in a witty kind of way. (Warning: spoilers!)
I mentioned that Craig was suicidal, but he didn’t end up killing himself. Though desperate and on the verge of doing so, he instead decided to call a suicide hotline. His conversation with the person on the other end ended up saving his life, and it was this part in particular that completely changed me: “There are only things that could’ve turned out differently. You don’t have any shoulds or woulds in your life, see? You only have things that could have gone a different way.” He encouraged Craig to check into a nearby hospital where he met some people with, as he came to realize, more serious issues. It’s amazing how being surrounded by these people made him realize that, in the end, he just wants to live and pursue his love for art. For me, that’s why this book, despite its subject matter, shows us hope instead of despair or frustration. The things that Craig comes to realize are poignant from beginning to end, and I didn’t stop realizing things about myself, either.
I started the book already dealing with problems of my own, and as early as the first chapter, I felt an instant connection with Craig. He would sometimes say things I had once thought of but couldn’t put into words, or say things I think I had once thought of but couldn’t remember if I did. Throughout the novel, I couldn’t help but think about my own experiences. Craig would even use terms like tentacles (evil tasks that invade his life) and anchors (things that occupy his mind and make him feel good for a moment) throughout the story, which I initially found perplexing.
I can’t speak for others, but some of us have probably singled out some things as the root causes for our “depression,” just so we can seal off our thoughts from making things worse than they already are. But at the end of the day, at least for non-clinical depression, it remains a temporary, stressful state of confusion leading to nowhere. We come to face the real enemy within ourselves. When something unexpected strikes, we can’t accept it because we only feel normal when we’re in control. Alas, that’s where it all starts. Sadness, sorrow, frustration, or disappointments turn into misery, and it slowly devours us—even our sense of hope disappears—until we start feeling depressed. In addition, there is something I like to call faux depression, and it happens when people self-referentially throw around the word “depressed” so casually that it becomes a bad habit. Honestly, I think that we should avoid using the word and leave it for those who are truly suffering from it. Craig, who is actually clinically depressed, even said, “Depression isn’t a disease. It’s a pretext for being a prima donna.” I strongly agree with him because I’ve found that everything happens for a reason, and we don’t have to know that reason all the time. Sometimes, problems are even disguised as blessings. We don’t always have to give in to our moods and feelings and can try to be level-headed.
Remember when we were young and how our problems would come and go? It was so easy to move on. My take on things is that our problems may be way bigger than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t move on. You can, if you make an effort. You don’t have to feel depressed if you stand up and do something about it. Everybody has problems; we just don’t notice it because “we wear our problems differently” and “some people just hide their crap better than others.” This book has enlightened me to see mine in an unusual and refreshing way, but I’m not implying that I now have a penchant for finding problems. In the words of Craig, “When you mess something up, you learn for the next time. It’s when people compliment you that you’re in trouble.” Retrospection often leads me to be thankful for my problems, because they have actually made my life more interesting and worth living. In the real world, people judge me based on how I live my life and how I deal with my problems, and I want to set a good example.
Craig reminds me that I don’t have to be this person if I don’t want to. If I feel like I’m once again starting to feel “depressed,” I should just find an outlet to release that negative energy. No problem is too big for me to handle. When Craig realizes drawing maps makes him feel good, he pursues it—in my case, I have started writing again. Maybe we just have to rediscover ourselves and relearn what we’re good at so that we learn something new about ourselves each day. I’m sure a change in our mindsets can occur. Craig started with a belief that he is only smart enough to have problems, but with a little help from everyone around him—and of course, a lot of effort from him—things have changed: “Life is not cured; life is managed.”