The Sads

As Hal’s post-Hope funk descends to true anhedonia, I thought that it would be timely to talk (more) about my own experience living with Itthe Horror, the Shadow of the Thing.

It seems to be a tradition, even with Wallace, who is so often so exact, to avoid calling depression what it really is. My own trite and denial-ridden moniker for it was: The Sads.

Like Hal, my depression manifested mostly as a kind of anhedonic numbness. A relatively low-grade sadness that, while not deep, was ever-present for long stretches at a time.

One of the particularly awful things about this kind of depression is that it seems like it’s something you could learn to live with, if you can just ignore (it’s way easier than you think) the small ways it eats away at your relationships, your energy and even your ability to really think.

Even if that does sound like the kind of thing you can live with, be apprised that one day it will grow claws. Your own mopish, silent sadness will descend to, say, things like spontaneous weeping, compulsive depilation and face-scratching. Then it will very quickly (think of that line from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars about falling in love/asleep that’s just as true about ketchup and bottles) get much, much worse.

Despite all its pomo cleverness and high-theory hijinks the thing that speaks to me most throughout Infinite Jest is how vividly and faithfully it renders depression in all its forms. This is why I’m so strongly compelled to recommend this book to people I know and care about: I want you to be able to pick it up and know, even just the tiniest bit, how I’ve felt; what I’ve been through.

So if you’re maybe a certain kind of person who feels maybe they’re not quite ready to pick up Infinite Jest yet, but are following this blog to at least understand why it means so much to some people, I have one request.

Grab your copy of IJ that’s maybe just recently made it from coffee- to bedside-table – seriously, please – and thumb through to page 695 and read just nearly two-ish pages beginning with “The American Century as Seen Through a Brick‘s” and ending with “does not understand Its overriding terror will only make the depressed resident feel more alone.”

Maybe all you’ll learn from these pages is that you may never truly understand what it is to be depressed without living it – maybe that’s all you can learn; but that’ll be enough.


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8 thoughts on “The Sads”

  1. I guess I should have posted what I just posted in the NEXT Guide Post section, about watching “The End of the Tour,” here.
    But time is just an illusion, right?
    And everything, in these days of internet entertainment, but a click away…

  2. So many people who read this book say that the first scene with Kate Gompert trying to describe her depression is the moment they get hooked into IJ. It is a remarkable passage of writing. I commend DFW for attempting to ‘explain’ depression and what it can lead to (and did to a terrible extent in his own life of course) throughout this book, but I can never quite ‘get it’; it’s still a mystery to me because – thank goodness- I have never been there, experienced anything like it.
    I’m somewhat reassured to read “Maybe all you’ll learn from these pages is that you may never truly understand what it is to be depressed without living it – maybe that’s all you can learn; but that’ll be enough.” because I think that’s all the non sufferer can do, be informed, but never truly understand.

    1. There’s a piece in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men titled The Depressed Person, which I think you would appreciate. It goes a lot more into coping.

    2. Thanks for the comment!

      That early scene bears some small resemblance to a much earlier and much more autobiographical story of Wallace’s that’s worth checking out. I think it’s the first thing in the “David Foster Wallace Reader”.

  3. I’ve only been passively following your feed in Instagram but came over here for the first time because of your heartfelt request. Glad I did. Depression’s been maybe not as prevalent in my own life as it sounds like it’s been in yours, but my partner has suffered on and off for about 15 years. I’ve tried to get her to read IJ in large part for this reason, but no luck so far. Anyway, thanks for the post.

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