American Depression Live on the Internet

Is online greed spelling out the end of democracy?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Depression is a long monologue, an essay I drag out for two weeks until I understand that what I feel isn’t just reluctance but futility. Hyperboles got hyperreal, the world is on fire. So what if I still can’t find my place in it? Can you? Can anyone right now? Two years ago, I still hoped America would become self-aware.

Now, my geographical coordinates tell a different story.

Words are harder to come by now, more unwieldy, slippery, sloganized. Language is not well and neither am I. Still, hope is a habit, something I scavenge from the wreckage of a life that was interrupted for so long it has no idea how to get going again.

Hence the first-person narrative, today’s self-administered kill cure of choice. Self-inquiry demands a witness, if only to attest some attempt at problem solving has taken place.

My heart breaks, helpless.

Helplessness buys me time.

Agency, when I have it, only means action. To outsmart depression, the more counterintuitive the action, the safer, hence writing. There is little chance I will ever gouge my eyes out with a pen; the internet does that with a screen.

Words are fireflies amid chaos, tiny dots of light against a background of impending entropy. I use the page to sketch out possible. It takes very many words until clues, alternatives, and possibilities appear and very many more until a big picture emerges.

Imagination keeps me safe.

Sometimes, the zeitgeist closes in on me as language continues to transmogrify. Already, we can no longer tell vulnerability and authenticity from marketing. Already, we can no longer tell fact from fable. Already, we can no longer entertain viewpoints different from our own.

Culture has alienated curiosity.

Life is a curiosity.

I never expected to lose five years of it to depression and there is no getting them back. But I did get my words back, and with them the ability to tell better stories. What incubated during that time and the two years that followed eventually led me here, to more life. It was then that hope became a habit and imagination stirred.

Hope has shifted.

I am exactly where I need to be now yet Americanness will not relent, it will not yield, and it’s overwhelming, a cocktail shaker chock full of toxic ingredients which, when combined, enhance despondency, doom, and despair. I no longer live in it but it still shapes my disbelief about the inherent goodness of human nature and informs my fears.

Self-dehumanization scares me.

The page turned digital mirror reflects and magnifies our greed.

Online content is an orgy of predatory marketing that reduces humanness to sensationalism, schadenfreude, and spin to feed the ghouls. We are inured to suffering and incapable of empathy unless goaded, coaxed, and prodded into emoting.

A sick culture monetizes finger-pointing and gawking.

A sick culture does not promote self-compassion, empathy, and collaboration but it occasionally muses about its mental health. Greed, alas, is never self-aware otherwise it would know it is both a disease and an addiction capitalism endorses so it pays. But it also keeps us sick.

Everything is open to interpretation now.

This is the age of competitive disdain, distortion, and aberrancy worship.

Deceit corrodes language, atomizing meaning until we each get a custom-made definition of what once used to be a universal concept like decency, integrity, or current favorite honesty.

There is no respect for our shared humanness or the common good.

We are a lot sicker in the head and in the heart than we know or are willing to admit. A competitive culture is about winners and losers, dignity is a prize rather than a given.

Why is my screen dripping with someone else’s self-loathing?

What culture turns humans against themselves?

How can an endless online hemorrhage of sensationalism, schadenfreude, and spin not depress those who weren’t already depressed to begin with? Self-inquiry is a commitment that calls for critical thinking and complete acceptance of who you are at any given moment.

You are stuck with you.

You’re not who you’ve been and you’re not who you will be so don’t panic. Also, we’re all in the same boat, a little lost for words and for everything else.

I met me the same way I met you, on the page.

Depression doesn’t like exposure.

We are humans of variable intensity depending on what words we wear. There’s a pandemic but life goes on regardless. We’re alive, well done us, let’s make keeping going good enough for a while. Not dead? Congrats!

Gentleness is an inside job and we need it.

Like many, I wake up with nothing to give. Out of obligation, duty, and habit, I carry on foraging for meaning anyway. Intent and focus matter more than ever now, for my mental health, for yours, and for that the digital ecosystem we’ve come to depend on.

Sometimes, hope whispers between the lines and turns into a different reality.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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