Depression is a Thief: It Steals the Stuff You Love

Depression is a thief. It sneaks into your heart and steals from you your passion: not only your power to conjure enthusiasm but also those exact things that once, that maybe all your life, excited you.

In other words, those things you loved not in the sparkly-pink-hearts sense of kissing or strolling along the beach with them or wearing white lace gowns to marry them — although in some cases, those too: Depression whooshes in through open windows, easily as any breeze, then yoink! 

Burglary victims, stickup victims: Unlike us, they realize they’ve been robbed.

All my life, until last year, I was very interested in very many things. The vastness of these interests made my childhood bedroom a museum, piled with barometers, feathers, halfpennies and fossils. So numerous were my passions that picking one as a college major or career felt like infidelity: Becoming a Wild West historian meant not becoming a marine biologist. Mastering Japanese meant not mastering Danish (weird, I know) or breeding dragonflies. Designing hats meant not being a forest ranger or parapsychologist or ethnomusicologist or bonsai gardener or gemologist. Instead of choosing one, I chose to write about them all, and more, and so went 30 years.

Then whoosh. After a lifetime spent looking things up, looking at things, spinning rapturous anecdotes about gold prospectors and sunken ships, last year these topics that had so thrilled me that I mistook them for myself lost all their light. They existed: France did not roll up like a rug and vanish. Sea chanteys were not erased from history. But suddenly I saw these things I’d loved the same way I’d always seen math and sports: as flat, alien realms irrelevant to me.

On shelves, polished agates and haiku volumes mocked me. In the world, all sumptuosity vanished from surfboards and cinnamon rolls. My keyboard rapidly became an enemy. Writing — shimmering reefs of detail, one deft word — was also yanked away, leaving me blinking blankly at my hands which long wrought fun and wonder and a living but now produced less and less, plus every word they typed felt like a lie. Which is to say: a sin.

Discussing boredom bores, as every poet knows. So — those who’ve never been there, I will spare you. Those who have, and are: Accept my fellowship. Get help. Last year I noticed certain friends avoiding me because, sans hilarious narwhal factoids and bone-marrow narratives, I was puzzlingly dull.

But I feel somewhat better now, so I can warn: Depression is a thief. It steals intangible yet priceless things. We have every right to shout I want my stuff back.

Stolen jewels you might replace. Stolen cash you can report to the cops. Stolen cars sometimes track their stealers via GPS. Passions, though. “Excuse me, officer, I’ve lost my enthusiasm, yearning, creativity and curiosity. I’ve lost interest in archery and baking. Oh, and also in bringing my kids to beaches. A marauder took it. Catch that thief! Issue an all-points bulletin!”

To whom do you report stolen interest in Tanzanian politics, preference for oolong over keemun, preoccupation with stars if you’re an astronomer?

Report them to your therapist, if you have one. But if you don’t? Because you haven’t yet assessed your losses? Because you think they’re your fault?

To whom, then? Partners? Friends? See, that’s the thing. These passions we’ve lost were what bonded us to them. Worse, if our friends and partners are themselves those passions — well.

Depression is a cruel thief that raids your heart, your home, your future, your present, your past. It steals your most precious possessions not to keep or use or give away or sell but just because they’re there. Those loves for which you lived become loot burning by the wayside. This is stealthy, silent theft that masquerades as aging, failure, sulkiness, stupidity, ingratitude, unmindfulness, unwillingness to try. This is a monumental crime that masquerades as just another day.

Depression is a master thief that slips through gaps you never knew you had. As deft in daytime as in darkness, it wakes no watchdogs and it trips no alarms. It happens to the best of us.

Which is not to say I’m the best. It is a mere figure of speech. But we are legion, those of us who have been robbed in this manner stand here stolen-from, raising no chorus of outrage because most of us don’t know we’ve been robbed. We sensed neither warning nor denouement, no “OMFG” moment but a slow and subtle awareness: Huh. Where’s my awe? 

Another tricky aspect of depresssion’s thefts is that it leaves the shells of what it takes. And/or replaces stolen goods with holograms.

So we say: See? Nothing has changed. So celebrate! Seize every moment and rejoice! You’ve got nothing to cry about. No leprosy, no blindness. 

So for a while we sip coffee calmly in our homes which still seem full. See, there’s my laptop. There’s my child.

We tell ourselves we cannot have been robbed because our lives look as they did before — which, to the naked eye, was perfect.

All the while, depression runs in circles, laughing, long arms loaded with our stuff. Once — if — we realize we’ve been robbed, we scoff because our losses are all in our minds.

Which makes us say, in hopeful moments: This was not grand theft but a transition. Transformation. What was lost will be replaced with other, better things — as in tales whose frogs become princes and straw becomes gold. So maybe, hey: Instead of Danish, Cornish. Or no languages at all but … what? Chemistry? Shoes? My reluctance to write: Is this too not catastrophe but a cosmic shift, a breathless pause before I start to sing or sail instead?

Or will I write again, but about wildly different subjects, such as sports, or in some wildly different manner, such as rhyme?

By turns pompous and panicky, I pronounce my own anomie a holy threshold, a garlanded crossroads beyond which — behold.

Or not.


I feel somewhat better now than last year, whose sleepless nights sent me crawling across carpets, tearing into bits not one but two paperback copies of The Secret Sharer, sobbing How can this be my life now? when that life looked like paradise and I thought: I will be punished for sorrow I cannot explain or justify. I’ll be given “something to cry about” for failure to snap out of this, failure to meditate, failure to write, failure to sleep. For not demanding and getting my stuff back, abracadabra, I will be penalized with injury or irony. On some bright day I shall be sickened. Stabbed. Because in 2014 I lost interest in 10,000 things.

But really, I feel somewhat better now. This geode glitters in the sun. I saw pelicans yesterday. My reluctance to write, my sense of having nothing to say anymore to anyone, scares me — and makes me, among other things, a stranger to myself.

Pssst: Depression doesn’t just steal. It also lies. In voices very like our own, which we mistake for ours, it asks: Why did you ever have such pointless passions anyway? They weren’t passions but pastimes, tools for killing time.

Depression says: You idiot. You brat. Depression says: I did not sneak into your heart and home and steal your loves: You lost them, scatterbrain. You let me in.

Copyright, 2015 by Anneli Rufus

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