So you were lucky enough to have boarded the Titanic? To keep yourself afloat in the middle of the ocean, you will need some kind of life jacket. This life jacket can be inflated with air, stuffed with foam, whatever – as long as it’s lighter than water, so it will keep your head above the surface, above the bottomless ice-cold depth beneath your feet.
In our own metaphorical ocean that we call “life”, we also need life jackets to keep us afloat. These imaginary life jackets are stuffed with hopes, expectations, dreams and maybe even illusions. Being lighter than the sometimes drab monotony of our daily routines, these wonderful jackets help us to avoid drowning in monotony’s bottomless pit. They offer us a perspective: we hope, expect, sometimes even are absolutely sure that in due time some ship will appear at the ocean’s horizon and haul us aboard for a great, new, exciting phase of our journey through life.
In a state of depression however, it looks like something is wrong with these life jackets. It seems like your hopes and expectations have been punctured, are now slowly deflating, making it harder and harder to keep yourself above water. There is no longer the hope or illusion of a rescue ship at the horizon, of a way to escape from the horrible life-threatening life-less gray monotony all around you. Without much hope left, you might just as well let go of your now useless, illusory life jacket and simply give up. If you will drown anyway after a prolonged, desperate, hopeless, agonizing struggle, why not drown yourself right now? To put it more bluntly: if you feel you have absolutely nothing left to look forward to, you might just as well kill yourself.
This is a feeling we might just as well call “depression”. The future will look as gray and oppressive as the present – and the past, for that matter. In such a mood, we think we already know that next week will be just like today, next year just as laborious as last year. We think we know we have nothing left to hope for, nothing new and exciting to expect. As for our illusions, depression can make us feel so acutely aware of the illusory nature of our dreams, that we are not even capable of a little daydreaming anymore. To summarize: disillusion is one of the core components of depression. Disillusionment can also cause depression or make it worse.
A short song that makes this very clear, wrapping the loss of hopes and illusions in music, is The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. It is about a kind of early midlife crisis (Lucy is a bored 37-year-old suburban housewife) that through disillusion turns into depression. At first, Lucy still lies in bed “dreaming of a thousand lovers”. Next, she realizes “she’d never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair”. Finally, she stands “on the roof top where she climbed when all the laughter grew too loud”.
The ballad was originally written by songwriter Shel Silverstein for the group Dr Hook. But it is best known for the poignant way it was sung by Marianne Faithfull (see photo) on her 1979 album Broken English:
(if the player does not work, install Flash)
The song ends ambiguously. An unidentified man reaches out to Lucy and “led her down to the long white car that waited past the crowd”; and then “she’d found forever as she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair”. Marianne Faithfull herself (in a 2007 interview) interpreted these final lines as Lucy being guided away just in time from the rooftop, the “long white car” being the ambulance carrying her away to a mental hospital, where she could dream about Paris again.
But Marianne Faitfull didn’t write those lyrics herself, and I must confess that (being a notoriously depressed pessimist) I do interpret those last lines very differently. In my mind, Lucy ends up not in a hospital but in heaven, and that “long white car” may have been something like this:
Frankly, I think that the loss of all one’s personal hopes, expectations and illusions can be a very dangerous step towards suicidal depression. We all need hope. We need expectations. At times, our dreams may even need illusions, as illusory as they may be. Without those life jackets, our life may begin to feel too heavy and utterly pointless.
So what to do when we feel we are losing all our hopes and expectations, when we realize that what we dreamed of was nothing but vapid illusion? To be frank again, I simply don’t know. Once a dream has been unmasked as unattainable, as an illusion, making it a dream again becomes difficult. But still we do need some kind of life jacket to stay afloat. So I guess the best thing would be to find new things to dream about, to develop different hopes, to build other expectations. But how to do that? Again, I simply don’t know. Yet.
• tip: Sorry, I can only say I do not have a ready-made solution or tip here. Perhaps one might say that to build new hopes and expectations, we should begin on a small scale, as larger hopes and dreams may gradually sprout from small, less ambitious hopes and dreams. But I’m not really sure about that; I don’t know.
So for the moment, all I have is a negative tip: just try to look the other way. Try not to think about what feels as your lack of perspective, your lack of hope. Instead of focusing on lost dreams, focus on the cup of coffee in your hand. This boils down to the same advice I already gave here before: try to focus not on your past or your future, but on the present: on what you are doing right now.