Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Published: Jan 10, 2016
I could say I read “Hyperbole and a Half” because I saw it on Bill Gates’ 2015 “beach reading” list.
What convinced me I was going to love this book was the dedication:
What now, fucker?
Do I care to read about hot sauce, dogs, a goose that gets into the house, more dogs and a childhood experience with a cake? No. Those are charming chapters, and like every Allie Brosh story, they feature the charmingly oddball illustrations that are her signature: a shapeless upright wormlike figure that’s a stand-in for the author/illustrator. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
But what makes this book important to me — and may be life-or-death reading for you or for someone you love — are two chapters on her depression.
Brosh published the first one, Adventures in Depression, on her blog in 2011. It begins like this:
Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason.
It’s disappointing to feel sad for no reason. Sadness can be almost pleasantly indulgent when you have a way to justify it – you can listen to sad music and imagine yourself as the protagonist in a dramatic movie. You can gaze out the window while you’re crying and think “This is so sad. I can’t even believe how sad this whole situation is. I bet even a reenactment of my sadness could bring an entire theater audience to tears.”
But my sadness didn’t have a purpose. Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn’t really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason.
Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness.
And so on, darker and bleaker.
Then she didn’t post for 18 months.
She broke the silence with Depression Part Two.
It got 1.5 million views — in one day. It started like this:
The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.
But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different.
Enter the well-meaning friends:
It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen. From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are...
The friends fail. And there you are:
And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
Leading up to the ultimate in despair — suicide:
It’s a strange moment when you realize that you don’t want to be alive anymore. If I had feelings, I’m sure I would have felt surprised. I have spent the vast majority of my life actively attempting to survive. Ever since my most distant single-celled ancestor squiggled into existence, there has been an unbroken chain of things that wanted to stick around.
Yet there I was, casually wishing that I could stop existing in the same way you’d want to leave an empty room or mute an unbearably repetitive noise.
Obviously, there’s a much brighter ending. You cannot possibly guess why. And while that’s good news — Brosh is now medicated for her despair and her “almost crippling ADHD,” she has this book, she’s moving on — the importance of these two stories is that, better than almost anything else, they tell you what it feels like to be depressed. For people who feel that way, Brosh offers instant identification. For people who know and love depressed souls, these chapters offer deep understanding.
But I should also say: Allie Brosh isn’t just courageous and honest, she’s also very funny. What next, fucker?