Why you shouldn't quarantine yourself when you're depressed


Alice Wild Williams

Illustration by Allie Brosh from her blog Hyperbole and A Half.

Illustration by Allie Brosh from her blog Hyperbole and A Half.

In May this year, Hyperbole and A Half’ blogger Allie Brosh posted a second instalment addressing her wrestle with pervasive depression. To people who’ve experienced depression, the eighteen-month gap between posts spoke as loudly as her brilliantly rendered account of the malady. For the few who haven’t read her blog, (firstly, welcome to the Internet! Can I interest you in infinity pictures of cats?) Brosh produces simple posts, paired with deceptively rudimentary Paint illustrations, with a deftness that is at once achingly hilarious and disarmingly honest. Her entries about depression struck so many chords they could have been produced by Phil Spector.

To write sensitively about depression is hard, to write sensitively about depression while still being so funny that people (me) have banned themselves (myself) from reading your work on public transport, is an art. 

Firstly she touches on the bone-crushing boredom depression can invoke. Sure, hating yourself and crying takes up a lot of time and energy, but something people hardly ever mention is just how wretchedly dull being depressed can get. For the person trying to wrangle it, and for everyone close to them.  At the depths of my own depression, after months and months of things just not getting better, cracks appeared my infinitely patient sister’s equanimity. I knew all the things she was really thinking, ‘Gah! Just get it together! Be normal, be fun, be how you used to be!’ – knew, because it was exactly what I was thinking too.

Illustration by Allie Brosh from her blog Hyperbole and A Half.

Illustration by Allie Brosh from her blog Hyperbole and A Half.

In his new book, The Depression Cure, Dr Steve Illardi explains this with the idea that the brain mistakenly interprets the pain of depression as an infection and sends messages to the sufferer to self-quarantine. It makes a lot of sense, I suppose, but because you’re an actual human with a living brain, not doing anything all the time is still going to get incredibly boring. A sensible explanation as to why you’ve spent your Sunday afternoon staring at the wall beside your bed doesn’t make spending your Sunday afternoon staring at the wall beside your bed any more fun.


It’s one of the trickiest elements of depression – at exactly the time you most need to be around other people, you lose all ability to effectively communicate with them. It can also be completely random, you can have a perfectly normal dinner with friends, where you speak in all the right parts and listen in most of the right parts and even make a few semi-cerebral or entertaining points and then wake up the next day totally exhausted, feeling like you spent the night before speaking a language you’ve already forgotten.

Mostly though, you end up impersonating yourself like a body snatcher in a bad 80s movie. I remember meeting new people at the time and wanting to say, ‘Oh this? This isn’t my personality, it’s just a rental! HaHa. I’m far more engaging, really.’

It makes no sense, but then depression is a disorder that houses a multitude of ironies. One of the most confounding being when it chooses to make its entrance. 

While depressive episodes can certainly be triggered by major life events, more often than not, they aren’t. Which also serves to make most depressed persons feel totally guilty – what even is that? It’s like the mechanics of depression were designed by the same people who create Big Brother. Ok contestants, on one hand you’ve got this exhausting nothingness raging inside of you – but you also have to feel really selfish about it!

Depression, like all mental disorders, is caused by a complex and still poorly-understood combination of factors. Knowing this, you can make the rational assessment that your depression isn’t your own fault. That’s the first step out.

The rest is frustratingly hit ‘n miss. For Allie Brosh it was medication and time. Dr Steve Illardi’s book is anti-drugs, but has a lot of sensible advice about fish oil and exercise. Even the ridiculously good-looking French guy who fixed my TV recently had a theory, "Lexapro helped, but ditching Univeristy and moving to Australia" was the only thing that worked for him.

Pills weren’t great for me but I know plenty of people who disagree. The only thing that brought me back to life, when I couldn’t even be bothered finishing a movie /apple /sentence, was forcing myself to do work I was proud of. Everything else I dealt with in increments. I placebo’d myself into being social again by hanging out with friends I didn’t really know that well, who weren’t a part of my history and so didn’t ask me any big questions. I got up in the morning. I showered and got dressed, even if I was only planning to stare at the wall beside my bed all afternoon. I also live with a very good psychologist, so I got lucky there.

What works for one person, may not work for the next. Usually it’s a combination of things. You have to keep trying until you hit the right mix, which when you’re at the base of Mt Depression staring up, seems like the hardest thing in the world to do. But really, you don’t have a choice. You have to put your boots on and start climbing because the alternative doesn’t have apples or movies or friends or ‘Hyperbole and a half’. 

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.