A Brief Thanks to Dick Cavett for His "Smiling Through" Columns on Depression - by David Herrle

Read Cavett's "Smiling Through" parts one and two.  This piece is also posted here.


© 2011 David Herrle

The stranded desert-islander doubts his eyes when he sees a ship growing and growing toward his lonely, wall-less prison but bursts instantly into tears when he realizes that he’s been found, he’s been seen, recognized as a soul in distress.  No more reciting desperate poetry against the idle chatter of nighttime rainfall or the mindless sizzle of the surf.


This is how I felt when I listened to Dick Cavett read his New York Times columns on depression, both entitled “Smiling Through.”  After years of butting heads with Stepfordians and their cold-steel pep talks, shaking my head through Pollyannas’ platitudes of the powers of positivity, wailing into the squall of the American Dream and prosperity gospels, I’d been found, seen, recognized.  There is nothing lonelier than being surrounded by a crowd of cheerleading friends, family and strangers who swear by the potion Optimism and refuse to acknowledge the “black dog” gnashing at the door.  “[I]f you’ve never had it you can never begin to imagine the depth of the ailment’s black despair,” Cavett said.  And Kierkegaard slam dunks Cavett's layup here: "So when the happy person says, 'Cheer up,' to someone who is suffering from anxiety, this also implies, ‘Be happy as I am.'"


Hearing this, I wept.  Found, seen, recognized!  By one who, by Stepfordian Pollyannas’ standards, should have nothing about which to complain.  He’d had and still has an illustrious, astute career!  His elbows know the rub of the elbows of Brando, Groucho, Mailer, Joplin, Davis!  He must be wealthy beyond our working-class imaginations!  Cavett answers this ridiculous notion: “Another tip: Do not ask the victim what he has ‘to be depressed about.’ The malady doesn’t care if you’re broke and alone or successful and surrounded by a loving family. It does its democratic dirty work to your brain chemistry regardless of your ‘position.’”


Thank you, Mr. Cavett, thank you.  You’ve articulated what I’ve been trying to say with a petrified tongue all these years.  How can a paralytic mime his misery to inquisitive others?  How can a man who is expected to “be a man” admit that he feels lower than crustaceans?  How does one who inhales nothing but darkness speak the light?  These questions are the only things not too heavy to rise when mired in the selfsame melancholy that socked Bogart in the jaw, that strove to break President Lincoln and did break Hunter S. Thompson.


In my personal experience with this perpetually dropping anvil, a specific reason is nowhere to be found.  I'm a (scrawny) Atlas bending under an unseen burden.  "Reflection  never snares so unfailingly as when it fashions itself out of nothing," says Kierkegaard.  (I think that applies here, but one can never be sure about Captain Kierk's spiels.)  Of course, I don't fantasize about casting off the burden and floating into a tranquil, blissful ether.  Like Huxley's Savage, I claim the right to be unhappy.  Kierkegaard also warns that despair flourishes in illusory happiness.  But I don't deny the spirit, which is what you claim births "the sickness unto death," my favorite Dane (next to Hamlet), so why do I feel like despair's boot boy?


Depression is a killer that often doesn’t kill its victims.  And though the victims themselves may contemplate taking their lives into their own hands (only to toss it out of them), they tend to shilly-shally on the way to the exit (Cavett makes the point that depressives on the mend tend to off themselves more than rock-bottom ones do), only to resign themselves to sitting at the threshold of death like Kafka’s man before the Door of the Law.


While I've never made it to that level of despair, and I know the sweet assault of true Joy (calculate Beethoven's Ninth times infinity), knowing that I’m not alone in the struggle when that tenacious imp intrudes, that an astute gent such as Mr. Cavett is brave enough to share his shadows, is a giant leap for me and glumkind. 


Found, seen, recognized.







All work is copyrighted property of David Herrle.







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