Choosing to live in Kosovo during the short cold days and long dark nights of winter, many feared that I would slip into a depression, a recurring battle in my life. And while I saw many issues arise unexpectedly, such as anger and feeling out of control, I never stepped over the precipice of depression.
For those who have never suffered a depression, it is not defined by feeling badly, but rather by a total lack of feeling whatsoever. Feeling no desire is what terrifies me about those times of my life. No desire to write, to read, to engage in life. No compassion, no excitement.
In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s account of her life during the war and oppressive regime in Iran, I found this reference about the necessity of feeling by writer Henry James, his response to the atrocities of World War One.
“James emphasized in his many letters one important resource to counter the senselessness of the war (WWI). He was aware, as many were not, of the toll such cruelty takes on emotions and of the resistance to compassion that such events engender. In fact, this insensitivity becomes a way of survival. As in his novels, he insisted on the most important of all human attributes – feeling – and railed against ‘the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel.’
From a letter (James) wrote to Clare Sheridan, a friend whose husband – they were newly married – had gone to war and been killed. ‘I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel,’ he wrote, ‘because I have so, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel. Feel, feel, I say – feel for all you’re worth, and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour and celebrate these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.’ In letters to friends, again and again he urges them to feel. Feeling would stir up empathy and would remind them that life was worth living.”