The Highly Depressive Zebra

zebraK In Christopher Moore’s novel, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove,it is posited that depression is a kind of natural selection.  The idea is that depression is a naturally-occurring, chemical affliction in animals that makes them sad, and therefore slower, and throws them off their self-preserving game.  This, in turn, makes them a weaker member of the pack and an easier lunch to be caught by pursuant predators.

When I read this, it sounded completely viable.  And the nice thing about writing essays rather than research papers, is that I can deliberate on this topic under the assumption that it is true without having find out if it is first.  Score one point for philosophy.  On the other hand, anything I come up with is just well-formulated blather, without any real experimental research to prove said hypotheses.  Score about twenty thousand points for science.

Before I begin, I would like to address Christopher Moore directly:  you, sir, stole my clever wit.  I do not care that you are twenty-six years older than I am, and I do not care that you have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list four or five or six times and I have a five-entry blog.  All I know is that I am absolutely sure that I wrote the Amish/Mennonite/blender dialogue in the beginning of Lust Lizard, and whatever telepathic prowess you use to extract this from my subconscious mind, please stop.  …Big fan, by the way.

Back to depression.  Depression is a chemical affliction.  I know this because I take this neat little pill every morning that successfully stops the notion of jumping out of a twelfth story window from sounding appealing.  Do I still need to see my therapist?  Absolutely.  Just because I feel better physiologically doesn’t mean I don’t remember that there are hungry people in the world, or that there are homeless people in the world, or that there are a number of lonely socks coming out of the dryer missing their life partners.  But the stabilization of brain chemicals makes it easier to deal with these facts while still living and breathing and eating and possibly even laughing.

Clearly I did not choose this affliction.  My body was just built that way.  And natural serotonin imbalance, when untreated, affects everything that I do.  When highly depressed, no, I do not move as fast, if at all.  My arms and legs hurt.  And my reaction time is slowed, you know, providing that I’m paying much attention to anything at all.

So, yeah, if I were a zebra, I would definitely be lagging behind the herd.  I’d be grazing in the grass, thinking to myself, “Why do we even bother with this?  Eating and drinking water.  We’re all just prey, anyway.  And those of us that don’t get eaten will just graze and drink water until we die.  There is no point to life.”

Then another zebra would come up to me.  “Hey, Zebra K. Jean King.”  (Yes, that is what I would make the other zebras call me.)  “Do you think we’re black with white stripes, or white with black stripes?”

And I would zebra-scoff at him and say, “What does it matter?  We’re all going to die anyway.”

And then he’d walk away, because saying things like that is definitely not how you make zebra friends.

Then, all of a sudden, the herd would start to run.  And I would stand there in the grass going, “Is everyone running?  Did everyone start running all of a sudden?”  And then the lion would appear in my peripheral vision and, depressed or not, my natural survival instincts would kick in and I would start to run as fast as my pained, depressed, little zebra legs could carry me.  But it wouldn’t matter because the rest of the non-depressed zebras have a head start on me, and I am now the visibly-lagging member of the herd and I’ve captured the attention of my predators.  And the last thing I would think as those large lion-y teeth sunk into my jugular would be “See, there is no point to anything.”

As a human, I am not natural prey for any wild beasts.  (And even if I was, there aren’t that many wild beasts in Philadelphia.)  But I also have the benefit of being sentient.  (Or the affliction – the jury is still out on whether sentience is really a benefit.)  I am aware of my own existence, and by extension I am also aware of the factors that make my existence what it is.  So when I escape from the constructed world, comprised of retail sales, and housing crises, and the cancer that is politics, and I retreat into nature I am left with this:

I was naturally selected to be eaten.

We talk about natural selection as though it’s a third-party idea, as though it’s applications only exist abstractly to extinct species of tree frog.

But I have depression – I was selected, by nature, to be easily eliminated by prey.   I have been selected to be the weakest member of the herd so that my natural predators may eat me.  I am population control.  I am…the food chain.  I am some quadruped’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I was naturally selected to not survive.

Whew.  That is heavy.  Thank goodness I’m a human and it has no real-world affect on my life.  See, I take this neat little pill that makes none of this matter…  I suppose, though, out of all of this I feel a sense of gratitude that my affliction is actually born out of purpose, and that my suffering isn’t for no reason.

So I would like to thank Christopher Moore, that best-selling, telepathically-dialogue-stealing sonofabitch (huge fan, by the way) for either doing the research I don’t or making this up completely.  Either way, I feel better.