Last month, my wife and I spent a few days in Las Vegas and made a stop to see the James Turrell art installation called Akhob. It’s an interesting concept, and kind of a strange experience. The idea is that our emotions and perceptions can be altered by being engulfed in light. As the colors change, you can definitely feel your body responding, when you’re surrounded by red light, you start to truly feel anxious, if not a little angry. When they turn to a cool blue, you can feel yourself relaxing, etc.
The one thing they pointed out that I wasn’t expecting was that as you were inside of the room with the lights, if you looked back into the entryway, the room that you entered from seemed to change colors. Obviously, it wasn’t changing colors, but our perception was being altered because of the light in the actual installation.
As they were explaining that to us, and as I watched what seemed to be the room changing colors, I realized that this was a perfect metaphor for anyone dealing with depression.
So many survivors, and others who are dealing with depression, are inside of the art installation. Their depression colors their world, creating false impressions of what it looks like. When I looked back at that room, my mind knew that we had just been there, and that the walls were white. Yet when I looked out at the room from within, the walls sure looked like they were changing colors, from yellow, to green, etc. Sure enough, after we exited the installation, we were back in a room with white walls.
If you know someone dealing with depression, and wonder why they seem to do the things they do, or why they seem to be unable to see the things you see, it might help to understand how our perception can be altered. As we stood inside the installation, those outside walls weren’t white. To anyone in that outside room, that would have seemed crazy to think that anyone would think they weren’t, but they really weren’t from where we were standing. Asking me to “see reality”, and act accordingly, would have been like asking me say hello to the Tooth Fairy. Nothing that my eyes could see made me think that those were white walls, despite the fact that they clearly were to your eyes.
This is depression, the reality that you see and respond to, doesn’t look the same to someone with depression. Their view is colored. They could no more get over it, or choose to be happy, than I could see white walls. I only saw white walls once the experience was over, and I was free to walk out into that room again. Someone dealing with depression needs time, and help, to get back to that outer room. Keeping them inside and demanding they see the world differently is just mean.
Don’t be mean.