For the eighth time in my life, I’m trying to finish Milton’s Paradise Lost. (So far, I’ve reread Book I, the bit about the fallen angels landing in hell. It’s fun to read aloud when you get to lines like, “Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!”—which does not work on sleeping teenagers, BTW).
I happened to read Book I of Paradise Lost just after reading a book about depression, and I was struck by the parallels. Satan may have lost the war with God but he’s not going to lose any battles with the blues. If he wasn’t dedicated to the downfall of humankind, he could write a self-help book for us. (Just on this one topic. He’s not the go-to guy for mental health issues in general, being an evil self-deluded egoist and all.)
I’ve read that Milton’s Satan is like an unreliable narrator whose prideful magnificence of Book I (he gets all the best lines) is exposed as lowliness by Book XII. But I’ve never made it past Book II. So I find him quite quotable. Here are
Satan’s Top Ten Tips for Fighting Depression.
1. Reach out to others.
Satan could drag himself to a lonely corner of Chaos and ruminate for eternity. When the other fallen angels invited him to play cards or go for coffee, he could make up a story about being too busy and then sit in his corner and eat worms. But no, Satan knows it’s bad to isolate himself. The first thing he does is reach out to Beelzebub and “break the horrid silence.” So what if you hate everyone and you’re pretty sure everyone hates you? If you are depressed, find better company.
2. Accept your emotions…
Satan is tormented, no doubt. He had it all and he blew it. He thought he was better than God and, man, was he wrong. And everybody knows it. Up in Heaven they’re all thinking, “What a maroon.” Lost happiness and lasting pain is what’s left in Hell. Does Satan deny all the sadness, anger, and frustration? Does he say, “No really I’m fine?” Well, actually, he claims to be better than ever. But first he vents a great deal, and he even has a little cry. Because you’ve got to let it out.
3. …But don’t wallow.
Satan can’t help thinking about how badly God whupped his ass, but whenever he catches himself ruminating, he immediately stops and finds a silver lining. It’s like he had cognitive behavioural therapy training back in Heaven. He doesn’t go over and over that idiotic war he waged that cost him eternal happiness. He doesn’t shudder and repeat, “I’ve been blotted from the Books of Life, oh my god, I’ve been blotted from the Books of Life.” Nope, he’s all, “Be it so.” Move on.
4. Focus on the positive.
Satan must have listened to that old Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow (If I ever lose my legs, I won’t have to walk no more, etc.). He repeatedly sings, “If I ever lose my place in Heaven, I’ll get to reign in Hell, and that’s even better.” (No one believes it, but the other fallen angels just shrug and sing along because what can they do? They’re not getting back into Heaven, are they?) “What though the field be lost?” Satan asks. “All is not lost—the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate… we still got all that” (paraphrasing at the end there). Satan always finds an upside: at least God isn’t here. Like a human might say, “Yes, I lost my family, but now I can stretch out in the bed and watch whatever I want on the TV.” Take note of the good stuff.
5. Get some exercise.
Does Satan just lie there, groveling and prostrate on the lake of fire, binging on Netflix and drinking too much wine? No. He’s barely awake when he calls the fallen angels to their feet and gets them to move from one part of the fiery landscape to another part of the fiery landscape. He knows that exercise cures what ails you. Get moving.
6. Help others.
Though his motives are suspect, Satan does his bit for his fellow fallen angels. He sees them wallowing in fire and depression, and he raises their failing courage and dispels their fears with a few white lies and some self-congratulatory motivational speeches. He fakes it till they all make it. The fallen hordes have a glimpse of joy to find their chief not in despair. There’s always something we can do to help those worse off.
7. Make plans.
Satan could while away eternity in the fire and ice and darkness visible, but he’s got drive. He immediately comes up with a new goal. Sure, Heaven was aiming too high. They know that now. But there’s another goal within reach: “to wage by force or guile eternal war, irreconcilable to our grand Foe.” Satan could even try a regular evening reflection and ask himself, “Did I piss off God today?” to see if he’s moving toward his goal. Plans invest life with meaning, so muster up a sense of purpose.
8. Take concrete action.
Satan talks a lot, but he’s really a devil of action. Today’s to-do list: wake the legions; build pandemonium; find out if God has built any new worlds we could ruin; etc. Satan does not procrastinate. If it takes less than five minutes to disturb God’s inmost counsels, then he does it now. He doesn’t file that one. It feels good to get something done.
9. Assess your situation realistically (ish).
Satan takes a good look at his dismal situation, waste and wild, and he accepts that it’s not temporary. He doesn’t nurse the false hope of getting back into Heaven. That dream is gone, that window has closed, that train has left the station. A giant dark furnace is the new normal. And what does Satan do when he sees this clearly? He deals. “Farewell happy fields where joy forever dwells. Hail horrors.” Like a psychopath in prison, he looks around and thinks, “This is workable.” Deal with reality.
10. Don’t lose hope.
Not only does Satan say (paraphrasing), “At least we have this awesome Hell to rule in, and we can still annoy God even if we can’t defeat him,” but he adds, “Space may produce new worlds, you never know. We could get out of Hell one day and have some real fun.” Which seems like optimism verging on insanity—but then he really does leave Hell (it’s coming up in a later Book) and he finds Earth and has lots of fun there. Never give up. You just don’t know what life might bring you.
So there you have Satan’s depression-fighting tips, which are surprisingly the same as everyone else’s. Try them out. And have a happy weekend.
(Sorry to disappoint anyone who came to this blog hoping to see a video of an actual devil making lemonade. That doesn’t exist. Here is a Tasmanian Devil for you instead.)