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The Empty Soda Can
Intense depression is an oxymoron, and yet all too real. To watch someone depressed, especially intensely depressed, is to see a void of intensity. There is no flame burning behind the eyes or in the heart, and yet the agony is hardly bearable. How do you explain that to a person who has the fortune of never having felt it?
My high school chemistry teacher, like all good ones, liked to show and tell students about the marvels of science. Early in the year, she held up an empty soda can. A standard pasta pot full of water sat on the table before her. She raised a glass of water and poured just a few drops into the can, then she lit a Bunsen burner and held the bottom of the can right to the flame. Hollow echoes of sizzling water gave the burner’s roar a tinny undertone.
“Now, watch,” she said needlessly to the room full of rapt students.
In one smooth motion, she turned off the flame and flipped the soda can upside down, then held the open top of the can under the surface of the cold water in front of her, and science happened. The hot steam in the can cooled rapidly, shrinking the hot gasses inside. With no way for air to rush into the mouth of the can and fill the void, the 12-ounce cylinder collapsed from within.
It looked as if an inhumanly large, invisible hand was crushing the can in an angry fist. But there was nothing else there; the can was gingerly held in place by the gloved hand of our teacher. When she pulled the mangled thing out of the pot of water, it was small and useless, a husk — and only because what was happening inside couldn’t find peaceful equilibrium with what was happening outside. Physically crushed by a sucking emptiness within.
Watching a can do this, you can see just a moment of what it feels like to be intensely depressed.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, there is help for you. The national suicide prevention lifeline can lend an ear and help you navigate this temporary pain. Call 1-800-273-8255