I’ve read a lot of things like this on the internet.
I’ve never met a depressed person who did not have some reason to be depressed.
Don’t say: But Robin Williams had reached a pinnacle of success. How could he want to kill himself?
Invention creates need. How long had phone’s let go of their wires before it became an acknowledged necessity for everyone to own a wireless phone?
Depression, according to its popular conception, is a conspiracy. Drug manufacturers and professional therapists must maintain their markets.
Yes: people truly suffer real symptoms. But the pro-depression lobby asserts a tyranny of privileged access. Like T-shirts worn by embittered veterans of Vietnam: if you weren’t there, keep your mouth shut. If you question clinical dogma about the nature of depression you must not understand what it means to suffer.
I know what it means to be depressed. I know what it means to be crippled by fear and anxiety. I have sought out talk therapy, on various occasions, though I have avoided taking pills.
We are told that depression has physical symptoms. Of course it does. Why wouldn’t it? It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Of course it is. Our mental and emotional states as we subjectively experience them correspond to observable physical states.
The question is: does the clinical perspective usefully advance our understanding of how to deal with depression, as individuals, families, or communities? I’ve read: depression is not sadness; depression is a clinical term for a disease. Well, yes: because it has been conventionally stipulated, by mental health clinicians. But – and this is crucially important – there is no fact of the matter. The term existed before the clinics. When articles assert that, no, depression is not this way that you see it, but rather this other way, it is a dogmatic assertion of medical authority. It may be supported in some way by clinical study, but it’s not like when your cold turns out to be pneumonia. The claim: no, it isn’t sadness, its a chemical imbalance with physical symptoms, is a rhetorical deflection which tends to favor more recent research into ‘mental health’ and more currently fashionable treatments.
But diseases of the soul have always existed. That we should suffer our own peculiar brands of them, in contrast to prior epochs, should not be surprising. We have different things to worry about. Our ways of life and our training to live them are radically different from times past in many ways. Whether you say they are usurped or superceded, previously available ways of understanding diseases of the soul and how best to approach them have largely fallen out of favor. Religion has lost its potency for many of us.
It often surprises me that there should be any doubt that our habits of media consumption would have profound effects on mental and neurological development and conditions. Like when people doubt climate change, I wonder: why wouldn’t all the things we have done affect the climate? Never mind ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions for a moment. An asphalt road is like a micro dessert and we’ve covered the earth with webs of them. We’ve dug big holes where once were mountains. We’ve cut down whole forests. We pick things up from one place and put them down in other places on such a grand scale that it should be surprising if it didn’t affect the climate in some way. It is a very new thing to be so steeped in media. The contemporary conception and reality of fame, for instance, is a not like anything experienced previous to the combination of photography and industrial media distribution. Most people had never seen so many different people. Imagine if the only time you saw people was in person? Now we see people in essentially perfect representation all the time, and we see thousands of them. People we fear or lust after. People we admire or find disgusting.
Pictures of people abound. But our ways of encountering others involve complex patterns of response, developed in prior states of evolution. A television image of a person disrupts this natural pattern of response, whatever it is. This is not changed by the fact that you know, consciously, that you are not in front of a real person. That is precisely the disruption! We are forced to consciously subvert our natural responses and to engage in interpretation.
I am not saying: TV caused Depression. I think it definitely contributes though, and it is just an example of how our modern condition creates its own peculiar kinds of dissatisfaction.
People who are depressed lack motivation. It can be difficult to feel motivated when you do not see the connection between your efforts in the world and your spiritual or material well-being. And it can be hard to see that, for instance, when you have a job that you don’t like. I often think when articles on depression talk about the inability to keep focused at work: maybe your job is fucking boring! Or maybe it is not good for you to be in a florescent lit cave staring at black marks on paper, or at computer screens, most of the day, every day. Maybe what your depression tells you is some much deeper truth about the insanity of your lifestyle.
Conditions are more often diagnosed as their existence becomes more well known. I don’t exactly doubt that attention deficit disorder exists, in the sense that many children have trouble focusing at school, or on single tasks in general. But its stupid to suppose it isn’t rooted in the most obvious things. Sensory over load from too-early exposure to media combined with a bad diet overloaded with sugar are to blame – combined with a host of other cultural phenomena too complex and varied to adequately describe, I’m sure, but so the same with everything. Like the climate.
We are depressed because we see the futility of our way of life.
Or maybe something about your moral and social training has habituated you to look for and fixate on causes for sadness and dissatisfaction with yourself and your life. My own mind is perpetually embattled. I feel pushed and pulled by multiple competing and incompatible visions of life of which I worry I can never adequately disabuse myself. As it happens, though I have my own special case, I think the leading opposition is a common one – between a christian vision of morality, which emphasizes the importance of love, kindness, and understanding, versus a late capitalist vision of happiness and success, where guilt attaches to failure to flourish in the marketplace.
Do other animals suffer from depression? I imagine if they do they tend to die from it before anyone diagnoses it. Or they die from complications, like being eaten because they can’t be bothered to flee or defend themselves.
Depression is a corruption and confusion of the will to live. It is also a matter of habit.
When I read descriptions of depression which ‘only people with depression can understand’ I tend to think: you will not let other people understand. I do not doubt the utter darkness of the worst depression. I have suffered the same, though of course it’s pointless to make comparisons of intensity. But I also know that someone who suffers can become incorrigibly attached to their suffering. Habit reinforces itself. The behaviors of depression naturally reinforce themselves – lying in bed all day wishing you had the motivation to get up and do something is depressing.
Calling yourself depressed is depressing. Having someone tell you its a defect of your brain chemestry, though perhaps liberating in terms of personal responsibility is, it seems to me, depressing.
A point about brain chemistry: conditioned response affects chemistry. Things in the world that make you happy or sad affect your chemistry. Every state of mind you experience is a chemical state. It is not just a chemical state. That one’s mood can be usefully described in terms of chemical release and interaction does not obviate other forms of description. The suggestion in the case of clinical depression of course is that physical and chemical descriptions are more useful than the descriptions of introspective reflection or life circumstance or interpersonal drama, perhaps because the latter seem inadequate. But those are still useful ways to think about things. And they have some affect on your chemistry, though again, the nature of the causal relationships is, like the weather, complex and obscure.
So, to give a crude but, I think, essentially plausible description of a possible state of affairs, when something makes you sad it involves some chemical response – and probably some musculo-skeletal response as well. If, for some reason, one is conditioned to go after that feeling rather than to avoid it, certain chemical responses will be favored and after a while might create an overall chemical imbalance.
Guilt is a curious mechanism. It would seem to consist in abstinence from happiness in light of transgression. When one is a child, one looks for things to be good at and so gain the favor of surrounding authorities – the adults. So, before you can recognize it for the confusion it is you can, essentially, bind your happiness to unhappiness.
The point is: flawed moral training could plausibly account for the development of chronic depression and there is no reason to suppose that it wouldn’t also manifest, therefore, as an observable chemical imbalance.
But depression has been shown to be a hereditary disposition! Well, so is religion, though not in the sense of genetics.
If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.
When you find you don’t enjoy the compounded advantages of early success you’re forced to find the advantage in your disadvantage. The uses of adversity, if you like. The successful people look more and more like they belong that way because what looks like success tends to provide for a more reliable reinvestment of capital of all kinds. If you make a living from you’re artwork you’re able to spend more time making it and so spend more time and effort getting better.
Adorno said talent may well be only sublimated rage. I’m not precisely sure what that means but I resonate with the thought.
It is a very middle class sentiment.