Depression and Mental Illness
Maybe depression isn't always a mental illness; maybe it's sometimes just a part of the normal human experience and a rich emotional life.
This page is a stub, created on 2020-04-07 (last updated on 2020-12-22). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.
We hear the word "depression", and we readily conclude we're talking about a mental illness or disease. While it may, in some cases, manifest as a pathology, I think that many times, it is just a natural part of human life and experience.
- What factors contribute to resilience to depressive states? Feelings of worthiness and lovability? Self-esteem?
- Why do we have to give explanations for crying, but not for laughing?
- Why are we ritualistically expected to answer "Okay" or "Fine" to inquiries about how we're doing? Isn't it okay (in a broader sense) to be not okay at a given moment? And what does the receptivity of the questioner have to do with it?
- The unhelpfulness of "Everything will be okay."; maybe it won't, and isn't that okay in its own way?
- Is the willingness to lean into unpleasant feelings and sadness what also allows being able to lean into moments of joy during a more persistent depressive state/period? Since I'm pro-emotion generally, is this why I don't feel like it's a betrayal of some kind to derive pleasure from good things that happen, even if I'm generally feeling sad, similar to how I don't think it undermines a general state of happiness to be willing to feel momentary/passing sadness?
- depression versus "chemical imbalance"
- clinical diagnosis of "depression" versus "being depressed"
- actually a misnomer, since anti-depressant pharmaceuticals actually depress all emotions
- when they might be helpful versus what their risks are
- analogy to other root causes versus symptoms
- On 2020-08-01, Helen sent me a link to A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression.
- her observations:
- "wouldn't be surprised if resilience is down even by the perception that this is happening to you"
- "just the mere presence of data like that/articles like that creates an air of depression can create herd mentality there too...sympathy pains... Hypochondria [etc]"
- it provoked the following response from me:
Here's the thing about "depression": Pathologizing the normal human experience of feeling sad (even for extended periods of time) is what saps people of the resilience to deal with sadness. Because then it's not "normal", so they feel helplessly in the power of a "condition" they cannot control...except through pharmacological intervention. An intervention that actually also undermines the ability to experience joy (fuckin' SSRIs), which then further compromises any possible resilience to sadness. And on and on, it's a vicious cycle. Same shit--often hand-in-hand--with anxiety.
- her observations:
- from Radical Acceptance, quoting someone else: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
On 2020-08-09, my brother Andrew sent me a message, quoting the following post. He sent it to me in the spirit of wanting to help me to feel some equanimity about the grief and pain I was experiencing (and still am, at the time of this writing). While my loss was not of a literal death, it's a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking loss all the same, and I think the analysis applies. The post reflects my beliefs on the matter in a much more eloquent way than I have thus far articulated.
The post was a comment by user GSnow on "My friend just died. I don't know what to do." on the /r/Assistance subreddit on 2011-05-14:
Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.
As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.