Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Rational Melancholia

It probably doesn't make any difference the source of any form of depression . . . but then again it certainly feels of a different flavor when it comes from the emotions as compared as from the rational brain. This time it is from the rational brain.

I have been victim of the terrible beast twice in my life. While rationality in response to real events may have been the catalyst, both times it took on an emotional life of its own.  It became visceral and circular.  The circulation was typhoon-like, twisting and turning and drawing me downward in ever tightening circles towards despair.

Depression is like the last ring in Lord of the Rings. It is powerful, beautiful, enticing . . . but quite dangerous. It must be handled with great care.

Depression is beautiful in the way it is part of the human experience. If the death of a mother brought no grief (acute depression) to the child, or vice versa, then that would be indeed be ugly.So, I don't see depression as the enemy, but a voice.  In the gentle and beautiful whispers of that voice, it tells me that I am alive.  I'm not a stone because I feel and can hurt.  That is a good thing.  Only the inanimate feels no hurt or sadness. But the voice can lie too and tell you that there is no hope . . . anywhere.  It takes great skill to know when to turn the voice off.

I've been feeling this depression for a few months. It is rational in the sense that I know what the source is, compared to so many of my patients who say, "I'm damned depressed and I have no clue as to why."  That is an emotional and possibly endogenous place.

I've spoken of this many times but as I'm getting older, I'm feeling a sense of perpetual loss.  I see no gains on the horizon.  Maybe it is at this juncture that you must make this transition from hope in this life--you know that some day you have some great accomplishment or some great profession or some great talent or some great lover or some great something--and focus on the life to come and the intrinsic hope that lays there.

I awaken each morning knowing I'm a day older.  I'm closer to all my children being far away, loosing my mother, loosing my dear aunt and only God knows who else.  Each day I'm loosing more of physique and my freedom from physical pain.

Many, if not most, people combat their feelings of grief with an emotional opium.  This opium usually comes in the way of distractions.  Football games on TV.  Sitcoms. Great books. Dance lessons. Trips to Europe or worst of all, pretense that Jesus makes us all well . . . and religiously inanimate.

I can't even have this conversation with evangelicals because they are so self-deluded into thinking that depression or even a brief sad feeling is in-congruent with being spiritual. So they seal their sad thoughts in concrete and toss them into the sea and with each toss they become a bit more inanimate.

I have no desire to "transcend" this dark life into a opium of denial through proper meditations and mental gymnastics.  You know, the power of positive thinking.

I can't have this conversation with Denise for two reasons. For one, she was shipwrecked with my when my depression brought us both down . . . twice. Secondly, her way of coping is the Hallmark way. That seems to work well for her, but not for me.  She asks me, "Who are you to be sad with the world is starving and you have food on the table?"  My sorry offends her . . . and scares her.  I find myself apologizing over and over if I say I'm sad.  But I am sorry for disrupting her happiness (as thin as I think it is).

Praise God (I say this with sincerity and not blasphemously) that Jesus was damned depressed at times.  Man, how he could weep. I bet he felt grief like none of us ever have.  Jesus is the friend of those who feel and he doesn't even know the inanimate because it is so foreign to our design.

So, I have to find a way to allow my sadness of loss manifest in a healthy way but to thwarted its transformation into the downward spiral.  Do I fix my eyes on the world to come?  Do I practice my Solomon approach, enjoying the moment of the taste of a ripe banana, the smell of the musty sea outside my office door, the dance of pinks across the glaciers up on the mountain.  Hey, I think it was upon those very glaciers when my sadness started last August.  Even after training hard, the whole climbing team had to wait on me before we pushed to the summit. I felt so old. But I think the answer  lies there, somewhere in the moment of those joys.  I was able to hold my children at Christmas and many can't hold theirs.  I must treasure those things, somehow.  


Anonymous said...

I am depressed of late, and it's the first time I've been rationally depressed. There's totally a cause. But that's not stopping me from going on Wellbutrin, which I started today.

And like you, while this is not the cause of my depression, I seem to keenly feel lately how old I'm getting, how lousy everything has turned out for me, how I will age and be a burden, then die and be forgotten. I feel like I've had no seasons of happiness, ever. People get a lot of happiness from relationships. Never had one. (Not my choice.) People get a lot of happiness from success in work. Well, that's been horrible lately, and is the cause of the depression to begin with.

Hopefully things turn around so I don't have to be miserable my remaining years until I die. It's hard right now to believe there's anything after death, so I wish this life, this NOW, would shape itself up already. When's it my turn?

It's like everyone has found their stride and gone on without me.


Jaimie said...

^^^ That's me, by the way. Forgot I was signed in there. (Don't ask, lol.)

Trevor said...

Thanks for talking about this. You make a good point that depression and sadness are sometimes exactly the correct responses to a situation.

Have you read the book 'Manufacturing Depression'? It suggests that some of our criteria for diagnosing depression are suspect - for example, I have frequently heard of people who have suffered from bereavement being prescribed anti-depressants, when overwhelming sadness is probably actually the correct and healthy emotion to be experiencing. Other societies used to have prescribed periods of mourning. Now we have prescribed medications.

On the flip side, a good friend of mine pointed out to me recently that our emotions can also lie to us. They can tell us that everything is pointless, futile and difficult when a more rational analysis would say otherwise. In my case, it would be a tendency to over-emphasize negative feedback and under-emphasize my own successes and the praise of others.

Thanks for continuing to speak honestly about this subject.

jmj said...

Jaimie, I think there is a way to live in peace, where despite the disappointments that life throws at us, that we can have hope. I struggle with that. You are a lot younger and I think you have the time to make better use of these habits (of living in peace) than I have done. Maybe it isn't too late for me either.

Yeah, I think our emotions lie too. It takes a lot of wisdom to discern between when our emotions are lying saying that all is hopeless and pretending or denying hurt. I still love the book Mind over Mood, where the principle is to find ways our emotions have lied and to rationally expose those lies.