Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Truth About Depression

Chemical Imbalances? A Genetic Predisposition? Traumatic Experiences? A Highly Non-Scientific Alternate Hypothesis on What Causes Depressive Episodes

My entire life, I’ve suffered from depression. Granted, it hasn’t been certified by a trained professional yet, but I know it to be the case. I’ve read the DSM-V, I’ve talked to people in the field, I’ve spent an afternoon or two looking up symptoms; so, yeah, I’ve got it, so it seems.

Depression is a weird thing, and something that’s completely misunderstood by pretty much everybody. It’s not really a pervasive sadness as much as it is a perpetual feeling of stagnation. In fact, I’d venture to guess that most of the depressed people in the world are depressed NOT because they are sad about a specific aspect or two of their lives, but because they feel like they can’t move forward and emerge from whatever funk they are currently mired in.

That’s the thing that only depressed people understand about being depressed -- it’s not so much an emotional issue as it is a temporal one. You may appear sad, but you’re actually disappointed by a lack of progression in your own existence; you’re depressed because SOMETHING is hindering you from pressing ahead, from moving on to the next phase of your own personally-written history.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you can flip open a text-book and show me a few doodles of the serotonin system or an article about how an out of whack hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-gonad tropic axis causes clinical depression, but I still say it’s caused by something altogether different.

Around this time last year, I wrote an article about how writing, for whatever reason, seemed to be the only thing that “cured” my perpetual sense of existential gloom. In a lot of ways, that’s still the truth, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it a little more in-depth, I realize that my “depression” -- or whatever it is -- is really something of a “push-pull” continuum, with the past being that thing I don’t want to go back to and the future being that thing I’d really like to go into at some point. That makes the present a perpetual tug of war, it seems, between moving ahead (and thusly, enjoying the fruits of progression) and falling behind (and thusly, having to eat the sheer shit of regression.)

In that, I’d describe “depression” as a state in which the individual feels as if he or she is doing more regressing than progressing. As human beings, we kinda’ lay out this flowchart for ourselves, with our ultimate goal being advancement. Now, what advancement represents, I suppose, is up to the individual to determine. For one person, it could be a pay raise, or for another, it could be winning a lot of Xbox Live “Mortal Kombat” matches. No matter what that personally-designated “advancement” is, this much remains true across-the-board: getting closer to whatever that “advancement” is feels great, and moving further away from whatever that “advancement” is feels terrible. Move too far away from obtaining that advancement, and that’s when “depression” really sinks in.

Now, there are a lot of people out there that seem to be stuck in the past -- they always go on about their past glories, and they seem to do nothing but pine for what they frequently consider the “good old days.” With that in mind, you’d think that’s something that discredits my thesis, but it actually strengthens it, in a way. Why do those individuals value their own personal pasts, so much? Because there’s nothing for them to look forward to in the future, primarily. Their collective presents are just exercises in routine behaviors, and only their former experiences give them any sort of reprieve from the pains of motionlessness. When you have nothing ahead of you, I suppose it’s only natural for one to become absolutely obsessed by whatever was behind them.

From an existentialist viewpoint (especially if you’re a Heidegger or Sartre fanboy), the present is a state without any sort of absolute value -- what gives the present meaning, thusly, is it’s bridging mechanism to one’s past or future. Therefore, even though today doesn’t really mean anything contemporarily, if it somehow pushes someone towards “advancement” in some manner tomorrow, the recent past suddenly becomes a valuable thing. Similarly, the present is devalued considerably, because no matter what, today is always that much further removed from yesterday. If you keep pushing ahead to something that is no longer there -- and especially if you attempt to do so while acknowledging there’s not much personal progression in your ensuing future -- how could you be anything BUT depressed as an individual?

The opposite of depression really isn’t “happiness,” but progression. Odds are, clinically depressed people that KNOW they have something to look forward to in the future are unlikely to kill themselves. Why? Because they have something ahead of them that gives their present state some kind of value, in the form of its connectedness with the future. Yeah, things may be crappy, but as long as things keep chugging along towards that stage of future advancement, there’s not much to get too worried about.

In that, if someone FEELS as if she is moving forward, then he or she isn’t depressed. So, if someone has a certain future state in mind, and at the present he or she feels like he or she is either not moving towards that phase of advancement, there’s a pretty good chance that person will feel a little depressed. The only other option is to become a soul that completely disregards the values of either the past or the future, choosing to live in a perpetual “present” state of being where things like progression or regression are completely obliterated in the name of perpetual “sameness.” Despite the apparent nihilism of such a lifestyle, most people that go this route are unlikely to feel depressed about much of anything; the future variable, it should go without saying, is far and away the most important factor regarding whatever “depression” entails. If you have no idea that such a thing as a “future” exists, I suppose it’s a bit difficult to feel depressed about what’s ahead of you, no?

As a writer (a consistently depressed one…a novelty, for sure), a lot of my depression stems from a lack of perceived progression as a freelancer. I have this thing I call “accomplishment high,” where I feel really, really great when I get a lot of stuff written, submitted and published over a certain period of time. It feels great because all of that stuff getting out there is a tangible marker of forward movement. “I get this published, I move on to the next thing,” is pretty much how my mindset goes. The more I produce, the better I feel, because proving Max Weber so very, very right, I’ve somehow made a distinct connection between production and advancement. “If I write more, and get more stuff published,” my line of thinking goes, “then there’s more stuff for people to read, and in turn more people will read it, and that increases my likelihood of getting seen by someone or something that will somehow kick off that first domino that eventually leads to my idealized future state.”

Is it a wholly rational mindset? Well, both no and kinda, for different reasons. Certainly, being productive in the present gives a certain value to who and what I am at the current, but then again, that’s only because I believe that present day production will somehow lead me to future advancement, in some way, shape or form. This much, I know for sure -- if I DON’T get stuff published today, than I sure as hell won’t get it published tomorrow. Therefore, I have an incentive to keep doing what I’m doing so that I can do bigger and grander stuff a little later on.

Depression, then, is the perspective that you won’t HAVE an opportunity to do that bigger and grander stuff later on. It really is a simple explanation, but it sums up the experience of profound depression to a T -- if you just had conclusive proof that tomorrow would be markedly better than today, than you would probably have all you needed to get over your depressive episode.

Really, it boils down to a two-path question: are you doing what you’re doing today for tomorrow, or are you just doing what you’re doing today for today? Even proxy forms of progression are desirable in the face of prolonged perceived stagnation: that’s why I believe so many people get wrapped up in online gaming. They can’t “level up” in their own lives, so they literally create a second life for themselves and experience de facto “advancement” via their online avatars.

At the end of the day, the only thing that really gives a depressed person a sense of succor is some quantifiable measurement that indicates, “hey, I actually AM going forward, to some capacity.” Strangely, it’s never a qualitative measure that helps depressed individuals like me feel a little bit more optimistic about things; there always has to be some sort of number you can affix to what you’re charting to make you KNOW that you’ve inched that much closer towards a particular goal or quota.

The joy in that, I suppose, is that you can see the steps leading up to advancement, a holistic achievement that makes the totality of the journey from A to B worth every step and misstep. For depressed folks, it really isn’t about the destination as much as it is the journey -- in fact, their entire lives can be seen as a series of voyages, whereas the fulfillment of particular goals only serve as certain capstones to specific periods. Once one goal is achieved, a new goal has to be established immediately; happiness, as such, is the identification of a future ambition, fighting like hell to get there, and upon finally getting to that point of peak achievement, realizing that ANOTHER journey has to be on the horizon for the individual to feel even temporary satisfaction.

To some people, that may seem awfully arduous, but that’s kind of the point. You work, and toil, and suffer if you must, and then…the sweet release of actually fucking doing something sets in. Depressed people may be glum and occasionally morose, but very rarely are they unmotivated -- in fact, that depression may be considered something of an internal motivator, a biological fuel that propels one towards achieving his or her ambitions, if for no other reason than he or she doesn’t want to feel all shitty again.

I should really have some sort of iron-tight argument for all of this in my concluding remarks, but I’m not really sure what the point of that would be. I can’t explain my mindset, my own chemistry, whatever it may be. All I know is, sometimes, I get depressed, and when I do something that makes me feel like I’ve moved just the teeniest smidge closer to being where I want to be in life, suddenly, I don’t feel all that depressed anymore.

Just about everybody out there says depression is a psychological condition. From my own experiences, I happen to believe it’s something else entirely; a matter of perspective regarding one’s own future; nothing more, and nothing less.


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