Tag Archives: Depression

Depression as a Way of Life

Trying to explain depression to someone who has not experienced it is perhaps a bit like trying to explain love to someone who has never experienced it. It is not something that you can understand through books or pictures, or by watching people you know experience it. You have to live it.
Nevertheless in my never-ending quest to bridge the chasm between my life and the lives of those around me, I would like to spend a little time trying to explicate the conundrums of depression for those who have been blessed with a stable and happy mind.
There is a great deal of difference between someone who has grown up depressed versus someone who has their depression precipitated later in life. Someone who becomes depressed midway through life because, for example, a loved one died, has a whole host of life experiences that do not have the shadow of depression ever looming in the background. Their mind has experienced life without depression, and this bodes extremely well for their ability to recover and move on.
Contrast the person who becomes depressed in their 30s with one whose formative years were lived in the thrall of depression. Here can I speak from experience. One of the most common arguments against suicide is ‘but they had so much to live for.’ This is an argument that rings hollow to one who has never felt they had much to live for; what exactly do these people think there is to live for except to have positive experiences in life? You know, the exact things that someone depressed does not experience.
This is where the length of time and the age of onset of depression becomes very important. For someone whose depression onsets midway through life, their depression will be seen as a contrast to their previous life. This contrast, no doubt, is exquisitely painful, as one can come to feel they are no longer capable of feeling joy or happiness like they once did. This person has come to feel, perhaps, they do not have much to live for anymore; but this is in contrast to how they once felt, in contrast to a state of mind they have experience with.
Someone who has grown up in a state of depression does not have this contrast to look at. Perhaps they have some idyllic view of early childhood, when the fears and pains of life expressed more as occasional volleys as opposed to a sustained barrage of negative thoughts. Regardless, from the time you start becoming you (I generally believe that self-actualization largely begins with the onset of puberty and the feeling of needing to separate and differentiate oneself from their parents), you have been in a state of depression.
Every child is born with hope. For some children, the path to adulthood seems intent on wiping out that hope. Depression is not something that one can just snap out of, especially when one’s brain does not know another way of thinking; a mind that has always been depressed has nothing else to snap into. ‘Just think positively;’ another favorite line of all depressed people. Depression is more than just a way of thinking; a person’s thoughts should always be considered as subordinate to their emotional state. I can think that everyone really does care about me and wants me to be happy all I want; if I cannot feel that care, if I go among those who supposedly care for me and feel empty, my thoughts will inevitably seem folly, and one grows to feel less and less in control of their mental state.
As someone growing up with depression (and lots of anxiety to boot), every experience I had on the road to adulthood was colored by and seen through the lens of my depression. Going to school seemed a daily punishment that I could not escape from; social interactions were just a step away from embarrassment or ridicule; every day was just another long trudge until finally sleep could take me. When one grows up in constant dread of the next day, of the new experiences their life might offer them, one does not perceive themselves as having a lot to live for. One does not think of a bad day as something out of the norm; one thinks of a good day as out of the norm. This has the effect of marginalizing all positive experiences as transient; happiness seems to always be fleeting, a cruel break from the normal monotony of depression that only intensifies the feelings of loneliness and isolation as soon as it is over.
Life is, in many ways, a long series of self-fulfilling prophecies. When you grow up without the expectation of happiness or contentedness, it is very unlikely these things will just find you. There aren’t many social groups where the depressed and the optimistic exist in harmony; the philosophies and perceptions of life are as dichotomous between depressed and happy people as they are between the far-right and far-left. Thus, the depressed person very likely ends up in a social group surrounded by other depressed people. Especially as a youth, there is a great urge to be right, which can lead to the depressed self-validating their own feelings when discussing said feelings with others who understand. At this point the depressed often feel a need to ‘other’ the non-depressed, to believe that in fact there is something wrong with anyone who isn’t depressed. This starts one down the path of believing that it is correct to be depressed.
This point is one I feel anyone who has not experienced depression will find themselves puzzled by, but it is essential to understanding the growth of depression in a depressed person. What one believes to be right or correct is what one feels, much more than what one thinks; a person who grows up depressed does not think ‘oh, depression is definitely the right way to experience the world,’ they simply experience the world depressed and come think, in response to those feelings, ‘being depressed is the correct lens through which to view the world.’ At this point depression is now an ego problem as well. For the depressed person to acknowledge the way they viewed the world and the perceptions they gathered through a depressed lens may be entirely the result of depression, and not in fact the result of a correct perception of the world, is basically to acknowledge that everything you thought and believed might be wrong.
Taken together, the above two points give us a picture looking something like this: depressed people will generally come to associate with other depressed people; these people, as with any group of people with similar views, will start validating their own perceptions as correct and perceiving those who hold different views as wrong; in this way depression comes to appear, to the depressed person, as the right way to live; at this point it is very hard to see anyway out of depression, because you’ve managed to twist depression around into something viewed almost favorably. I think depressed people often can feel a sense of superiority to happy people, which makes it very hard to admit that maybe the happy people aren’t just idiots who are oblivious to the struggles and hardships of life, but perhaps are people who have found a better and healthier way of managing their way through life.
This leads us to one of the most important facets of depression: anger and self-pity. For someone who is already depressed, it is just about the most natural feeling in the world to look at someone who is happy and think ‘oh woe is me,’ and simultaneously to feel the undeniable injustice that renders some people happy and some people miserable. At the point where one believes they are on the wrong side of some sort of cosmic injustice, it is very hard not to become increasingly angry at everything. One can easily grow to believe that they have been cursed, that they are uniquely unhappy, and that the only possible escape from this is death.
At this point I want to wrap things back around to the argument against suicide: ‘but they had so much to live for.’ I hope at this point it is a little clearer as to why someone with depression might find this a rather empty argument. And this, perhaps, is a central issue in dealing with depression in our society. One cannot argue against depression anymore than one can argue against love. These are states of mind that do not necessarily have any connection to ‘logical’ or ‘rational’ trains of thought, such as might be responsive to a reasoned argument. Rather, they are states that arise out of feelings, and only arguments on that level stand a chance of success.

The Blood Moon

If you look to the morning sun,
You can see what I have done.
Clouds, like wreathes of smoke,
They all heard the words I spoke.
Rising from heaven’s fires,
I just wanted to get higher.
Stand and pray in the evening rain,
I’ll never see the light.
Maybe I should run away,
Got no strength left to fight.

If you look to the blood moon,
You can feel the shadows of my ruin.
Stars, like glistening eyes,
They all saw the tears I cried.
Shining down from heaven’s spires,
I just wanted to get higher.
Stand and pray in the evening rain,
I’ll never see the light.
Maybe I should run away,
Got no strength left to fight.

Nostalgia, Anxiety, and Depression

I am rather well-acquainted with these three ideas. I believe nostalgia and anxiety are linked closely together, bound by a central idea, certainty, while depression is both a cause and result of nostalgia and anxiety. Nostalgia is for the past, anxiety is for the future, and depression bridges them. Everything in the past seems better in hindsight. This is because we know what happened. Whether good or bad, these memories will seem much greater than they generally were. I believe this relates to two things. When we feel depressive nostalgia, it is generally accompanied by a feeling that our current life is not as good as the life we used to live. Thus, when we look back on good memories, we realize how much we took those times for granted. I know for myself, there are two times in my life I will always look back on: seventh grade and twelfth grade. These were times of great personal change in my life; seventh grade was when puberty really kicked in and I feel like I was growing up at such a fast rate; twelfth grade, namely the spring of twelfth grade, was a time when I became much more social, and it felt like I was catching up on many social milestones I had missed out on in high school. I think they key part of these experiences for me was that they were, consciously or not, very hopeful. Things were changing and they seemed to be getting better. Depressive nostalgia most often visits in time when we feel trapped in our present lives, feel as if things either aren’t changing or (more so) are changing for the worse. This depressive nostalgia, whether induced by a song, place, or movie, is incredibly strong, often to the point of being debilitating. As regards certainty in this type of nostalgia over happy memories, we wish we could go back and relive a time of great hope for a better future, and also in a more general sense, to appreciate those times more. I look back on many events in my life that I either took completely for granted or actually perceived as negatives at the time and wonder what the hell was I doing?

On the other side of nostalgia, we have nostalgia for times in our lives that were negative. Here the idea of certainty is more obviously pertinent. If we feel this type of nostalgia when in a more positive mood, it is generally because we know that our lives were not completely derailed; that we did recover from whatever trauma afflicted us; that we survived. So we look back and wish, instead of wasting my time being upset, why didn’t I just enjoy my life more. Case in point; I crashed my car at the start of twelfth grade, and didn’t have it for about a month. The bill on the car went from a first estimate of $500 up to a final total of a few thousand dollars. This resulted in my having to get a job from the first time, which I pretty much hated. I was very depressed for a good long while around the months of October and November into December, but now I look back and wonder why didn’t I appreciate all the other things that were nearing an end: final time playing soccer, the reality of high school nearing an end. Instead of hanging out with my friends and appreciating my life as much as possible, I sat around and sulked away a few months of the last year of my childhood. But didn’t I say I wish I could go back to that time? I do in the sense that I know things got better; the depression and isolation didn’t last, soon I was starting to enjoy life more than I had before.

Whatever the case, nostalgia is always linked with certainty. The past is done, we cannot imagine our lives having happened any other way than they did. As such, there is always a sense that life goes on when we view the past that allows us to take some small comfort in it.

In opposition to nostalgia we have anxiety. Where nostalgia is a sense that the past was better than it was and is often accompanied by a desire to relive the good ol’ days, anxiety is the opposite. Anxiety is a fear of the future, which comes with thoughts that generally lead one to believe things will be worse than they actually will. Where nostalgia makes us want to go back and relive moments, anxiety makes us want to avoid things that haven’t happened yet. For instance, as a college student I am anxious about my future: anxious about what job I will get, anxious about grades I have to get, anxious about yet more responsibilities for me to deal with. I often wish that I could either slow time down or else skip ahead to the future when I won’t have this uncertainty anymore. No matter what, we always hold at least of shred of doubt when looking at the future; even if the skies are bright and sunny, it only takes one freak accident for our lives to go very wrong. While we are often filled with hope for the future, there is always the possibility that things will not turn out as we would like; conversely, when looking at the past, we don’t have to worry about what happened because it is done; we have certainty over the past.

Lastly, I would like to discuss the role of anxiety in causing depression and nostalgia. As you may or may not know, I have struggled with depression and anxiety all my life, often to the point of being incapable of any of doing anything other than isolating myself from the world and dwelling on my fears. Now, as previously explored, anxiety is often a cause of nostalgia. When we fear the uncertainties of the future or feel as though the future will be worse than the present we turn back to the past, when these worries did not afflict our minds, when life seemed to be getting better. When anxiety is induced in this manner, it will most likely be depressive, especially if one is prone to anxiety. I can speak from personal experience to say that in moments of great worry or fear for the future, I often want to simply curl and hid away from the world, go back to the past when things didn’t seem so bad. I then become depressed because, not only does my past life seem better by comparison, I am also not doing anything to help myself out of my current situation, adding a feeling of hopelessness to the proceedings. While anxiety itself isn’t necessarily depressive, when it is frequent or overwhelming, as it often can be for myself, it becomes very depressive, and I believe this trait of anxiety is in many ways what truly makes it a debilitating condition rather than one which will immediately inspire someone to go and fix their situation.

I would like to, in closing, leave you with a hypothetical question to consider: If you could go back in time to relive certain periods of your life at the tradeoff of, any time spent in the past would still count towards your allotted time here on Earth, would you do it? In other words, if your body would normally live to the age of seventy and you spend twenty years over time in reliving the past, you would end up only living to fifty. Let’s say for argument that each time you returned to the actual present you would have an increased understanding of the past, whether for better or worse. Would it become addictive to go and relive the “best days” again and again, or we come to realize they weren’t as good as we remember and thus move on? How much of our future would we be willing to give away in order to relive our past? How much of an uncertain but possibly better future would we give up for a certain but possibly less fulfilling past? Questions with no easy answers; I encourage you if nothing else, to consider them some cloudy day.

Where the Stars Have Fallen

Desperate now, in the valley lie,
So many stars have fallen from the empty sky.
They called my name as they quickly died,
“Here are your dreams, watch them pass you by”.

In the valley now, the black holes that peer,
Straight through my soul, well isn’t it clear?
When my destiny lies past the fallen skies,
Never shall I reappear.

Eyes that gaze like corpses stare,
I’ll try to pretend that there’s something there.
But only with you am I ever alone,
With your plasticine hair and your rings made of foam.

No I do not think that there’s much you can say,
It’s probably best that you just go away.
In the valley I’ll lie, and with broken dreams share,
The last days of sun before life becomes rare.

Empty now, in the forest cry,
So many leaves have fallen through the empty sky.
Trees that have whispered through the frozen air,
And only I hear because only I care.

So alone I’ll laugh and alone I’ll cry,
Alone I’ll dance and alone I’ll die.
And the dreams that I knew were nothing more,
Than the broken lock on a barren door.

The eyes of truth, the words cannot hide,
The icy silence that lies deep inside.
Only with you do I ever know pain,
Only with you have I ever felt rain.

Don’t you come back, that time has now passed,
And I more than anyone wished it would last.
But there’s no use in spilling more meaningless tears,
Where the stars have fallen I will live out my years.

What We Were Left With

Why did you have to leave so soon?
We’d only just found each other again,
Years had passed with nothing to say,
Now I wish for but one more day.

And now I hardly believe the words,
Just go away, just go away.
Let me crawl under my bed and hide,
This dream must pass on by the by.

I suppose this is your way of getting back,
I didn’t want to go, you pushed me away.
And I know that I should feel differently,
And can you? But you could never see.

I take that back, I’ll take it all,
All my sorrow and all my joy.
And put it in a little black case,
And trade it all just to see your face.

And everyone else, all my friends who came,
And offered their hand and offered themselves,
To grieve instead but I turned them away,
And I think my sorrow is here to stay.

But now I feel and now I know,
What we have lost will never equal,
What we were left with, but I can’t be sad,
What we were left with ain’t half bad.

Some days I pull out the memories,
And I laugh and I cry but most of all,
I have them, and no one else can say,
They can pull them out on a rainy day.