More thoughts

This is something I wrote in an older Auntie BubboPants column that I don’t think I ended up posting here. It’s just a portion of the column, but I think it’s relevant:
On the subject of depression and the reasons one might or might not have for experiencing it:
As a society we often mistake the emotion ‘sadness’ with the mental state ‘depressed’, we even use them interchangeably. Sadness is an emotion, it is a reaction to stimulus. Sadness can be a symptom of depression, but it does not have to be. Depression is a state of mental being, it is more physical than emotional but it often expresses itself emotionally. To be more precise, the outward expressions of depression tend to be more emotional than physical. This makes it far too easy to equate depression with emotions and forget the very real physical changes that lie behind the situation.
It’s easy to look at a person who lost something dear to them and say “it makes sense that they are sad”. It’s much harder to look at a person, see the wild vagaries of hormonal imbalances hidden away inside and say, “it makes sense that you are depressed”. Instead we see the outward manifestation of emotions, sadness, hopelessness, anger, and we say “this makes no sense! you have no reason to be sad! or hopeless! or angry! Go put your pants on and get outside! Suck it up, chica!”
We are visual creatures, we need to see things in order to understand them, but more importantly, we are experiential creatures. We learn by experience and then we create rich and varied databases of information and understanding based on our experiences. We also have amazingly advanced frontal lobes on our brains that allow us to simulate situations based on input AND our experience related databases. What the hell does that mean? It means that we can look at someone who is sad and pull in all the data about their situation and then pull in data from similar experiences we have had and run simulations to better understand what’s going on.
Claire is sad. I will look at Claire and talk to her and determine that she is sad, her boyfriend did not like the pie she made! I will pull that data in and then I will add my own experiences: I have also made things people did not like. I have also been sad. I have direct connections in my own experiences between being sad and people not liking things that I have offered.
Result: Claire’s sadness makes sense to me. I can relate.
Jim is hopeless. Jim just got a new car and has a nice butt. I have felt hopeless. I have also gotten a new car, but I’ve never really had a nice butt. I have never felt hopeless after getting a new car. If I run a simulation of me having a nice butt I cannot come to the conclusion that I would feel hopeless.
Result: Jim’s hopelessness does not make sense to me. I cannot relate.
The flaw in the simulation is that we do not take into account the relevant factors. We’re feeding the wrong data into the brain simulators and therefore the results can only be incomplete at best.
History and literature and anecdotes are FILLED with stories of those people struck hard by fate who just ‘kept going’ despite it all. Bad parents, industrial accidents, malevolent societies, none of that could bring the hero down. On the other hand, there are an equal number of historical and literary figures that seemed to “have it all” and yet still could not find comfort or happiness.
To make matters worse, many societies see this sort of disparity as a form of moral failure. If you have been ‘blessed’ with such favor and still you are sad it can only mean you do not fully appreciate it and are ungrateful.
Clinical depression is one of those things that even the experts don’t have a firm grasp on. It’s slippery and confusing and amazingly inconsistent from person to person. It can stem from experiences or childhood traumas or not. Some people are helped by talk therapy, others by SSRIs, and some people struggle for years and never find solace.
I write all this because it is an issue that cuts close to the bone with me. I have an amazingly excellent life. I have a boyfriend that loves me and is patient and kind to me. I have a wonderful, loving and supportive family. I have two great dogs, one of which contributes to this very column. I am blessed with wonderful friends, people say I am smart and funny and I like to think that is true. On the other hand, the biological family I grew up in until I was an early teen was terrifying and unbearable. I carry the scars both physically and emotionally from that. I have struggled my entire life with depression, at times it has been crippling. Some people have said, “well, it makes sense that you would be depressed considering your childhood” and other have said, “but that’s over and done. You need to focus on the now and stop wallowing”
The answer is somewhere between those two statements and it exists independent of them as well.

2 thoughts on “More thoughts

  1. Someone once said to me, “there comes a point, as an adult, that you choose to be happy or sad.” He did not understand about depression.
    I feel for you. I am in much the same situation (great life, great fiance, etc.) but find myself depressed. I am resigned to having this condition for life. Medication helps, but does not eradicate it.

  2. h’lo friend. Thanks for your honesty in this and your previous post. I am also a person with an awesome life and killer-awesome spouse who has spent much of my life recovering from a not-great childhood and who still struggles loads with depression. We’re freakin’ everywhere. It’s something so many of us share. Isn’t it weird that social constructs make us unable to talk about it?

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