I’ve heard it said that “depression is the truth that lies.”
In an existential sense, the bottom line, grinding “why bother” query that cycles incessantly through the depressed brain is a completely valid question. The danger is when, in the absence of any proven answer, “why bother” starts being asked rhetorically by the depress-ee.
We recognize in this state of despair that there is no objective reason to bother with anything because yes, we’re all going to die, and if we’re lucky, we’ll grow old and probably get sick first.
So in a sense, the reasoning of a depressive is dead-on in terms of objective fact. That’s why, when someone is depressed, you can’t argue them out of it.
But facts are not the same as truth. So even though the facts are straight, and in that sense you could call the mind of depression ‘truth’, it is indeed a’ truth’ that lies.
We’re not talking about truth as if it’s the same as Kelly-Anne Conway’s “Alternative Facts,” because there are no alternative facts.
The fact of there being nothing to objectively bother for reveals a deeper truth: Whatever we perceive is transient and fundamentally void of meaning except that which we choose to ascribe to it.
In other words, we get to decide to bother, and with what. “Why bother?” when asked sincerely is an invitation to create. To make meaning, as in to make something matter.
As things slow down and there is less structured time, which often happens around the holidays, we become acutely aware of time wasted because whatever we do is completely up to us. And that can be overwhelming.
This may make depression sound like a First World problem. Of course, it isn’t. You can be constantly busy on behalf of the survival of yourself and others, and still experience the feeling of wasting your life.
Rumination on this idea breeds a pernicious feeling of futility, where all the things we were previously enthused about: our dreams, our projects, even our activism, feels more and more obligatory than inviting.
That is not a happy place to be. I don’t know about you, but when that sense of futility starts to take hold, I find I need to take a nap after everything I do.
When you hit this place, reread this blog, because immediate triage is needed. Your neurotransmitters are fusing into a headspace you just don’t have the luxury to linger in.
Even if you don’t want to speak to anyone, speak to yourself, claw yourself out of isolation. I’ve realized that I don’t necessarily have to exert the effort to call anyone, because when I separate from the depressed mind just enough to speak to myself with a pen to paper, letting the ink flow like blood onto the page, I am no longer alone. I am in my own better company.
Pen in hand, I begin to find my way back……
So start by writing your way out of depression (or your go-to might be finger painting. My point is not to be prescriptive, but to awaken the Creator within you.)
I have a colleague and mentor who taught me that depression is a crisis of meaning. When we’re not making meaning, we fixate on the existential void. But “the void” is not desolate. We fill it constantly with every thought and action. Here’s a fact: the essence of nothingness is not malevolent. It is pure potential.
My colleague and I differ in that I have found it necessary to use medication to stabilize myself enough to face and create from that pure potential. I do not ascribe to the dualistic perspective that the pharmaceutical industry is one big conspiratorial corporate brainwashing operation and that the psychiatric conditions outlined in the DSM-5 are complete bunk (just as a fun side-note, in my biological family, depression is referred to as “The Gorfien Curse”).
I may change my mind about that one day, but for now I say pull the pen across the page, play the guitar, talk to a friend, and if all else fails (or before that if you so desire) get professional help and do whatever works even if that means complying with a psychopharmacologist.
Other things I do once I write myself away from the brink are yoga, exercise and most consistently meditation. You gotta give yourself a break from that hurtful self-talk, and meditation or any type of “mindfulness” (which simply means noticing and not getting dragged around by your thoughts and feelings) is the best structure I’ve found for that.
Whatever you do, stick around. Please. The inevitable conclusion is not “why bother” to live. You don’t know what you’ll be missing, or what others will miss when you come out on the other side of whatever is causing your suffering of the moment.
Whatever you do, don’t impose your pain on others via self-destruction. When it comes to meaning, let that matter enough.
Good article. As someone who manages depression that’s often tied to career and the ways my job is/is not fulfilling and purposeful, this particular part resonated with me: “depression is a crisis of meaning. When we’re not making meaning, we fixate on the existential void.”
Your essay on “The Gorfien Curse” opens new ways to look at depression. It’s also beautifully written. Thank you for taking us with you. As someone surviving “The Fissinger Curse”, my appreciation comes from the inside! Have a light-filled holiday season. I’m blessed to know you.
Your essay on “The Gorfien Curse” opens new ways to look at depression. It’s also beautifully written. Thank you for taking us with you. My appreciation comes from the inside!
You’re so smart and compassionate and courageous! Thanks for this, Rahti.