Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thinking about depression and its lies

The following are some excerpts from a piece I drafted, intended for publication. Folk may find them helpful.

Depression—which has been written about for centuries under the older term of melancholia—is a pattern of thought, belief, feeling. It is—in the powerful metaphor of Australian-born psychologist Dorothy Rowe, whose description of suicide [when helplessness—I cannot see what I can do to make it better—becomes hopelessness—whatever I do will not make it better] I used above—a prison. Depression is where the sufferer lives. The vantage point from which you view the world. It is patterns of thinking and habits of mind. The story you tell yourself, your interpretation of past and present, that makes sense of your feelings and experiences. Creating thereby dire expectations of the future. Folk who have suffered from both cancer and depression regularly report that depression is worse—for it blights your entire life. To think your way out of the disastrous pattern of your thoughts is not an easy thing to do, since what one wishes to use to heal is precisely what is wounded and malfunctioning.
Something I later came to realise about deep emotional distress, particularly depression, is that one operates in layers. A depressed person is trying to manage internal pain. So they behave in ways that respond to that. Ways that can be deeply irrational, even destructive, for their interactions with the outside world. But internal pain has acquired a lexical priority over external sense.
Depression is ultimately a pattern of thinking, and it is that which has to change. The notions from Buddhist psychology of stilling the mind and the illusory insistence of wanting are great aids to eliminating anxiety. First, by simply stopping mental “chatter”. Second, by being sceptical about the pattern of one’s thoughts. This creates space to examine one’s anxiety. As well as other emotions and presumptions.

It is a bit like climbing a mountain range. Sometimes you break through above the clouds of fear, anxiety, delusion. Then you slide back into the valley and they close over you. But, if you keep working at it, each mountain is higher than the previous—so you spend more time unclouded—and each valley also—so you sink into the clouds less and less each time. It is being imprisoned by things that you do not see which is the most destructive. Whispering traitors of the mind are the most profound barriers precisely when they cannot be brought out into the light and examined. So, the more you dig out such whispering traitors and expose them to the withering light of critical examination, the more time you spend above the clouds and the less far you get dragged back in any relapse.

If depression is a destructive cycle of anxiety, anger and helplessness, then each part has to be attacked. Once one learns to recognise the impulse to be anxious, and separate it from actually being anxious—that anxiety is a stress reaction, and can be free-floating, and so can find anything to latch onto. But the particular thing it latches onto (bodily malfunction in my case) is a mere epiphenomenon, not to be given any moment. It can thereby, with practise, become remarkably easy to kill anxiety attacks. Anger can be a little more difficult, since there is often reason to be angry. But it can also be interrogated—even, if necessary, laughed at. The great lie of depression—its most insidious and deadly, from which all its other lies flow—is that there is only the one way to look at something, the way that is making you sick.
Helplessness is the gap between what one thinks one ought to do and what one thinks one can do. One’s expectations about both can be wildly off. Indeed, if one is suffering from depression, that is more or less guaranteed to be true. So, you need to work to raise one’s confidence in what you can do, and moderate one’s expectations about one ought to do (such as no longer believing one has to twist oneself into false shapes to “fix” everything). If you steadily work to expand what you can do (by doing things), and lower the self-flagellating expectations of what you ought to do, then you can reach a state where what one believes one can do is greater than what you believe you ought to do. In which case, you are no longer helpless.

Dorothy Rowe argues that there is a lot of pride in depression. And pride is a deadly sin because it blocks you from reconsidering things. Having the humility to consider that there might be other ways of looking at your experiences, and the appropriate reactions thereto, is very important.

Particularly in liberating yourself from depression’s lie of the dire future. The truth is, you simply do not know the future. So you have no right to decide that it will be bad.


  1. Hi Lorenzo

    I am going to read this more closely later, but from what I have read, I am so glad the words "chemical imbalance" do not seem to appear. One of the best ways I can think of to describe a lot of depression is frozen anger.

  2. Oh yes, that is a good description.

  3. Sometimes I think that majority of research on depression trhow away the rationale: what causes depression?
    When you got only negative feedback for any of you effort? Just as simple as that. Seriously.

  4. Physical activity is helpful: it releases endorphins to start with.

  5. My partner was depressed, during our 2 year relationship She was either very energetic or very low and sleepy.

    She told me such horrible things about her ex husband, in fact She moved in with me because She was scared that on this particular night he was going to burn her face and cut off all her hair.

    Because of her OCD and depression, She didn't work. She often described herself as useless, worthless and had done nothing with her life.

    In the 2 years we lived together She had episodes of anger (probably 3 or 4 days a week).

    She was insanely jealous of my ex wife and any mention on tv of holiday places or things we had done sent her crazy.

    She would call me lazy, say I loved my previous 2 wives more than her, and would demand actions to prove my love. This included upgrading holidays that I paid for and eventually took me to the level that when we got engaged I'd gone from 5K in the bank to 10K in debt.

    I paid and handled all bills, was in full time work and when her kids stayed with us I would do all the cooking and attend to all their requests.

    Her anger turned to violence and She would regularly pull my hair, punch me round the head, dig her nails into my hands and if I turned away She would punch and kick me in the back.

    She got to the level that I wasn't allowed to see my family and I rarely saw my friends.

    She hurt herself as much as She hurt me and when hitting me She would say how She hated me for making her hit me.

    If I tried to walk away from her She would call me a coward and a spineless man.

    6 weeks ago we were due to go to the cinema, but when I got home from work She said we couldn't go as the house was too untidy. I said lets do an hour each and finish of saturday. She disagreed and at some point during her outburst I left the house and drove to my brothers. I spoke to her 3 or 4 times whilst out and she was threatening me so I kept saying I would drive by the house and pick her up for the cinema but I wouldnt come in.

    She refused to go to cinema and screamed so much the neighbours came round to tell her to keep quiet (I was not at home). I tried one last time 10 mins before film started and She told me to get home or else, I didnt, turned off phone and watched film.

    At some point during the evening She smashed up stuff, cut up half my clothes and set fire to a keepsake. When I returned after the film I went outside and picked up my burned troll (a keepsake 18 years old).

    Cant remember the next bit too well other than She was being violent, I managed to get out of house and slept in car overnight in a lane

    The next morning She called and said come home I'm worried about you. I returned home and we had an hours sleep.

  6. When we woke I had a bath.
    She stood over me in bath and said I had to watch same film that night, I said no but I'd watch a different film or I'd take her and her son to see it and pick them up. Each time I refused She hit me.

    I agreed (was a lie) and then when She was in shower I grabbed a few things and left her. She attempted suicide (but let people know in advance so She could be rescued) and spent night in hospital.

    After a week of drugs and pyschiatris help, she came into my workplace and said She was cured and i should come home. I didn't go back.

    After 2 weeks She decided to remove me from her life so told all our joint friends that I was trying to make her homeless, was a wife beater, a pervert who was driving past her kids school everyday, was harassing her family and also stalking her at her house.

    This has been very stressful and because I wont come and see her (she still tells me to come round and see how she's changed), she came into my office at work and shouted out how I was a wife beater, had just as many insecurities as her and listed them all. She said I've got no friends left and my family hate me. She turned round to the ladies in my office and apologised for the interruption and told me she promised never to contact me again.

    I'm happy to stay away from gym and our joint friends as I just want to be left alone. I'm wondering how common this is and if She will eventually leave me alone?

    I truly think her aim is to take away my gym, my friends and family and for me then to come back to her so we can continue our lives. As She keeps saying "We have got this great bond that nobody knows"

    Phew that's a big enough rant