Self-destruction and the struggle against depression
August 26, 2009 8:37 PM   Subscribe

What are we fighting when we fight against depression?

A psychologist recently offered the following comment that struck me as a potentially constructive (read: not self-destructive) way of conceptualizing the strong sense of sorrow, solitude and of depersonalization that have me dwelling on death with unnerving frequency and concreteness: namely, that I should take care to not think and treat depression as separate and distinct, as if this gnawing and piteous feeling were something that eroded and displaced the self, to be "struggled against" (as the common expression goes) and opposed.

After this suggestion, I have come to suspect that the analogy of antagonism has done a particular disservice in the domain of mental disorders, when both the adversaries and the arena are aspects of myself. Further reflection brings the realization that what language I have to understand and express emotions is not only limited but seems to be limiting my own ability to cope with negative feelings and beliefs.

What follows, then, is this question: what other analogies are available? what modes of relating could I draw from that are not antithetical, to stop this "struggle against" depression and put an end to self-sabotage?

(Although I recognize that there are physiological components to depression, the fact that at my lowest of lows I feel acutely disconnected from myself and from my surroundings tells me that I could benefit from some kind of perceptual shift, beginning at how I conceive depression as a problem. If you disagree, and think that this is fruitless whimsy, then I would be equally grateful for your thoughts.)
posted by Aleatoire to Human Relations (41 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:42 PM on August 26, 2009

That's not my own experience, but obviously all humans are different so I'm not surprised that you and I have different experiences.

In my own experience of depression, it has felt very similar to other kinds of illness--the feeling is that something is out of whack, not right, out of balance. And my first memories of experiencing depression are from my very early childhood (like, age 3 or so)--I would go to my parents and say "I feel gray" in the same way I might say "I feel sick to my stomach."

I know that my depression is part of me, but I don't think my attempts to remediate it and manage its symptoms are "fighting against myself" any more than I think that people taking insulin or making changes in their food and exercise plans in order to control their diabetes are "fighting against" themselves.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guess your mileage varies on this one...I used to call it "the dragon" and was fond of visualizing the dragon head mounted on my imaginary fireplace.

But another way I always used to think of it was that it was simply a feeling occasioned by brain chemicals-sometimes I could disconnect it that way. But again, for ME, it was helpful to see the depression as NOT me, but simply a symptom.

On further thought, two other analogies come to mind. One is that of "surfing the wave" of emotion, and not letting it wipe me out. The other one would be that of likening it to riding out the contractions of childbirth, but if you are male or childless that one would be of limited value. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:50 PM on August 26, 2009

I find your question unclear, but I'll take a stab at interpreting it. I think you're suggesting that two things might impede your ability to deal with a negative emotion: first, treating it as something separate from yourself, and second, treating it as a bad thing that you want to get rid of.

It's not at all clear to me why these are harmful (can you clarify why you think so?). I guess the latter might impede your ability to deal with emotions because struggling too hard to resist a negative emotion might make it worse (especially if you get upset about failing to resist it). The former actually seems like a good thing--if you can dissociate yourself from an emotion (or any mental state), you might be less affected by it, and you'll certainly able to understand it better.

You might want to learn (or learn about) meditation: it's all about learning to control your attention, mainly attention to your own thoughts and emotions. People who are serious about meditation (I'm not one but I've talked to them) seem to think that detached observation of your own emotions, without positive or negative judgments, can make a big difference in your life. But this is a skill that takes a lot of practice to develop.
posted by k. at 8:58 PM on August 26, 2009

A book that speaks to this issue is The Depression Book by Cheri Huber.
posted by tacoma1 at 9:17 PM on August 26, 2009

On its surface, the book is a medical textbook in which Burton applies his large and varied learning in the scholastic manner to the subject of melancholia (which includes what is now termed clinical depression).

Though presented as a medical text, The Anatomy of Melancholy is as much a sui generis work of literature as it is a scientific or philosophical text, and Burton addresses far more than his stated subject. In fact, the Anatomy uses melancholy as the lens through which all human emotion and thought may be scrutinized, and virtually the entire contents of a 17th-century library are marshalled into service of this goal.[1]

Burton is forthright about his intentions in writing the Anatomy — "I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy," he concedes. This acknowledged desire to distract and amuse himself motivated Burton to produce a wide-ranging document, containing digressions and commentary. Whatever its strengths as a medical text or as a historical document, it is the Anatomy's vast breadth — addressing topics such as digestion, goblins, the geography of America, and others[1] — and the particularly characteristic voice of its author that are most commonly cited by its admirers as the main sources of its appeal. Both satirical and serious in tone, the Anatomy is "vitalized by (Burton's) pervading humour"[2], and Burton's digressive and inclusive style, often verging on a stream of consciousness, consistently informs and animates the text.

--Wikipedia on The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up. by Richard Burton.

I don't have an answer for you, but I think you should read this book.
posted by jeb at 9:22 PM on August 26, 2009

I would say that the struggle is against a habit of thought that runs in circles and seems difficult to escape. But like in a dream, the harder you try, the weaker you are to break out of it. By 'othering' the depression, you're creating a monster against which you can't win. When you struggle against it, you're struggling against something you've created.

The key is focussing on the 'habit' part instead. Habits aren't changed by grand decisions or maximum efforts. They're changed by continually taking small steps in a certain direction. This is, I think, why a lot of effective treatments for depression have to do with behavioural tactics: taking a walk, going to a different room, starting to do something. They aim to short-circuit the habitual process of depressed thoughts leading to shame and guilt and feelings of worthlessness that lead to more depressed thoughts.

Ultimately I broke my habit of being depressed by attaching contempt to it, by feeling a bit of disgust towards myself when I recognized that I was starting this cycle. That motivated me to distract myself right at that moment, to do something else, to move somewhere else, to think about something else. By bailing out of the mental process each time, I built up a backlog of experience of not being depressed that made it easier each subsequent time to recognize it starting and to pre-empt it with something else, each time with more confidence that it would work because it had worked in the past.

After several years, those episodes didn't even start anymore, and I'd gained a tremendous measure of mental confidence in my ability to direct my mindset usefully. It's been a benefit my whole life since.
posted by fatbird at 9:31 PM on August 26, 2009 [15 favorites]

I don't have an answer for you, but I think you should read this book.

Have you actually read that? The Anatomy of Melancholy is fascinating and amusing (I've read only part of it), but an eccentric 15th-century parody of a medical reference book is not a good place to find solutions to your problems. It is also not mainly about melancholy.
posted by k. at 9:41 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say it seems rather linked to disappointment, especially in self. So it might not be far off to say we're fighting against our own expectations.

(Not a doctor, just a student of the night.)
posted by rokusan at 9:43 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops, I meant 17th century.
posted by k. at 9:43 PM on August 26, 2009

Have you actually read that?

Yeah, I have. I guess we just disagree.
posted by jeb at 9:52 PM on August 26, 2009

You might want to look into dialectical behavioral therapy. The wiki entry focuses on it's uses for bipolar disorder, but my therapist has just introduced me to some of the techniques and it seems useful for depression. I was just reading some chapters from a workbook, and the coping techniques and emphasis on awareness and acceptance of your mental state seem fairly universally appropriate.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 9:58 PM on August 26, 2009

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may be a helpful alternative frame of view.

Meditation has been helpful for me. When I go on meditation retreats I often have depression arise. I’ve learned that when I have enough space (i.e., not too much outside stimulus or competing demands for attention) I’m able to just sit and observe the whole complex of feelings/emotions/thoughts. However, often when I return to the “real” world, I find I’m unable to generate enough space to both accept and observe the depressive complex and still function well in my life/work without the help of an antidepressant. Still though, through meditation I’ve learned that “fighting against” just makes everything worse. It’s much better for me to do my best to accept and work with whatever thoughts/feelings are present. I’ve also learned that depression can’t kill me. Ultimately it is only a feeling/emotion and there comes a point where the emotion simply can’t get any worse. At that point it simply resonates or vibrates through me (I have the image of being rung like a large church bell), but can do no more. Long story short, I guess, is that meditation has lent me a bit of detachment from what used to seem an all encompassing experience. Now, at worst, it’s a *mostly* encompassing experience, but never *all* encompassing. If I can maintain acceptance, I can see that the depression is a “something” sitting within a larger container of awareness that is not itself affected by the depression.

I also want to mention that I’ve never felt what you describe as “acutely disconnected from myself and my surroundings” even in my worst depressive episodes, so not sure how much my experience resonates with yours. In my worst depressions, I feel overly self-absorbed, as if I’m being smothered by and am unable to escape my sense of “self.”
posted by Zendogg at 10:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you want to know why you fear death and dwell so much on it?

It's because, in a way, you're already dead. The life you are living is dead.

I think what we must "fight against" is a shitty life -- a life that constrains us, cheats us, and ultimately bores us to death.

Depression happens when we scatter our energies all over the place, trying to please everyone but ourselves and trying to achieve everything except what we truly want. That kind of life is literally pointless in every sense of the word: our mental focus and physical action is not pointed on anything that makes us think and feel and act... alive.

The body does not lie. In depression, the feelings in your body are telling you "give up on this bullshit, it's not right" yet we don't listen to it; we try to keep pushing onward. But the body will not go unheeded. It will take away the energy and will required to continue whatever activity that it feels is wrong and untenable.

If you want to beat depression, get away from the things that make your life shitty.

What would happen if we had the courage to say "Hell yes!" to the parts of life that give your soul a boner, and "to hell with it" with all the rest?
posted by Theloupgarou at 10:49 PM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]

I've found it helpful to see it as studying or learning instead of struggling.

Think of depression like a big predator. You wouldn't set out to struggle with a grizzly bear, right? That would be suicide. Instead, if you heard there were grizzlies in the area, the smart thing to do would be to learn all about them and watch their habits carefully. That way, you could make sure to keep a safe distance, give them the space they need, and keep from antagonizing them. Eventually, you'd learn good habits for living in grizzly country — keeping your trash someplace they can't get into, not stepping between them and their cubs, whatever — and you could get on with your life in a safe and peaceful way.

That's my goal with depression. I figure I can't kill it, but I can at least learn how not to get eaten when it comes around. And hopefully, those not-getting-eaten skills will get to be second nature someday and I won't have to worry about them all the time. (Okay, it's a really long term goal. But compared to the alternatives — "Magically make the depression go away forever and never come back," "Quit whining and suffer in silence," "Jump off a bridge" — it's the most appealing and practical of the bunch. I'd rather spend the next forty years learning how to live with my emotions than spend them searching for a magic spell or a silver bullet that likely doesn't exist.)

That said, one of my crucial not-getting-eaten skills is "Take your damn meds." They're not a miracle cure or a silver bullet, but they keep the bear from sniffing around my door quite so often, and that's a big help. Learning how to live with depression absolutely does not mean you have to abandon medical help. In fact, just the opposite — it means learning how to take whatever help you can get.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:59 PM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

A failed synaptic chemical pulse.
posted by Muirwylde at 12:17 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great question. The book Where the Roots Reach Toward Water addresses this question. I believe the author ultimately looked at it as "giving in" to his depression and listening to what it was trying to tell him.
posted by salvia at 12:19 AM on August 27, 2009

1: depression is a response to grief and loss, real or imagined. it is disappointment and a withdrawing - from self and society - in order to understand one's past and its events.
2: that loss might come from a loss of imaginative capability or the capacity to have a flexible and open interpretation of life in any aspect, a capability that leads to seeing one's emotions and thoughts clearly and in context.

That is just my interpretation though. There could be as many interpretations of what depression is and what you're fighting against when you are trying to overcome it as there are people on this board.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 1:08 AM on August 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just finished a book written by a guy who has depression and he talks about your question at length - The Noonday Demon
posted by parjanya at 2:02 AM on August 27, 2009

Don't know if this is relevant to your question's meaning, but just as a mini factoid, Winston Churchill (bi-polar I think) used to refer to depression as a "Black Dog" which followed him around.
posted by greenish at 3:33 AM on August 27, 2009

You're looking for a different model of the mind in which your depression isn't "other." The model I use is one in which the self isn't unitary--that is, I see the self more as a collection of self-states. With this model, your goal would be to get the different states to get along with each other rather than for one of them to take over and exclude the others.

One author who uses such a model is Philip M.. Bromberg
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:51 AM on August 27, 2009

One of the perceptual shifts that have aided me was a change in the way I fundamentally see myself, which allowed me to incorporate my depressive tendencies into my concept of self.

The idea is that of me as a school of fish - a big, dense one that sticks together and swims more or less in coordination, so that to an outside observer, it looks like one big fish. (For further reference, just check out the one in Finding Nemo!) It's not a perfect analogy rather than an easy visualization: the fish are all different in myriads of ways. Some are angry, some are happy, some are relaxed, some are tense, some are easy-going, some are total recluses... and yes, some are deeply depressed. And - apologies to all icthyologists, I have no idea how actual schools of fish go about their business - sometimes the depressed or anxious fishes take the lead. And then I look, feel and act like one, big, miserable fish.

The point is that this enables me to avoid letting my depressive tendencies define me entirely - but they're still part of me, not some outside force to combat and reject. Just like the more lightened up fishies are who I am, too. All equally valid. All me. And when I practice mindfulness, I acknowledge them all and let them all, well, "just keep swimming". (Why yes, I really, really liked that movie.)

As a bonus, this has also helped me deal with complex relationships I have with certain people in my life. I can harbour anger and resentment as well as feel deep fondness etc. towards the same person - or, really, towards some of their own thousands of fish - and none of it is fake or less valid. Not even the forgiving fish, side by side with the fish with a grudge.

Lastly, I recently stumbled upon the Big Mind Big Heart approach of Zen. In light of what I just described, suffice it to say it made a lot of sense to me. Or rather, to the Zen fishies.
posted by sively at 4:18 AM on August 27, 2009 [15 favorites]

I started to think of depression as a coping mechanism - or rather, the 'side effect' of a coping mechanism that was once vital for me to do what I needed to get done under certain circumstances. Something that I inadvertently trained my body and my mind into, and that's now become it's 'comfortable,' default path, but one that I can work on putting aside now that circumstances have changed and I've increased my strengths and resources.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:59 AM on August 27, 2009

I'm assuming that you've attempted to negotiate medicinal armistice with this thing, yes? Because all of these questions become completely irrelevant if what you are dealing with is a physiologically based depression which responds to anti-depressant medication(s), of which there are currently many, and more every day, or so it seems.

I struggled for years, decades, truth be told. I can't tell you how many times I've had guns in my mouth and the reason that I can't tell you is that I don't know -- we can safely say "A lot." And it's not that I wanted to die but rather that it hurt so goddamn bad to live -- depression is such a bastard. I asked myself every question that there was to be asked, read every book I could get my hands on, I drank and drugged and ran hard as I could as long as I could until that all quit working, worked with this therapist and with that one, lived dangerously, lived sanely (okay, my version, but still), practiced prayer, meditation, jerking off, exercise, money, love, work, relationships (both getting into and out of, thinking that'd solve the problem) -- on and on it went. A horror show.

In late 2003 I put welbutrin into my mouth and my experience of this world and it's people changed. I could not have been more surprised, I guess I still sortof am. It was like the background music in my life changed, from some heavy, sucky dirge to a pleasant, warm, good day sunshine sort of song, bees buzzing around, flowers and shit, blue skies, etc and etc. And it's life for sure, and not always blue skies / smiling at me / nothing but blue skies / do I see but rarely been even close to the same neighborhood I lived in for all those years. I recommend it.

And maybe yours is situational and/or maybe you can't find any relief through chemistry; well, hey, back to the questions, the ponderings, the seeking, the aching. I did learn just one hell of a lot in my years of doing all that and I know for a fact I'm one hell of a lot more compassionate and understanding than I'd have been had I not gone through it all but I surely do wish that they'd have compounded welbutrin into a time-release formula about twenty years prior to the time they did and that I'd had it in my mouth and going down my throat.

Just my $0.02, I hadn't seen anyone else bring it up in the thread and due to my experiences I damn sure think that it's worth looking into if you haven't done so already.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:02 AM on August 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

Although (fortunately) not doing so from personal experience, I completely agree with DancestoBlue's sentiment. Clinical depression is a disease which the evidence suggests is more chemical and physiological, in its origins and its treatment, than many other diseases. To romanticize it, to philosophize it, just doesn't make any sense -- it's chemical.

To think of this another way -- you are far more likely to find smart, successful, well-loved people suffering from clinical depression than you are to find skinny people with Type II diabetes or non-smokers with emphysema -- yet you don't find doctors often romanticizing or philosophizing overeating or nicotine addiction. They tell patients to stop the bad behaviors, and in the meantime prescribe them medications which control blood sugar and promote respiration.
posted by MattD at 5:44 AM on August 27, 2009

Basically it's an imbalance in brain chemistry. Signals not getting where they're supposed to. See SSRI for more info about serotonin imbalance.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:00 AM on August 27, 2009

I've definitely used the combative terminology you're referring to, such as I struggle, fight, battle, suffer from, or combat depression. Now that I feel like I am in a good place in terms of managing my depression, I think of it as simply being, I guess. For example, "I live with depression," "I am a clinically depressed person," and "My depression is treated with therapy and medication." It took me a long time to get here, but I think about it more in terms of balance and management (please note, I did not say control) than a fight.

While there are events & circumstances that contribute to my depression, at the end of the day, I believe I have a chemical imbalance, a medical issue that requires treatment, and that, with patience and some trial and error, it can be treated. It reminds me a lot of diabetes. There is the process of balancing your insulin levels, taking medication, making lifestyle changes, and regular check-ups. The same exact things don't work for everyone, but once you figure it out, you can manage your illness with relative ease. In my experience, depression is just like that. With acceptance and some very helpful solutions, my terminology has become more neutral, I suppose. I'm not going to lie though, on my "bad days," it is a struggle, and I don't think recognizing the challenges inherent with living with depression makes it any worse.

Part of the treatment for depression is challenging negative thought patterns and choosing to reframe things in a more positive context even if that's not what you are feeling at the moment. If thoughts of a struggle or a battle bring you down, then shifting to a different concept like balancing or soothing might help you. Then again, if you receive some positive reinforcement from picturing yourself as a warrior warding off & sometimes triumphing over your depression, that's just as important and powerful, too. At the end of the day, it's about works best for you. Keep trying until you find things that help. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:22 AM on August 27, 2009

From my observation, chronic depression can be thought of as having two major components which are intertwined.

The first is the physiological imbalance in the brain chemistry. This directly produces the actual sensations of sadness, loneliness, numbness, or whatever. These are actual physical effects, just like a migraine headache or a spasmed back muscle.

The second is cognitive patterns - negative beliefs, distorted thought patterns, habits of perception and interpretation.

A person who only has the negative thought patterns but doesn't have the negative emotional component isn't depressed - just a cynic.

A person who only has the physiologic imbalance but who has positive cognitive patterns is depressed, but will likely only suffer no more than the brain chemistry dictates at the moment. Such a person may show drastic benefits from medication, exercise, or just the passage of time.

The real killer is when the brain chemistry and the distorted habits of thought start feeding on each other. A sample progression might go as follows:

1) I feel sad and alone (brain chemistry)
2) My rationalizing brain asks why I feel this way and decides that I must be being punished for being a bad person. This belief naturally leads me to ...
3) Feel even more sad and alone (more brain chemistry)
4) The feelings trigger my rationalizing brain to decide that since I'm a bad person, then the people around me must despise me. My brain will search for any incidents where anyone did or said anything negative towards me and discount any incidents where anyone said or did something positive. Of course this leads me to ...
5) Feel even worse (those brain chemicals are really going now)
6) Now that I'm convinced that I'm worthless and everyone hates me, I'll start interpreting every ambigious comment anyone makes in the most hostile possible fashion. I'll also start interpeting every single mistake I make in any context as proof of my own worthlessness. Naturally this makes me ...
7) Feel worse still (at this point the emotional pain is pretty much indistinguishable from intense physical pain)
8) By now my "thinking" brain has decided that since my suffering is all due to my own inherent worthlessness, there's no point in even trying anything which might make me feel better (medication, therapy, playing with friends, etc)
9) and so on.

This feedback loop can get really ugly really quickly. It also has the potential to worsen over time because repetition of mental thought processes tends to burn those patterns in over time - just like developing a habit or practicing a skill.

In order to interrupt this loop you have to intervene on both sides. On the physical side - antidepressants, exercise, exposure to sunlight, whatever works for you. On the cognitive side - things may take longer. Once you've spent years developing a mental habit, it takes a long time and a lot of work to extinguish that pattern and develop a new one. With patience and determination, however, it is possible.
posted by tdismukes at 7:21 AM on August 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

I was treated for depression about a year ago. I am no longer depressed.

If you know my educational background and my general outlook on life, you know I am a highly logical, analytical person.

My advice is to treat it as the neurochemical imbalance it is and not assign any more meaning or power to it than you need to.
posted by kldickson at 7:23 AM on August 27, 2009

Is depression really a "mental disorder"? I read this article recently which sheds a different light on the 'disorder'. A tad long but an interesting read.
posted by Danniman at 7:26 AM on August 27, 2009

depression is a response to grief and loss

Not necessarily. That's "exogenous depression"--there is also "endogenous depression" which appears to be a response to imbalances in the neurochemistry. The two main varieties of endogenous depression are dysthymia and major depressive disorder.

I can promise you I wasn't responding to grief or loss when I was three and woke up in the morning with a weird, sickening feeling in the middle of my chest, a heaviness that lasted for weeks and disrupted my sleep and made me think about ways I could die.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:35 AM on August 27, 2009

I should take care to not think and treat depression as separate and distinct

I think you could interpret this advice as: Depression is not an unwelcome visitor, or an infectious disease. It is an essential part of who you are.

As a metaphor, you could consider the reason that you are "depressed" now is because "depression," whatever that is, has always been in you, is a part of you, and will continue to exist within in you for the rest of your life. You could consider this a reasonable viewpoint based on the fact that all people have the capacity for "depression".

(I put the word "depression" in quotations because for the purposes of illustrating the metaphor, it doesn't matter how you define your own "depression" or even what word you use in its place. We're not trying to define your problem here, only find a suitable frame of reference in which to view it. For instance, some people use a similar metaphor when dealing with alcoholism, and they learn how to deal with their alcoholism day to day, for the rest of their lives, even if they never take another drink, because they believe alcoholism is a part of them that will never go away.)

I personally find the above metaphor to be quite powerful, but sometimes it can actually be too powerful, because there is the danger of accepting depression as a part of yourself and then surrendering to it, which can have terrible consequences for yourself and those around you. But the fight to resist surrender is what brings about the combative metaphor you're trying to avoid, and we're back at the beginning.

How to strike that balance, between acceptance and surrender, is a real challenge, and I'm afraid I don't have any specific advice to give you on that front. Good luck!
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2009

Rather than "struggling with" or "battling" a period of depression, I prefer to "nurse" it. "Nurture" it. "Care for" it. Thinking that there's something wrong with me makes me feel worse about myself. Thinking that there's something scary to fight makes me feel more scared. But thinking that there's a part of me that needs some extra love, lets me be gentle with myself.

Maybe this sounds silly. But in my head, I try to talk to myself in soothing tones, and tell myself that I will be ok. I let myself sleep in a bit more on weekends. I coax myself into going for walks, both for the exercise and to get myself out of the house, because it's good for me.

I guess I think of myself like a little kid or a puppy or something that needs to be comforted. You don't yell at a sad kid to make her feel better. You don't stare down a puppy and try to overpower him into being happy. You show love and compassion in every way you can, even if it's just sitting together and offering unlimited hugs, until things get better. That's the kind of attitude I try to keep towards my depression: I will keep loving you and things will get better eventually.
posted by vytae at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think the point about medication is an important one.

That said, here's another analogy:

Depression is not a thing, but an activity. It's something your brain does, not something your brain has. What you want is for your brain to stop doing that.

Imagine something much more innocuous, like an eyelid twitch. You can think of it as a thing that you can fight with (I have an eyelid twitch!) or you can think of it as an activity (my eyelid is twitching!) If you "have an eyelid twitch" maybe you're more likely to get mad at it and turn it into an enemy, and think about defeating it. If "your eyelid is twitching" it might be driving you nuts, but you aren't going to think of it as the enemy -- it's just an annoying thing your eyelid is doing right now. It's not your fault, it's not a malevolent intent of its own, it's just an activity that your eyelid is doing that you'd prefer it not to do.

Your eyelid isn't twitching on purpose and your brain isn't "depressing" on purpose. There is no evil intent. It's just something your brain is doing that you happen to find unpleasant and inconvenient.
posted by callmejay at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your question made me think of the trap people get in when they believe that depression is an 'impulse' that could be controlled if they had stronger moral character or some such -- i.e., 'what right do I have to be depressed when there are people much worse off than me?' And so if you believe it's a matter of 'better self-control' you have set up a struggle against that impulse which you cannot win, and which may in fact use up more of your energy and make you more depressed.
posted by mattholomew at 11:18 AM on August 27, 2009

There's a relevant article today on Slashdot
posted by holloway at 3:02 PM on August 27, 2009

modes of relating could I draw from that are not antithetical

If you haven't already, I might look towards Levinas and Lacan. But this is one of the biggest problems Western philosophy and postmodern/poststructuralist theorists have tried to tackle - so good luck thinking yourself through this one.

(Partly, I'm being cheeky and partly, I really mean good luck. Really.)

I don't think your idea here is fruitless whimsy at all. It's a really interesting question. But honestly, unless you plan to write an academic paper on this, you might consider not trying to conceptualize depression at all. After all, you don't need concepts to experience things - only to make sense of them. And depression? It just doesn't make sense. Besides, the very activity of intellectualizing your depression alienates you from it and by extension alienates you from yourself, yes? What you may need is to simply experience it. Maybe the only way out is through.

What works for me is to ride the bad days gently out while telling myself "this too will pass." It's plain and it's a cliche, but it's always turned out to be profoundly true.
posted by kitcat at 4:53 PM on August 27, 2009

Oh, and drugs for me too. Drugs, definitely.
posted by kitcat at 5:04 PM on August 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for each one of these extraordinarily thoughtful and unique responses.
posted by Aleatoire at 4:48 PM on August 28, 2009

My experience is well said by tdismukes (nice job!).

For me, my chronic depression, aka dysthymia, is something I manage. Most times it is fine, but when it rears its ugly head, I have my set of tools I apply to keep it from getting out of control (or another way, for it to take control of me).

I imagine it is similar to diabetes or other diseases that you live with and learn to manage. And I think this is a pretty healthy way of dealing with it, at least with chronic depression (I imagine major depressive episode is quite different in treatment).
posted by evening at 5:13 PM on August 28, 2009

we are simply fighting agaisnt ourselves
posted by xopaigexo at 5:18 AM on August 29, 2009

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