Thursday, July 21, 2016

Your depression is not okay

Depression is a big topic these days. You hear about it a lot, people talk about it. It used to be something people tried to keep hidden. They tried to put on their best face for others. Now days we are more open about it. People take a "more healthy" approach to their depression. They embrace it, accept it for what it is, and try to share with others and even to educate them on the issue. They show concern for others like them, and want them to know that it's okay to live with depression.

The problem is that it is not okay to live with depression.

Depression, a psychological ailment, is today viewed more like a medical diagnosis. People talk about "their depression", the way they would talk about their arthritis, or their Crohn's disease. The insinuation is that depression is an inherent condition, a combination of genetics and life, and that coping with depression is more a matter of treating symptoms than curing the disease.

But depression is not a disease. It is an emotional state. It is perfectly normal to be disappointed, or angry, or anxious, or aroused. As we mature, we learn to control those emotions, rather than to be controlled by them. Living in one emotional state for too long is never healthy. Life is about balance. We would never tell someone that it is okay always be angry, or to have an insatiable sex drive. Likewise, we should not believe it is okay to live with long-term depression.

What is depression? To many, it is some hormonal imbalance that prevents a person from regulating his mood, in the way that Type I diabetes is an insulin imbalance that prevents a person from regulating his blood sugar. But this does not hold up to scrutiny. Some societies are more depressed than others. Which suggests that the societal influences are stronger than the biological ones. I'm not here to talk about societal causes of depression. Clearly there is much in our society to be depressed about. (For reference, see the entire rest of my blog.) But I'm more interested right now in an individual's depression.

Depression is simply frustration coupled with exhaustion. Frustration is closely related to anger. It is an energetic emotion, sourced from irritation and disappointment at being unable to achieve something or to evoke an intended response. It's normal to get frustrated. We get frustrated when the baby won't stop crying, or the customer is unreasonably demanding, or the damn computer won't connect to the effing printer. It's similar to anger in that it compels us to action. To do anything, even something rash, to make the problem go away. Some are more prone to frustration than others. Usually frustration goes away. In most people it does. The baby falls asleep and we pour some wine and throw on some Jock Jams and life is good again. Sometimes frustration is chronically recurring. And sometimes it never really goes away.

Like any emotion, frustration can be habit-forming. Think of the angry person. The person who long ago had good reason, or reasons, to be angry, and the emotion never died. Instead, the person became accustomed to anger, because quick to anger, but can't really remember why he was angry in the first place. Depression is like frustration that never died. But frustration is exhausting. (Anger is energizing). When exhaustion sets in, frustration becomes less of an impulse to do anything, even something rash, to get the desired outcome, but more of a resignation that all efforts are futile. The frantic rage of frustration becomes more of a debilitating lethargy. Depression is exhausted frustration.

So what is frustration? I heard somewhere that all frustration comes from the word should. "He should appreciate me more." "The company should give me a raise for all my hard work." "The computer should work since I spent all that money on it." Sure those all may be valid complaints, but that is beside the point. Frustration can be self imposed as well. When I was a kid I golfed some, and I was the most frustrated golfer ever. If I missed the putt, or hit a terrible drive, I would become frustrated. Why? Did I expect I should do better? Clearly I had not put forth the practice required to do well, nor did I have my mind calm enough for performance.

Much of our frustration though is of the first type, that seems to be imposed on us from others or the world in general. And the word should is always the culprit. We expect others to act in a certain way, but they don't. We expect the world to appreciate us, but often it doesn't. Frustration happens when the world doesn't respond the way we expect it to. The source of this inconsistency is projection. We project our values and mores onto others, and expect them to act as we would act. He expects the boss to reward his hard work because he values hard work. She expects him to notice her new shirt because she would notice his. Even if values are similar, there is often a gulf in perception. In a recent speech George W. Bush delivered a great line, and maybe it's not his, but it went something like this:

 We tend to judge others by their worst actions, and ourselves by out best intentions.

This is something we should all internalize and think about every day, for our own sanity. Perhaps he intended to work hard, but actually found many distractions that hindered productivity. Maybe he did notice her shirt, but got caught up in conversation and forget to make the compliment.

The point to be made is this. Behind depression there is frustration. And behind that frustration there is probably projection. Projection, a consequence of self-centeredness, gives us a false vision of the world. A person becomes jaded when the expectations of their imagined world don't match with the reality of the actual world. Depression is a cue that we need to adjust our perception of the world, and thus our expectations, and then our actions. There is not enough time in our lives to mope. Disappointment will happen, but depression will diminish your quality of life, and those of your loved ones. Don't accept that life, not for one second!

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