In my sporadic attempts to unearth the root/s of my frequently depressive state I’ve often been asked why I think I might be depressed and what it feels like. This is something I always struggle with because, when I say it out loud (that is, when I’m actually capable of articulating it), it sounds as conceited as it does disingenuous.
People always say that depression is felt and experienced in different ways by different people, and I understand that, but my experience of it has always felt somewhat fake, and my attempt to define it even more so.
So whilst other sufferers describe feelings of withdrawal, anger and irritability, tiredness, and general disinterest in life as abnormalities which blot an otherwise contented life, for me it’s the opposite.
I think my default state is grey, with shards of colour peeping through. I’m generally pensive, irritable, and dispassionate about life, but every now and then my heart flutters into life and I feel connected and even joyful.
Should we redefine depression?
I’ve been wondering lately if that might be half the problem with this depression lark, that is, refusing to acknowledge it as our default state and therefore constantly trying to reverse it.
Current descriptions of depression seem to suggest that our default state of being is one of happiness, of feeling at one with the world and full of joy and wonder; something must therefore go awry for such feelings as persistent rage or indifference to appear on anything but a transitory basis.
So I’d like to propose a reverse theory and suggest that perhaps it’s actually quite normal, maybe even our default state, to feel pissed off, hopeless, sad, or even totally devoid of feeling the majority of the time.
What if we admitted that depressed feelings are not abnormal at all? After all, at some point we simply decided as a species that happiness, that is the absence of depression, was our ultimate goal. Perhaps giving up this ambition would actually make us all more contented?
Isn’t that all a bit grim though?
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting we all go around continually spouting about the hopelessness of life and refusing to get out of bed, grinding civilisation as we know it to a halt as we compare our buckets of tears.
I’m just proposing a change in the way we think about depression, or more importantly depressed people. For people like myself, feeling happy is just not a natural state of being, and it’s hard work to be anything else.
This realisation has been quite profound for me; it explains why I feel inauthentic when I talk about my depression, because the language I’ve been given to describe it is imbued with an assumption of abnormality. My feelings don’t feel unnatural as I feel them, but only when I have to talk about them as such.
Imagine a society where someone can sit in a bar or a restaurant and look how they feel without being asked what’s wrong. Imagine expressing frustration or irritability, sadness or helplessness, displeasure or fatigue, quite regularly without having to label such feelings as symptoms of depression.
I’m talking about acceptance, not necessarily embracing uncomfortable feelings but at least normalising them somewhat, so those of us who experience them consistently don’t feel like such freaks.
Does depression even exist?
Now, I know this might be a bit controversial, especially from someone who has been dosed up on a steady concoction of Duloxetine and Mirtazapine for some time now, but I’ve often wondered whether depression is real or a socially constructed concept. Are we making ourselves depressed by suggesting that something is wrong with us if we’re not happy most of the time?
We all know that modern life is frenetic and claustrophobic and frequently removes us from our authentic selves. And so we say that we are becoming more depressed, or that more people are reporting feeling depressed; we applaud this new openness before dumbing it down with drugs or endless talking therapy.
But perhaps things are actually getting worse because more and more people are becoming incapable of coping with uncomfortable feelings, of seeing them as natural or indicative of a default human condition which is actually bearable if only we would accept it.
This might sound like utter bollocks to some people, but it might just make sense to others. All I know is it makes some sense to me, and I think I might just be a little happier if I stopped pretending to be happy or striving to achieve it. My resting bitch face might offend some people but so be it.
If you’re interested in this concept of depression as a social construct, you might find it interesting to read Johann Hari’s “Lost Connections: uncovering the real causes of depression – and the unexpected solutions”. This book and his ideas certainly got me thinking about modern day depression and its causes.
Let me know what you think; is depression perhaps our natural, default state which we’re constantly trying to override, making ourselves even more discontented in the process?