Posted by: scintillatingspeck | November 8, 2009

Depressed. Sane.

How curious.  I am writing again.  I am inexorably drawn to the laptop.  Why do I feel the need to apologize every time I start writing?!  And not just apologize, but issue a warning: beware, reader, lest ye get mired in melancholic convolutions.  As if my words alone could carry a degree of toxicity.

It’s almost like a test, really.  Can I break through my own inhibitions?  Can I dare to be mediocre?  For that matter, can I dare to be downright boring, or perhaps some brilliance will come peeping through?  It’s damn hard to lift the lid and find out.

Using words feels risky.  I have been depressed for a while.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, then, this timidity; the longing for connection is so wide and so deep, and the corresponding fear of rejection is twice as wide, twice as deep.  It doesn’t feel safe to be honest and real with people, not when I feel raw and sensitive like a skinned knee.  When I am this sensitive, all of my words and those of others come shouting at me in a cascade of distortion.  Nothing sounds right.  I don’t convey what I mean even halfway adequately.  I make myself shut up and withdraw.  Meanwhile the words of others, when they come through, are too much to take, excruciating, laden with perceived judgments, or terrifying indifference, or even too much beauty and kindness.  I scramble to shut my eyes and ears and mouth, only to come peering out briefly, periodically.  I can’t stand the isolation in my own head and heart.

I know full well that some people might read this and not have a clue what I’m talking about.  So be it.

Sometimes I take those little self-scored tests that are supposed to tell you if you are depressed or not, and if so, how much.  It’s kind of dumb.  I should know by now that if I’m bothering to take the test, I am already depressed.  I know what they ask.  I know how they are scored.  Why do I bother?  Is it to read the standard exhortations at the end, about visiting one’s doctor, about how common it is, about how treatable it is, and all the blah-blah-blah about different kinds of therapy and anti-depressants?  Reading that stuff makes me angry.

It makes me angry because depression, which is still so little understood, is classified as a malady of the individual.  I was reading the entry on depression on the Mayo Clinic website and the part about what causes depression made me just about lose it.  The medical establishment would have us believe that depression is caused by some interplay of genetic factors, hormonal factors, and environmental factors such as personal misfortune.  Great, so by this logic, if you’re depressed, you’re just unlucky, or maybe you are responsible for your own illness.  But what if this is not about an individual malady?  What if the whole planet is fucking insane?  What if it is entirely rational and understandable to become profoundly depressed in the face of the collective predicament we’re in?  So, billions may die or are currently dying because of climate change alone, forget about war and poverty and food shortages and worldwide loss of soil and fresh water and species extinction?  So, the entire edifice of capitalism and globalization is built on massive fraud and exploitation and is about to come crumbling down and taking all kinds of innocents down with them?  So, the world is choking on plastic and petrochemicals and toxics that kill people and albatrosses and sea turtles and entire ecosystems?  So, I’m supposed to take a fucking pill and forget about it?  I’m supposed to harness the power of positive thinking?  I’m supposed to talk to some well-meaning psychotherapist and pay tons of money for the privilege only to have none of these issues go away?

Well.  It’s good to remember why I’m depressed.  At least I get to be sane.



  1. I am moderately embarrassed to admit that this post made me laugh. Not because it is particularly funny, but rather because you are so damn right.

  2. If I may, I’d like to refer you to another post that was a marvelous meditation on depression. The comments were as rich as the post:

  3. Haven’t looked closely at it yet, but apparently Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book is about the toxicity of the ‘it’s-all-fine–go-to-the-mall’ message our culture promotes. You’re not crazy.

    I’m also reminded of an interview I read in The Sun. The man says he asked his shrink how he keeps going, knowing all that’s going wrong in the world. The shrink said, “I have good defenses.” The guy says, ‘but where does that come from?’ and the shrink says, ‘you grow up with it. When you’re a little kid, and your mother goes out, and you say, “are you coming back, mother?”, the good mother doesn’t say, “Probably, if I don’t get hit by a bus.” She says, “of course, darling, I’ll see you soon.” The first answer would be truer! but it’s not what the kid needs. The mom does come back, and the child builds a reserve of trust.

    Your defenses are down. I don’t advocate putting back a thick or brittle shell–your awareness is really a good thing. But treat yourself kindly, too.

  4. i think it’s all true – that the world is sane and insane, and each of us in it is sane in some ways and insane in others. i, too, am skeptical of controlling our nature with medication and medical interventions, but there are obviously times when one can’t cope with life, or even keep living without those. and yes, the more insane culture is, the more pressure each individual is under… and sometimes it takes an intervention of choice to try to manage an intervention you didn’t have any choice in.

    this may sound like a tangent, but i was listening to a planet money (NPR) podcast about the economics of health care, and they interviewed a woman who has her hedgehogs on antipsychotics. and there are plenty of dogs on antidepressants now that they get left locked in alone all day in suburban houses of dual-career families (and bombarded with the toxic chemical load of modern life). we’re at the point where we need psychotropic drugs just to keep our pets from destroying themselves… and hedgehogs and dogs know nothing of global warming and resource depletion and war… what must we be doing to ourselves!?

  5. Alison, always a pleasure to make you laugh, my friend.

    Excavator, thanks for the link, it was a great read!

    CT, I just heard about Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book the other day. It looks intriguing. And I do think there is a place for some defenses and not just unvarnished reality– but sometimes there is a fine line between “healthy defenses” and “denial.” And that denial can have devastating consequences. For that matter, not having enough defenses can have bad consequences too. Sometimes I wish I had more of a choice in the matter.

    Rosemary, true. This is why I will never be an adamant anti-meds sort; if meds are the only thing between a person and suicide, for example, hey, bring on the meds, bring on the hospitalization, the works, bring it on. Been there, done that, glad to be alive (usually). (That said, however, I think I would have to be literally kicking, screaming, and dragged by the scruff of the neck in order to take Paxil again, or the rest of the pharmacy I’ve taken in the past, or all the new drugs that have been invented since I went off everything.) The sane/insane labels have limited usefulness, in the end, but I do think it can have some strategic importance to point out that the conventional ideas of who or what is sane or insane can easily be turned upside-down. And yeah, hedgehogs on antipsychotics, dogs on Prozac–clearly, there is a problem here.

  6. Jen, What to say, except I hear you! The future is bleak sometimes, and I find the only truly cheering thing is the small actions I can find that feel like they make an impact, however small.

  7. Adrie, thanks for hearing me. Small actions are absolutely important. I must say, though, that when I think of YOUR actions, they strike me as very big and significant indeed. You are an inspiration. You are living with great integrity and purpose, regardless of outcome, and that is exactly what I aspire to.

  8. Between ‘healthy defenses’ and ‘denial’–not even a fine line, a whole gray area, I think, because I find it shifts. Denial roars or creeps back in waves.
    That is over-parsing, I know, but I heard a helpful sermon this week.

    My minister was talking about the widow’s mite story, and (after saying that Jesus may not be praising her virtue so much as pointing out that temple taxes are oppressive to the poor) she said we’re all that person sometimes.

    Sometimes what we give, in money, time, or effort, is easy, and comes out of our abundance. Sometimes, it’s every damn ounce of patience/courage we have, and a little bit more. I think, with Lily being sick, and everything else, that’s where you’ve been lately. It won’t always be like that.

    I also want to share with you how Pam starts her sermons. The last two verbs make my hair stand on end every time:
    “O God of justice,* grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will. Amen”

    *(or whatever we’re talking about this week)

    Have I mentioned how much courage I think you have?

  9. I greatly appreciate your minister’s words, CT. This applies perfectly to my own Unitarian Universalist beliefs about the pursuit of truth. (Although there are some UUs who can’t get past the G-word, I am not one of them. 🙂 ) I have found more and more guidance, inspiration, and comfort in religious sources of late. Out of curiousity, CT, and knowing you are a voracious reader, have you read anything by the recently deceased UU minister Forrest Church? Although I hesitate to add to my reading list, as I’m finding it difficult to impossible to concentrate on reading.

    Am I courageous? I don’t know.

  10. I’ve just recently heard of Forrest Church. A UU minister called Thandeka asked me to edit a paper she was giving about the history of UU emotional spirituality, and he was one of her touchstones.

    The Barbara Brown Taylor book I just reviewed might be good for you. She really knows how hard it is to walk the talk.

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