Depression. Formerly referred to as “melancholia.”
It doesn’t really make much sense if I think about it. As all living beings strive to survive and be happy, how and why can it be that they’ll get depressed?
Instead of being driven to keep on and find joy, this is an invisible sort of affliction that makes people dread doing anything. It’ll have you sleeping too much, it’ll prevent you from falling asleep when you desperately want to. There’s this series of slow thumping in the heart, and as each second passes by, everything seems permissible but nothing feels worth doing.
Survival requires a person to grit one’s teeth, clench one’s fist and keep on keeping on. If the world is unfair, then there’s this empowering sense of, “well, I’m not going to let that stop me.” There is this sort of rage against the world, and a source of fuel that propels you forwards towards your dreams and ambitions.
Depression though is this rage turned inwards. If the world is unfair, then it’s somehow your own fault that things haven’t gotten better, that there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do to knock away the sense that nothing will change, nothing will get better. Life can be relatively comfortable, easy, without anything to feel sad about, but melancholia spreads from the ceaselessly pumping heart to all the outer tips of the blood veins. Maybe this dread comes from somewhere you think. Maybe it’s the past sad experiences that’s triggering this. Maybe it’s all the tragic stories you’ve come to learn from novels and movies. That can’t be all though, because surely depression existed hundreds of years before the invention of movies and novels. Or did it? Regardless, why is it afflicting you so pervasively?
Where does it come from?
Not that I’m diagnosed with depression or anything, and I’m sure my words here do no justice for the real anguish and pain that this condition can trigger, but even so, I feel strongly that this is a very perplexing question. It’s not like the source of the condition can be determined. Sometimes people do get to that state due to some kind of traumatic event, due to constant exposure to life-debilitating conditions like extreme poverty or cancer, due to constantly being stressed and overwhelmed, or following the abuse/withdrawal of a substance like alcohol or coffee, or due to other factors that are just not known yet, but often times, it’s like people get depression for no discernible reason.
What’s odd is that so many people are affected, yet ironically, they will feel like no one understand them, that they’re the only people who knows what it’s like.
It’s an invisible, gnawing feeling inside, compounded by endless streams of self-loathing thoughts. That’s why people try to just shrug it off. It’s not a problem if no one notices it people tell themselves. They have lives to lead, family members to support, bosses to report to. It hurts and it’s hard, but no one must know. Maybe it’ll go away eventually, maybe all that’s needed are some friends, something to keep busy, anything but the stigma and label that can come with actually being honest. That triggers even more rage and anger inwards, and all sorts of judgmental questions start flooding past the ego dams: “why are you being such a coward about this?”, “What’s wrong with you?”, “Can’t you stop being a whiner and just get off your butt and do something?”
But then, when other people actually says aloud some of the questions that’s been plaguing your mind, all of a sudden it’s a shock to the system. That’s when it really hurts. The rage turned inwards is validated by society. Even with the awareness that people are generally well-intentioned in their remarks, the exposure to the cruelty of the real world reinforces the lonely introversion. True emotions are to remain hidden, and whatever else, especially the positive statements, joyful expressions, are to be feigned on the outside. The world will never know how draining and exhausting all this is.
Wherever depression comes from, it’s a real condition that afflicts millions of people. Its severity is widely varying depending on the person. Some people will live with depression throughout their whole lives, akin to how diabetics must live with their conditions the rest of their lives. Some people will have one extremely debilitating episode and will eventually come to recover fully. Some people will live quite unaffected most of their lives except for certain moments in their lives when they are suddenly gripped by the full force of depression and melancholia. For some people, depression is not even among the greatest of their daily challenges, as they might have to fend off manic states, haunting hallucinations, self-damaging addictions, physical illnesses, and all other kinds of mental and biological health conditions that make life feel so damn unfair.
Where does depression come from? It’s a good question to ask, at least initially I suppose. But imagine if someone finds out via a doctor’s appointment that she has Type II Diabetes. How long would the doctor stay on the question of how the person came to have diabetes? Where did her diabetes come from? It’s a good question to ask, at least initially. Soon afterwards is the accepted notion that the person will need treatment and support, but of course, only if she is willing to accept help. Educating and motivating the person to seek support and treatment of diabetes is essential, but because as there’s less stigma surrounding this chronic condition than compared to depression, it’s not surprising people with diabetes would typically be more open to accepting assistance.
The big difference with depression is that people aren’t even willing to confide that they have this issue. It’s difficult to know who can be confided in. For working class folks living paycheck to paycheck with basic health insurance, seeing a therapist doesn’t really enter into the consciousness. And again, the thing about the worst forms of depression is this sense that nothing will help, that nothing will get better, so why bother even trying? It’s enough that the rage is turned inwards, but when that rage is validated by those onlooking eyes of the outside world, the pain is unbearably magnified.
It’s no wonder many people will turn to pharmaceuticals and substances as stop-gap solutions. Living in a society that so values productivity and growth, people must at all costs find ways to keep their personal internal problems from messing with their professional and social lives. Taking the time to breathe and really address the issue risks society labeling you as lazy, as cowardly, as unmotivated. Society will allow some breaks, but not for too long, and never ever unconditionally.
So while the question “where does depression come from” is probably an impossible question, perhaps the more pragmatic question is, “How are we as a society making depression worse for people who have it?” and then, “How should we support the people who are dealing with depression?”