Monday, April 27, 2009

Depression: April 26, 2009

Over the past few weeks I have had several friends come and talk to me separately as they do not know each other. They unexpectedly started talking about anomie, feeling purposeless, listless, alone and down. One has a spouse, the other does not. Both are gay and both came from other countries during the past ten years, one Asian and the other Latino. One comes from a strong Catholic background and the other from atheist roots. There is nothing similar about them, but they have essentially the same complaints. In spite of partner and friends, they feel isolated and alone.

Probably nothing I say here will be new, but I just keep thinking about this over and over, connecting to it through my personal experience. What I am writing is the result of thought, experience and reading the literature over the years. But mostly, it reflects my personal experience and search for answers that psychology and academics do not provide in a way that feels complete for me.

In some ways the above friends describe me and it took me almost 60 years to even realize that I have been chronically depressed. Since getting help for it, I experience the world in a wholly different way, everyday, than previously; which makes me sure that it is not something I am making up.

I always felt I did not belong like my two friends experience. As a child in an immigrant community that I knew and understood as much as any child can, I felt a stranger. Later the explanation was that I am gay, but that did not change the isolation even when I embraced the gay community.

What is the etiology of depression? We know certain events can trigger it and they do. I am only too aware of that myself and a sudden unexpected death is what finally got me to pay some attention to my depression. But it existed long before that and seemed to need an extreme jolt to be taken seriously. I had learned to live with it as I knew no other way of existing, not even knowing or being aware that there was another happier more fulfilling way, there was nothing in my whole life's experience relatively different to compare it to as I have now. I also grew up in a no nonsense kind of family where you did what you needed to and got on with it. It was a sombre place with a depressed father (who also did not know that he was depressed), embracing Calvinism – a no nonsense religion that was not big on promoting fun, laughter and feeling good. Life is a serious business and that was all that I knew!

Early on I asked questions, but they were not answered or they were rebuffed. Soon I became quiet and repressed the curiosity and the quest to belong. I am talking about when I was 4 – 6 years of age here. I was the middle child in a large group. I am sure my siblings felt something and I know that some are depressed too, but only one is consciously dealing with it. I withdrew into myself and remained there for some 60 years. Oh, I functioned, and some might say that I functioned well striving for acceptance and belonging, but they were not inside my sad head/heart/emotions.

In my twenties and thirties, I learned to medicate myself to ease whatever it was. I got pretty seriously into self medication but managed to stop before the medication became totally my poison. I was always seen as doing well in most things that I undertook. But my belief was that it was all a lie, that If people knew the real me they would see that I was gay (those few who did not know or more accurately those that I believed did not know - the height of self delusion) and the others that I was a fake, that I was just really good at fooling them all… and when they found out, they would reject me.

For a long while in my life, I moved residence very regularly, so that I could avoid having people really get to know me. There was always a good reason, of course, because I had to believe my own personality BS, to avoid listening to the heart and spirit message of: "Do something about how you experience yourself".

We all belong to that essence/spirit we call life and consciousness, but many deny our worthiness to belong. And this imbalance at the essence level eventually works its way through/to the mind, emotions and the physical as does all dis-ease. Imbalance in one level of our being eventually and always works its way into the other levels.

The 1980s, early research on cancer by the Symingtons, a medical doctor couple found that a significant per cent of their cancer patients had had a great loss: emotional trauma and depression in their lives some 20 - 30 years before the cancer appeared. The great and eventually repressed pain would be expressed – eventually on the physical level as cancer. The personality believes it cannot survive the hurt and so represses it – but leaves it unresolved. And the spirit/life essence, that force that gives us our drive for survival and consciousness wants, to heal it and will bring it to our consciousness somehow, no matter how long and persistently we repress it. And we have been seeing that finding repeated ever since.

Why, then, are we having so much more depression in the world than we have ever known? And we did know it first in the wealthier classes of the industrial revolution, mostly as women’s melancholia. Men, of course, in those austere and tough religious times, had no emotions and the poor were too busy trying to survive to enjoy that luxury of melancholia that comes with wealth of the industrial world.

We have lost our connectedness to community, to each other, to someone. We are bombed with messages of what success is – lots of money, cars, homes, fancy clothes etc. and we know that we have failed. We relocate frequently in a mobile world, constantly escaping from those who might get to know us better than we know our selves – as I did for a couple of decades. We have rejected and/or lost our connections – family has gone, Grannie is put in the old folks home to live out her Alzheimer’s years on her own and our relationship to her is severed.

Bruce Alexander in his work: The Globalisation of Addiction (2008), puts forward the thesis that addiction is about medicating those losses and correlates much of the loss with the rise and increasing dominance of hyper capitalism. He documents it very well as does Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine (2007). Freidman style hyper capitalism (totally unfettered markets – an economic jungle for the survival of the economic fittest) put forward by Thatcher, Reagan, Blair, the Bushes (read Cheney, Wolfovitz, Rumsfeld and others) leads to a world of the rich for the rich and by the rich, by ANY means – only they make sure that we poor fools feel like we can be one of them – and that to be rich is the most elevated state to aspire to.

But we failed, you see, as we cannot all be in the 5% of the people that owns 85% of all the world's wealth. That is mathematically impossible! Depression inevitably follows abuse, although not always, as abuse confirms that message of not belonging. Abuse is another factor of life that is little reported or discussed and much more prevalent than previously thought whether it is consciously or unconsciously inflicted. The results are devastating. We know that over 90% of all addicts have been abused, physically, mentally, religiously or emotionally; although many do not know it. Abuse is rampant in the world, as so many are coerced to do that which they do not want to, - to their detriment. So we get depressed due to our failure, our abuse and our not belonging and we medicate. We medicate by work, religion, food, prescriptions, money, exercise, shopping, gambling, smoking, substance abuse, sex, etc. Note how many of those addictions are totally acceptable and even honoured in our culture. Eventually our mental depression is rooted in the physical, manifesting in an imbalance in our serotonin, melatonin and dopamine levels. All mental conditions, we are finding out have a physical correspondence – look at our surprise when we found out years ago that all those schizophrenic “nut cases” had a physical imbalance too. From there, we are moving on to find that is the case in many instances of mental illness or conditions.

Depression is about achingly not belonging and our personality/ego believing that we can't and don't deserve to, while our essence is trying to alert us to self acceptance as the perfect beings that we are. When we believe that, we can function with some modicum of joy, ….. even if we have waited so long that the physical balance will never truly be restored in our physical brains. But live fully and happily, - we can and do.

I would like to hear from you if you have some thoughts or light to shed on this issue. Leave your comments. Become a blog follower to do so. I am told that becoming an Adriaan-on-tour follower is the way to leave comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Joy and serenity.


  1. thanks for sharing, Adriaan. This was a very inspiring entry for me.

  2. Adriaan,

    I find much of your experience echos my own. While we each have a unique world view and life experience, I know you and I share much. I also believe we share this with many many others. Yes, there are variations, but they are, I believe, based on (more or less) the same theme. I also believe it is this somewhat self-delusional belief that we are at once unique and therefore alone, that no one else "understands", that only increases our sense of alienation, and down the spiral we go. (It sort of goes hand in hand with the delusion that we are safe in the closet, that we are fooling everybody about our sexuality.)

    Does having friends in the same boat make it any easier? Perhaps. Or perhaps not ... it doesn't help that deep isolation that is at the core of a lot of depression. But I feel that by recognizing our "common humanity" or our "common human condition" that we can move past this. I think this is part of the loss of sense of community (dare I say church) you talked about. I also think that by openly and honestly reconnecting to our community, that we begin to re-value ourselves again.

    In my experience, depression has been very much about the loss of personal power, of the belief that I am unable to make things better for myself, to help myself. Yet, in truth, I am the ONLY one who can make things better! All the love of my partner and all the best wishes and hopes and efforts of my friends and caregivers amount to nothing unless I allow their caring into my life. And for that, we must accept that we have some value, some worth. And to some degree, resolve to look beyond ourselves, to not be so inward or self focused or centered (I even want to go so far as to say selfish.)

    I want to speak to that sense of worthiness you talked about. From a very early age (four or five), as the son of an Anglican minister, I knew I was different. I didn't know I was gay or queer, but I knew I didn't like what other boys liked ... rather I liked other boys instead. At first that wasn't a problem for me, but others quickly made it obvious that it was a problem for them. Somehow, even at the early age of eight years, I knew I was loved by my God. I knew he made this special person who could see the world from many different perspectives, that he had given me a very great gift. But I have learned over the years that many gifts come with great burdens. And this gift of empathic compassion has troubled me deeply for many decades. Often I have despaired at being able to see the grief and pain in others and having to sit by quietly, hoping and waiting for the day when things would get better. I often felt that if I wasn't able to help make things better, then having this gift of insight was a curse. And I did bury that pain in drugs, in self rejection and in self debasement ... for awhile.

    I remember one therapy session where I was beginning to be tired of playing the role of a victim. I turned to my counsellor and commented that "Nothing really changes until I decide." I will never forget that rather enigmatic, somewhat infuriating Buddha grin that came across his face. I now know this was the true start of when things began to improve for me. It was also when I started to re-engage with myself, my partner, my friends and society and why, today, I am deeply involved with BCPWA. Yes, I bring value there. But the value I get in return (even with the bureaucratic grief) is well worth it.

    You also make a comment about us being perfect beings. I think this sets us up to fail. I think we are far from perfect, even in the most relaxed spiritual sense of that word. Rather we strive for perfection, and that is a journey. True perfection is reserved for saints and Buddha's ... not us mere mortals!

    Darren Hayes, the now out member of Savage Garden has a beautiful song called "Affirmation." Give it a listen if you can find it. It truly speaks to much of what you talk about.

    You are not alone unless you choose to be. I am not alone unless I choose to be. Alone we achieve little beyond self agonizing navel gazing. Together we can bring change to at least some small part of this fractured and isolating world.

    Be the change you want to see in the world.
    (Mahatma Gandhi)

    Love and peace

  3. Thanks John. You offer a valuable and interesting perspective - all of which I can agree. That is why a brief discussion on depression something like I wrote only gets the ideas rolling. It is so complex and very inner driven. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.