For the briefest of moments, I felt something completely irrational.
I wanted the car which was driving erratically in the lane next to me to hit my car. Nothing serious. Just a slow-speed bump. Just enough to be interesting. Something different.
That was Saturday afternoon. I was only about a mile from my house. I pulled into a parking lot to think about the crazy thought that had just gone through my mind. Even though I clearly didn’t actually want to be in an accident, something in my brain had briefly thought it would be interesting — and I was seriously disturbed by that.
At first, I thought I was just bored, not in the momentary sense, but in the long-term sense of everything about my life. And then I realized it was more than just boredom.
This was depression.
As much as I’ve been trying to shove it aside, my mind is screaming at me — begging me — to change what’s going on in my life, because I am throwing away every day that goes by like this.
When we talk about depression, we normally think about the clinical kind that’s presumably caused by some chemical imbalance in the brain. Although it’s clear that some people are definitely afflicted by that sort of depression, this was a different kind.
This kind is called “situational depression.”
Years ago, I heard an interview with a Canadian professor of evolutionary psychology which helped change the way I look at a lot of the depression we face. Paul Andrews is a researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
“It’s pretty clear that our body has evolved mechanisms within it to cause impairment [that we call depression] as a normal adaptive response to certain kinds of problems,” Andrews said. “What depressed mood seems to do is it helps you shut down other processes that could draw attention away from the problem that triggered your episode in the first place. So that’s why depressed people often show a decrease in interest in normally pleasurable activities like sex and eating and social companionship. It’s because their brain is telling them, ‘Look, you’ve got a really serious problem in your life right now and you need to focus on it, and to help you with that, I’m going to make it easier for you by shutting down your interests in other activities.'”
We prefer to talk about depression as something which just happens to us outside of our control — as can be true in a certain percentage of cases — because it allows people like me to tell ourselves that we’re victims of depression and that we can’t do anything other than maybe take a pill.
There’s no question that some psychiatric drugs help to mask depression, but it’s also true that for many of us, the things which cause us to feel this way are things which we’ve allowed to happen to ourselves — or by things which we haven’t yet figured out how to change.
I might have a propensity to be melancholy. My mother suffered from what was called manic-depression — and we now call bi-polar disorder — for most of my life. I’m completely convinced that she would have lived a normal and happy life if she hadn’t married my father and then become stuck with him by having children with him.
I think that many people who are bright and creative can have a tendency toward melancholy which can be activated by life circumstances. But for me, the feelings of depression are activated by being in situations which make me feel miserable. It’s not caused by brain chemistry which I can’t control.
Is it a coincidence that I’ve never felt depressed during times in my life when I felt deeply loved by a woman who I loved in return? Is it a coincidence that I’ve never felt depressed during times when I was pursuing work which I loved and cared about?
I am miserable — and a reasonable person would call it depression — because I’m not doing work which matters to me and because I don’t have a loving relationship which I need.
There are other issues in my life. I’m still digging my way out of the financial hole I dug for myself starting 10 or 12 years ago, for instance, but issues like that don’t depress me. Those sorts of pragmatic things are simply problems to be solved — very fixable issues with solutions which just take time.
I’m feeling depressed and feeling bored with my life — even thinking crazy thoughts every now and then — because I need love and I need meaning.
I don’t need a pill. I don’t need counseling about this. I just need to take my needs seriously and remember who I am.
I’ve lost track of my identity. I lost part of it when I put my heart on hold years ago because I was waiting for someone who said she loved me to do something about that love. That never happened and I’ve been frozen in time, unable to move forward.
I also lost part of myself when I got confused about which work could fulfill my needs. I accepted a pragmatic solution which forced me to lose touch with the part of myself that has to create.
I’m paying a price for having lost my identity — and I have to change that.
I feel as though I’m walking alone through dark and lonely woods. I don’t pretend that I know how to get out to the other side, but I do know what I’m looking for.
The only thing that’s going to change this for me is love from someone else and meaning that comes from work which matters to me.
For me, those things are as essential as food and water. Until I figure out how to have them again, my mind is going to keep shutting things down inside, trying to force me to fix the things I know must change.