"Gee, Joe. You start lots of things that end in failure. Don't you get depressed?"
"...start lot's of things..." is my antidote for depression.
My kids chide me for buying lottery tickets. "Why do you waste your (our) money? You never win."
I tell them for the $1, the cost of one ticket, I can rent 115 million dreams for three days. That is all I ever buy: One ticket. That is all God needs. One of these days I might even start checking to see if I won.
Yes I plant seeds. I plant lots of seeds. Most of them fail. Some succeed.
Back when things were simpler, mental illness was defined as being untethered from reality. Those of us deem "sane" were assumed to be clear-eyed and rational. Those who were not-sane were judged to be living in some version of a fantasy world.
Then in the late 1960s researchers determined that people suffering from depression were more accurate at predicting simple games of chance. That is, depressed people recognize when the die is loaded. They recognize when the die is fair. They bet appropriately more often than "sane" subjects.
This finding caused much consternation and many researchers re-ran the experiment in an attempt to refute it. But, in fact, they verified the basic finding. Sane people are delusional!
Does Depression Serve a Function?
The advantages of being a social animal come at a price. Soldier bees commit suicide when they protect the hive. It is the price of living as a social animal.
Humans are social animals. Adam Smith's Invisible Guiding Hand has its limitations. It has been observed by every woman who ever gave birth that there would be no families with more than one child if women were totally "rational". That would have catastrophic consequences for the species.
Delusion is the grease that lubricates the mechanisms of society. Mechanical devices seize up. They become solid, dysfunction blocks of rust without grease. Likewise, society and individuals become dysfunctional without a judicious dab of delusion in all the right places.
Humans are poor processors of data. We cannot do statistics in our heads. We are relatively well calibrated for 50:50 odds. We "round-up" 80% probability and round-down 20% probability to absolute-certainty. Our inherent optimism is a compensation for our defective data processing.
What businessman would ever start a business (or parent choose to have a child) if they could see all the pain and distress they would have to endure? Without delusion, many vital links in the economic, trophic cascade would quickly become extinct.
Blindness to the future is a gift that allows us to function in the present.
At an individual levelAs painful as depression is, I think it also serves a function at an individual level.
Depression occurs when we write checks against our native resilience. We not only lack the funds to cash those checks, we have so over-written them that we blew through our over-draft protection.
Depression reminds us to drive some more pitons into solid rock. That solid rock can be spiritual. It can be family. It can be community. It can be stocking up the pantry. It can be exchanging self-destructive habits for better ones. Yes there are medications that help depression. But an important part of the healing is to take control of your therapeutic path. Take control.
Depression also makes the patient more empathetic. Reality is a massive, chaotic, swirling stew of observable events. One hundred people can "observe" the same event. They see different things because they view it from different angles and center their focus on different players. It is the same in "reality". We look in different directions and choose different focal planes and time-frames. Depression reminds us to be mindful of our choice of focal planes and to be gentle with others.
DISCLAIMERDo not rely on ANY blog for medical advice.
My last formal medical training was the First Aid Boy Scout merit badge in 1973. Mental health was not one of the topics.
If you feel like you pose an immediate risk of hurting yourself or others: Call 9-1-1
If you think about hurting yourself or others then schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider.
If you are curious about depression
It's normal to feel some of the following symptoms from time to time, but experiencing several or more for more than two or three weeks may indicate the presence of depression or another depressive illness.
- I feel sad.
- I feel like crying a lot.
- I'm bored.
- I feel alone.
- I don't really feel sad, just "empty".
- I don't have confidence in myself.
- I don't like myself.
- I often feel scared, but I don't know why.
- I feel mad, like I could just explode!
- I feel guilty.
- I can't concentrate.
- I have a hard time remembering things.
- I don't want to make decisions - it's too much work.
- I feel like I'm in a fog.
- I'm so tired, no matter how much I sleep.
- I'm frustrated with everything and everybody.
- I don’t have fun anymore.
- I feel helpless.
- I'm always getting into trouble.
- I'm restless and jittery. I can’t sit still.
- I feel nervous.
- I feel disorganized, like my head is spinning.
- I feel self-conscious.
- I can't think straight. My brain doesn't seem to work.
- I feel ugly.
- I don’t feel like talking anymore - I just don’t have anything to say.
- I feel my life has no direction.
- I feel life isn’t worth living.
- I consume alcohol/take drugs regularly.
- My whole body feels slowed down - my speech, my walk, and my movements.
- I don't want to go out with friends anymore.
- I don't feel like taking care of my appearance.
- Occasionally, my heart pounds, I can't catch my breath, and I feel tingly.
- My vision feels strange and I feel I might pass out. The feeling passes in seconds, but I'm afraid it will happen again.
- Sometimes I feel like I'm losing it.
- I feel "different" from everyone else.
- I smile, but inside I'm miserable.
- I have difficulty falling asleep or I awaken between 1 A.M. and 5 A.M. and then I can't get back to sleep.
- My appetite has diminished - food tastes so bland.
- My appetite has increased - I feel I could eat all the time.
- My weight has increased/decreased.
- I have headaches.
- I have stomachaches.
- My arms and legs hurt.
- I feel nauseous.
- I'm dizzy.
- Sometimes my vision seems blurred or slow.
- I'm clumsy.
- My neck hurts.