Thursday, December 22, 2005

beyond black

It’s solstice morning. Day 1 of my agenda-free summer break. I suspect I have a hangover, or at least from the celebratory night I had with a friend there really has to be one looming soon, when consciousness fully returns. But despite this, and a fair dose of happiness, I want to follow the thread of my last post and write about depression.

How can you live in Australia (anywhere really) at this point in our political history and not be depressed? I spent my childhood in the 60s and 70s in sweet, naïve Wellington. I remember that the doors was left unlocked most of the time, that I knew almost everyone in my neighbourhood and all was safe in the world. I went to Uni in the 80’s and was served up free education on a very attractive plate. When I finally thought I should get a job, I could pick and choose. I decided that no, I didn’t want to work for a multinational, nor the public service, I wanted a job with integrity and landed a research project with a small trade and development organization. Perfect for the outspoken, political animal I was. I shared houses with inspiring people. We suspected our phone was bugged and we found the prospect amusing. We were going to change the world.

When I decided it was time to roam a little further, I booked a one way ticket to London and left a few weeks later. I encountered this strange place under the shadow of Thatcher (11 years, 209 days in office). Brits looked at me incredulously when I said I had left a job. It wouldn’t be there for me when I returned. I didn’t have a home and I didn’t care. I should have taken greater note of the fear in their lives then, but I was oblivious.

Fast forward to life now in the infancy of the 21st century. I look around and see people making so many big compromises in their lives. The job they hate, or would like more if there hadn’t been yet more staff cuts and they were now doing the work of at least 5 people. The relationships people stay in for the sake of the kids or because of the financial devastation that would be wreaked by the splitting of assets. The money that is pumped into propping up a lifestyle that necessitates the work/relationship they are stuck in.

I think a common cause of unhappiness is a perceived lack of choices. Being a rat stuck on a wheel, peddling faster going no where.

But we have wonder drugs – SSRI – one tweak of your biochemicals and Bob’s your uncle! An acquaintance, a gp told me at the time this new generation of antidepressants appeared “They are so good, I think we should put them in the water supply”.

But although some who found blissful sanctuary in the blanket of emotional mediocrity these drugs provided, for others the real cause of their depression was left unchecked. No changes. Just numbness. No choice? Doesn’t matter any more.

Oh and then one day when they thought, hey I feel alright – I’ll go off the drugs, their bodies rebelled, withdrawal symptoms or the return of depression lead them back to a lifetime of chemical dependency. While the chronically, endogenously depressed may need pharmaceutical assistance long term in order to bear living, for so many of the others given effexor, prozac et al like lollies, the situation is very different.

We live in a culture of Disney tainted false happiness, where sadness has no place. We inadequately support those who are grieving. We have a culture of buck up/get over it/look on the bright side. We have no place for the dark side. An episode of depression – for a day, a week, a month, is considered an illness, not a malady of the soul. Illness inherently implies an abnormality, something broken that needs to be fixed. We have lost the perspective that many feelings colour our life, not just the sugar coated ones.

In short we have disconnected from our full spectrum of emotions, or discarded them as no longer being congruous with our lifestyle. So when something ugly like fear, anger, anxiety or its twin depression bite us on the bum it is a big shock. Something we are inadequately resourced to deal with. We feel like a failure. We desperately want a quick fix. How well we have been educated by the pharmaceutical companies, who have promised us the elixir of happiness. No pain, just take one tablet a day and swallow those feelings down.

I get depressed sometimes. It’s not nice. Actually it is bloody horrible. Mostly it happens for real reasons, things that connect with my past or my present. I am comforted by finding where cause and feeling meet. It gives me a clue as to how best to deal with it. Then I just sit with it. Wallow a little. I know it may sound strange to talk about taking comfort in depression, but the familiarity of the emotion is weirdly comforting for a while. It is easier than the unknown, finding a solution to a problem that may cause short term chaos. So I sit. I might attempt to raise a distress flag and see if anyone notices. But usually I just go into my own private space. Fortunately I can still function. I am just in a funk. I am lucky, this shadowy feeling lasts only for days. Sometimes a week or more. Then goes away for another year.

For me I sit with it and don’t try to run. I mine the misery for all its worth and try to find what it is telling me. With that knowledge I still may feel too weak to make real changes in my life. But at least I know the general direction I need to set sail in.

I know I could exercise, listen to music, take st johns wort, ask for help, avoid alcohol and do other life preserving things at such times. When I want to get better I do, but for a while there is a state of temporary amnesia where I forget about the antidotes.

Buddhism for all its treasures and flaws, talks about the Wheel of Life. Sometimes we are hungry ghosts – always consuming, always craving, never satisfied, other times we are in a state of bliss, but sometimes we hit the hell realm on the wheel of misfortune. This concept gives me hope that the wheel will spin again. And so far, it always has.

PS: Merry Christmas

image appropriated from this site


Blogger Aleks - Anarcho-Syndicalist said...

Great Minds think alike?

I hadn't read your post before doing my first post in a month, yet it deals with so many similar things.

Take Care and have a good and safe holiday season.

5:42 pm  
Blogger DC said...

A wonderful Christmas present. :-)

I've heard this said of society:

"We are spending money we don't have, to buy things we don't want, to impress people we don't like"

No wonder it's 1 in 5 people.


I agree with your analysis about the limited emotions we are allowed to express in our society, and the lack of skills it gives us to deal with these emotions and problems this causes.

The worst thing I have found is the shame that comes with these emotions - like anxiety, fear, depression - when they arise. To feel I had to hide them away from others, to fit in and confrom, compounded the problem because it meant I repressed everything, everything was hidden away and never brought out into the light and worked with.


To worst thing of all for me is this:

Our socety is sick. For me, any country that places profit way above welfare has lost its way. Any country that can promote the benefits of an internet fridge while tearing apart its welfare system is sick.

Part of our society's sickness is that people who feel its disease is labelled as defective, made to feel ashamed of their feelings and medicated to the hilt. "Society is not wrong, you are wrong." is the implicit statement.

Instead of the society being shaped and molded by their insight, they are told that they are the faulty ones.

Frigging heck.

6:22 am  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Great post! I agree with everything you said. I have been in that funk mode lately, but at least I know why. I'll be taking my family back home soon, to a very different place than the one we left almost 4 months ago. And my angst/depression is largely the result of realizing how difficult it will be to resume living life on my own terms when everything at home has changed so much. But I refuse to compromise on this and I just accept that I may be in this funk until I learn to navigate the altered terrain. I know that the funnk will eventually pass. And I also try to remember that life can move in an infinite number of directions from this point in time where I now stand. Maybe a few of those vistas look ugly, but there are lovely ones, too. And there are countless that are beyond my imagination, and more beautiful than I could dream up. I'm going to anticipate being drawn to one of those rather than to one that I loathe. Don't we usally get what we, in our true heart of hearts, expect and believe we'll get? I'm counting on it. So, I may be glum, but I'm not afraid.

BTW, I love your blog. And I'm glad that I'm finally getting back to the point where I can read and post more often.

1:36 pm  
Blogger R H said...

Some people are very hard on themselves.

One time when the silly CES were trying to land me with a job they gave me the Myer Briggs test. It said I should be a social worker. What a laugh. Because how could I advise people how to live when I've made so many blunders in my own life?
Professional advisers have shit creek moments themselves. I know a psychiatrist who caught kids putting graffiti on his wall and who ran out and booted them all up the arse. He told me that the most immature and dirtiest talk he'd ever heard was at a convention of gynacologists.

We are all not good enough. We fail. But we can start over again. Trying is the best you can do. No one can ask more. Don't ask it from yourself.

4:50 pm  
Blogger Link said...

Thank you for a fine post and congratulations on your well deserved win over at Lawaaattus pwodeo

10:21 am  

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