Decoding Depression

I have often thought of my depression as a murder that I have to solve. It is dramatic I must admit, but in the darker moments it is true it feels as though a life was lost – my own – the person I would have been, the things I would have done, the love I would have shown, had I not fallen into this hole.

A while back I was reading a book called How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, on the use of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. What caught my attention, and has stayed with me ever since, was a summary by the author of Sigmund Freud's view of depression, which he termed “ Melancholia”. “After the loss of an object of desire, the ego splits in two, with one part punishing the other, which has taken the place of the lost love in our attentions. In his(Freud) view, depression is a misplaced form of revenge for a loss, retribution that has been misdirected at the self.”

Freud wasn’t right about everything, and it’s true that he had his share of off-beat theories, but when I read this I knew I had found something important. I think that his idea of depression as an act of aggression against the self is correct and it hit me hard in the gut because I could feel that it was true. It was like something you know deep down under everything, but is shielded from your conscious mind where sense could be made of it.

With this clue now living exposed in the forefront of my mind, I started looking back to things I had lost. Friends, lovers, opportunities, whole lives that never were. The more I lost, the more depression took hold of me, and the more depression took hold of me, the more I lost. Could my depression be in part the result of a deeply coded subconscious self that is vengefully seeking retribution of my conscious self for losing the love of my companions? It’s a heady idea I admit, but who knows how this stuff really works?

It’s hard to know if I was biologically destined for depression. My mother's family isn’t exactly open to discussions of mental health, and my father was adopted, so I have no record of any biological inheritance which may have come from his side. The way I look at it though, it doesn't matter.  Even if I were predisposed to the depressive affect, predispositions require triggers; something to get the ball rolling. My “trigger” is what I have been seeking for so many years.

Ever since I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and ever since I was convinced (and it took some convincing) that my suffering wasn’t just the terrible way of the world, I have been searching for the point where the cycle began. I traced this beginning back to the 8th grade. I was thirteen, and a sequence of changes occured that included the diagnosis of an unrelated neurological disorder, the loss of my first love, and the fracturing of a friendship. These adolescent changes that can otherwise be normal and in some cases even positive experiences, can be for the depressive the beginning of a long relationship with self hatred.

Somehow, during this time I lost the ability to forgive myself and let things go. Or maybe I learned to hold myself accountable, as one should in this period of maturation, but it went too far; I became too self-aware. It wasn’t constructive, and the pattern of my thinking began to more closely resemble self-torment than it did thoughtfulness. I began thinking more about the past than I did the future. I was constantly going back in time, fantasizing about reliving my life, changing the things I had done and didn’t do. Then the fantasy would be shaken by the world, and I would be forced back into the present to relive the loss of my past all over again.

I think it is apt to characterize depression as a type of mourning, and in that way I have been mourning the joy I lost as a boy in every moment that I have lived as a man. As anxiety is the result of obsessing about the future, depression is a disease of living in the past and being wholly unsatisfied with it.

Only in retrospect can I see how ‘Gone’ I have been in my darker moments. The majority of my highschool years were lived in the fog of a day-dream that more closely resembled a nightmare. Imagine being sat down and forced to relive the worst things that have ever happened to you, that you’ve ever done, or seen, all mechanisms of repression and denial rendered impotent. I can see why I lost so many relationships. Being with me was like being with an avatar, the real version wasn’t really there, but instead off living in a darkened imagination. It must have been frustrating for those who knew me before; a handsome and comedic boy, manerly and affable, so full of life, so entertaining to those around him. ‘What happened to him?’ ‘Where did he go?’

There is enough that happens in life to sadden anyone. We are given things, they flourish beautifully before us, then they are taken away. Depression is different because it is personal. The death of spirit that is brought by depression isn't something I would wish on anyone, and yet as Freud points out, it is something that I am doing to myself. And to make things even more confusing, it isn’t my fault, and it isn’t yours either.

I wish that knowing these things now will mean the end of my depression forever, but that's just not how this works. There will be a time in the future, where I will again feel unworthy of a peaceful life, and be forced to battle once more with the regretful part of me. In spite of this, there is such a thing as closure to be found from solving the case of your own depression. It’s kind of peculiar really, that the very obsessive introspection, and retrospection, which is the hallmark of the depressive person, might be the very key to unlocking the genesis of their disease.

As I write this, I am at the tail end of a distinguishable bout of sickness; the first of it’s caliber that I have experienced for some time. Hope is on the horizon, however. I can look forward to a time in my life when melancholy is a rare occurrence instead of an omnipresence. Until then, I must be on my guard, doing my best to remain present and aware, always looking out, always listening for the velvet smooth voice that wishes to hang around my neck all the trouble in the world.