In my sporadic attempts to unearth the root/s of my frequently depressive state of being I have often been asked why I think I might be depressed and what it feels like. This is something I always struggle with because, when I say it out loud (that is, when I am actually capable of articulating it), it sounds as conceited as it does disingenuous. People always say that depression is felt and experienced in different ways by different people, and I understand that, but my experience of it has always felt somewhat fake, and my attempt to define it even more so.
So whilst other sufferers describe feelings of withdrawal, anger and irritability, tiredness and general disinterest in life as abnormalities which blot an otherwise contented life, for me it is the opposite. I think my default state is grey, with shards of colour peeping through. I am generally pensive, annoyed, and dispassionate about life, but every now and then my heart is stirred by something and I feel connected and even joyful.
And I’ve been wondering lately if that might be half the problem with this depression lark. Its current description seems to suggest that our default state of being is one of happiness, of feeling at one with the world and full of joy and wonder; something must therefore go awry for such feelings as rage, indifference or introspection to appear on anything but a transitory basis. So I’d like to propose a reverse theory and suggest that perhaps it is actually quite normal, maybe even a default state, to feel pissed off, hopeless, sad, or even totally devoid of feeling the majority of the time. I’ve written previously about wearing depression like a badge, one which seems to mark me out as abnormal. But I wonder, what if we threw away the badges and decided that depression is actually a default state, at least for some of us? What if we admitted that it is not abnormal at all? After all, at some point we simply decided as a species that happiness, that is the absence of depression, was our ultimate goal. Perhaps giving up this ambition would actually make us all more contented?
Isn’t that all a bit grim though?
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting we all go around continually spouting about the hopelessness of life and refusing to get out of bed, grinding civilisation as we know it to a halt as we compare our buckets of tears. I am just proposing a change in the way we think about depression, or more importantly depressed people. For people like myself, feeling happy is just not a natural state of being, and it is hard work to be anything else. This realisation has been quite profound for me; it explains why I feel unauthentic when I talk about my depression, because the language I’ve been given to describe it is imbued with an unquestionable assumption of abnormality. My feelings do not feel unnatural as I feel them though, only when I have to talk about them as such.
Imagine a society where someone can sit in a bar or a restaurant, whether with someone they know well or a stranger, or heaven forbid alone, and look how they feel without any feeling being applauded over the other. Imagine expressing frustration or irritability, sadness or helplessness, displeasure or fatigue, quite regularly without having to label such feelings as symptoms of depression. I’m talking about acceptance, not necessarily embracing uncomfortable feelings but at least normalising them somewhat, so those of us who experience them consistently don’t feel like such freaks.
Does depression even exist?
Now, I know this might be a bit controversial, especially from someone who has been dosed up on a steady concoction of Venlafaxine and Mirtazapine for some time now (and that’s not the half of it!). But I’m starting to wonder, is depression an actual thing rather than just another theory? Are we making ourselves depressed by suggesting that something is wrong with us if we are not happy most of the time?
Now we all know that modern life is frenetic and claustrophobic and frequently removes us from our authentic selves. And so we say that we are becoming more depressed, or that more people are reporting feeling depressed; we applaud this new openness before dumbing it down with drugs or endless talking therapy. But perhaps things are actually getting worse, because maybe more and more people are becoming incapable of coping with uncomfortable feelings, of seeing them as natural or indicative of a default human condition which is actually bearable if it would only be allowed to be so.
This might sound like utter bollocks to some people, but it might just make sense to others. All I know is it makes some sense to me, and I think I might just be a little happier if I stopped pretending to be happy or striving to achieve it. It might offend some people (my resting bitch face is not for the faint-hearted), but we all just want each other to be happy right?