Feelings are a funny thing. You can go from being happy to outraged over the span of a few seconds. Sometimes, you may feel incredibly attracted to something, then feel incredible disgust moments laters. We might laugh, cry, and yell over the course of the same conversation.
Emotions don’t really have that long of a shelf life, and most of the time, they are rather mild. They represent our gut reaction to the hundreds of thousands of things swirling around us. They’re always in a state of change, and they may last – as physical sensations – for just a couple of minutes before fleeting away forever.
Sadness is a totally rational emotion. We encounter something that we perceive to be out of our control, which negatively impacts us, and it fills us with dread and dismay.
I get sad when my football team loses. I get sad when I see a missing puppy poster. When my mom died, I was sad for a really long time. When I got a B+ in eighth grade Algebra II when I thought I made at least an A-, I got sad. When I think about all the people who died in World War II, that makes me sad, too.
Sadness, you see, is a natural response to something that happens outside of yourself. It’s a coping mechanism and a way of making sense of things. It’s a temporary, circumstantial feeling of remorse, pain or discomfort connected to a specific thing, at a specific point in time. You get sad when your girlfriend breaks up with and you get sad when a vending machine eats your last dollar. You aren’t sad for no discernable reason, it’s a feeling attached to something else, like an event or a memory. I guess in a way, you could call “sadness” the invisible bridge that still connects you to it, whatever it may be.
Sadness comes and it goes. You might be sad for a long time, but that emotion will always be broken up by other feelings – momentary bursts of joy, and humor, and other realizations, be they profound or absurd. Sadness may impact you deeply, but it never possesses you. It remains just one facet of your existence out of hundreds of other emotions you experience on any given day.
Depression, however, isn’t sadness. In fact, sadness and depression are actually polar opposites, in many regards.
Sadness is a momentary sensation connected to something in the world that upset you. Depression, however, is a prolonged state anchored around an internalized sense of dissatisfaction. Sadness is something from outside yourself impacting the way you live and view the world; depression is when what is within you prevents you from living or viewing the world through any filter other than despair.
Depression is perhaps the most metaphysical of emotions. When you’re depressed, you simply don’t want to exist. Even the idea of feeling happy sensations does you little good; so mired in the funk of existential disappointment, you become unable to see anything but neverending hopelessness. Sad people cry and eat ice cream. Depressed people want to completely atomize themselves – anything to end those horrible, horrible thoughts that not only is life not going to get any better, it’s simply going to get worse and worse from here.
And that’s where everybody gets depression wrong. Sorry Big Pharma, but depression ISN’T a mental disorder, it’s a mental perspective. It’s this way of thinking where you wholeheartedly believe a temporary state is going to last forever and absolutely nothing in this world short of a bullet to the skull can reverse it.
A psychiatric condition, you say? No, more like learned behavior if you ask me.
Are human beings evolutionarily designed to be self-loathing sadsacks who embrace inertia? What sort of disease or mental disorder “works” by effectively setting somebody’s default emotion to “lethargic as hell?” Have antidepressant prescriptions increased 400 percent since the late 1980s because the world is such a worse place than it was then, or has something happened culturally to convince one out of every 10 Americans ages 12-and-over that they need some kind of mind-altering pill to just go through the motions each day without killing themselves from disheartenment?
You can show me as many diagrams of serotonin receptors as you want, but I’m still not buying the idea that depression is a real psychiatric condition. SSRIs aren’t “cures” for the things that make people depressed, all they do is make people number to their own conditions. It’s the same thing as curing an itchy ring finger by amputating the whole arm – a shortcut, and an incredibly dangerous and unnecessary one at that.
People are never depressed because of things that happen to them, they are depressed because of who they are in general. It’s a perspective where you mire in the idea that you’re just not good enough, that you failed to get as far in life as you wanted. Depression is always rooted in a sense of self-hatred and self-disappointment, this general feeling that you just don’t stack up and your life is going nowhere worth living. It’s not just admitting defeat, it’s literally wrapping yourself up in despair like a pig-in-a-blanket. In a way, it becomes a morbid worship of your own hopelessness.
The one thing psychiatrists and counselors tells you to not tell depressed people is the very thing depressives need to hear the most – “eventually, things will get better.” The moment they accept the possibility that they’re not going to feel as bad as they do at that very moment for the rest of their days, they’ve beaten depression. When people realize they do have something to live for, the suicidal ideation goes away. As long as you have something outside of yourself to look forward to, you’ll never fall into the clutches of depression – first and foremost, because you’ve taken the focus off yourself and started to see the reality beyond your own wants and desires again.
Depression is a fairly narcissistic disorder, isn’t it? When it has you, all you can think about is yourself, and how bad and unfulfilled you feel. You can never stop thinking about your feelings of guilt, inadequacy and shame. It’s like the rest of the world disappears entirely so you can just fester in resentment of who you are.
And that, my friends, is why you are depressed in the first place. You want to know why you feel unsatisfied and unaccomplished and incapable of making forward progress? Because all you are concerned about is your damn self. Depression isn’t a disease or a chemical imbalance, it’s a consequence of conceit and self-centeredness. And that makes the universal cure for depression easily attainable to everybody: simply stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about what you can do for somebody else.
You know what kind of people aren’t depressed? Volunteers at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The kinds of people who help mentor at-risk youth and visit old folks’ homes and clean up elderly ladies’ yards. People who actually dedicate their lives to making life easier and more worthwhile for other people. If you want depression to go away, you don’t need to spend $100 a psychiatrist visit and another $100 a month to get your Effexor fix – all you have to do is say “well, I’ve got another shot tomorrow” and try to help somebody else the best you can today.
No antidepressant can suddenly give your own life external meaning, and that’s precisely why so many people today are depressed. The answer to existential despair isn’t something you can put inside yourself, but in how you interact with the outside world.
And if you want to help yourself, nothing makes the pains of depression go away faster than learning to help other people.