On Depression

The 18th – 24th April has been named Depression Awareness Week. I’ve read a few articles that have made me think – one of which was ‘What does depression feel like? Trust me – you really don’t want to know’ by Tim Lott. Published in The Guardian, 19th April 2016.

I have a suspicion that society, in its heart of hearts, despises depressives because it knows they have a point: the recognition that life is finite and sad and frightening – as well as those more sanctioned outlooks, joyful and exciting and complex and satisfying. There is a secret feeling most people enjoy that everything, at a fundamental level, is basically OK. Depressives suffer the withdrawal of that feeling, and it is frightening not only to experience but to witness.

You can read the full article here.

Do you think Tim Lott is right? Are we kidding ourselves that the world is OK and life is basically as it should be? Is there hope and reason to be joyful, or are we essentially  delusional?

As a Christian, I know that I’m basically not OK. Every day I encounter some new (or old) example of how the world I live in is broken – from far-off conflict to close-to-home tragedy, there’s too much suffering to pretend that all is well. But even if I were to shut out the rest of the world, I can’t escape. Daily I experience a growing awareness that I am not as I should be. Whatever I possess – object, attribute or experience, good though it may be – I find that it is not enough to solve, not enough to satisfy, not enough to cure the absence within. David Foster Wallace writes about this from the experience of luxury on a cruise:

For this — the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS — is the central fantasy the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn’t that this promise will be kept but that such a promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie. And of course I want to believe it; I want to believe that maybe this ultimate fantasy vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my infantile part will be sated at last. But the infantile part of me is, by its very nature and essence, insatiable. In fact, its whole raison consists of its insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the insatiable-infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.

(From his essay Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise).

The brokenness of my world – both external and internal – is, I believe, inescapable. In this respect, I think Tim Lott is right – our culture has perhaps too quickly bought into the notion that the gloss of prosperity, happiness and luxury can cover up the wreck beneath. Perhaps people who experience depression do see the world with the false, shiny coating stripped back – which understandably leads to all the feelings and thoughts that Lott so powerfully describes. What I’m not ready to conclude, however, is that this is all there is to be known and uncovered.

This is not the only way we’ve deceived ourselves. In our attempt to shut out the horror and fear and sadness, we’ve plastered over our hope and our way out. Jesus said he knew what was locked away in the human heart. He said that malice, envy, murderous thoughts, destructive lust and greed, self-loathing, hatred and pride all stem from inside us. It’s worse than we know. He died a tortured, brutal death at the hands of regular, ordinary human beings. He sank to the very lowest pit of shame and despair and his death looked like pointless defeat. But Jesus rose.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15 – The Bible

What’s different about Jesus from all the other glossy, think-the-world-happy philosophies out there? With what confidence can I claim him as a solution or source of hope? With Jesus there’s no pretence – he’s not duped by over cover-ups or cheery spin. He’s pushed through the worst the human heart can contain and he’s through to the other side – a whole new way of living. And he’s willing to take us with him.

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3 Responses to On Depression

  1. Excellent post. As a Christian who struggled with debilitating depression for 17 years and a David Foster Wallace fan, naturally this resonated with me:)

    • Emily says:

      Glad you liked it, Michele! I sometimes can’t believe how insightful David Foster Wallace was – there are not many authors I’ve come across who articulate the world they see with such profound insight and clarity!

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