Post No.: 0080
Following on from Post No.: 0069, depression is not a trivial condition. Different sufferers can describe it in different literal or metaphorical ways. But for many, it’s like a really low, off day, except it lasts for weeks, months or even years. For others, or at other times, it feels more like a ‘numbness’. Like a stuck record, if it lasts for a long time then life can seem to stand still, or slip into a downwards or backwards spiral as the rest of the world moves on. One can feel like a lost cause, as if one has ran out of all hope and cannot see a way out or any long-term personal future.
You really are a lucky person if you never ever suffer from a mental illness that negatively affects your life (and it is absolutely ultimately all about luck – every detail of everyone’s lives are ultimately down to luck once you work it all fundamentally out). Pain means that something is wrong, although some pain can have no apparent external physical cause – yet something purely psychological doesn’t make it any less physically real (emotional or psychological scars are essentially internal physical ‘scars’ present in the organ of the brain. Although practically difficult to tease out and isolate each individual memory amongst the flurry of multi-purpose structures and complex processes that occur inside the brain at any one time – every memory, for instance, is literally made up of corresponding physical structures and processes that reside or occur inside the brain. Without a physical brain of some sort, there can be no memories, just like without a physical storage medium of some sort, your computer will have no memory to store or process data, be it on your device itself or connected to the servers that provide cloud services. The things you may think are non-physical are ultimately physical).
Pain changes how we direct and approach a solution, whether adaptively or maladaptively. Pain is a warning sign that something is not quite right and needs to be attended to. It can often be advantageous to ignore or simply not be aware of a problem, such as a paper cut for instance, but the greater risk is that the cut can get infected and thus get much worse (hence the dangers of ‘manning up’). Complaining partly evolved in order to nip problems in the bud and thus aid a social organism’s survival.
But many mental problems/pains cannot be so easily ‘washed and plastered’ and left to heal just by the mere passive passing of time because it can take too long. Rumination can be the mind caring and trying to find answers to such mental-based problems but not making any progress and so ends up like a stuck record – one may say that one should therefore give up, but the mind thinks ‘what if, with just a bit more persistence and effort of thought, an acceptable solution (albeit one that might need to be perfectionist in order to be acceptable) can be found?’ The latter is often what’s happening in the unconscious mind of a person with depression. Too much misapplied grit, perseverance or conscientiousness, or even narrowly-focused loyalty (in the case of not letting go of a lost love one and not allowing oneself to love someone else just as much), is ironically therefore the problem rather than a lack of it. It’s like sustaining a bad back injury in the gym but still carrying on as if everything is fine – the healthy solution is not misapplied grit and perseverance but to accept what happened and to direct our attention elsewhere/do something else; in this case, to stop and rest.
Not that everyone who cares gets depressed or in every situation one cares one will risk an episode of depression but you cannot get depressed unless you care about e.g. someone who died. So you’re kind of damned if you care so much and damned if you don’t, or damned if you give up readily and damned if you don’t! It’s hard to let go of someone you loved, and easy to let go of someone you didn’t really love or no longer loved. Metaphorically, a dog must let go of that heavy bone that’s gradually sinking him/her into the quicksand; the dog is better off giving up on that bone and looking for a new bone or some other food in a better place to latch his/her jaws onto.
Indeed, the best way to let go of something is to have something else to grab onto – but for a depressive perfectionist, nothing, or no one else, seems to be what they want, hence their search takes longer, if they ever find something, or someone, in time. Woof.
We know we should change the things we can and accept the things we can’t, but a perfectionist believes that more things fall into the former category than the latter. Some people think ignorance is bliss but perfectionists won’t let something go, at least so easily. Somewhere in-between these two extremes is likely optimum. Perfectionists mostly only beat themselves up but sometimes they can also project their perfectionist desires onto others hence they can come across as ‘control freaks’, which can harm relationships (even though it’s not always personal). Acceptance of the present moment is needed to counter perfectionism (note that acceptance is not the same thing as resignation). A regular person will accept that one cannot control the weather, for instance, but a ‘control freak’ might think maybe we can with enough desire and technology?! Striving has its benefits and being in control (or the perception of it) is typically a good feeling; bringing one a sense of security and agency – but life is complex, chaotic and thus inherently uncertain, and accepting this truth when perfectionism fails is necessary for the benefit of one’s well-being. One must accept that the perfect life is impossible. It should not be all or nothing either.
And as with most conditions or problems, you won’t really know what it feels like to have it and to live with it for a long time unless you’ve experienced it firsthand yourself. Because no one experiences the world objectively, an environmental stimulus that causes someone else mental pain or some other emotion might not cause you mental pain or this other emotion, and vice-versa (different people find different things interesting or boring, for instance). And just because you haven’t personally experienced something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (e.g. a ‘runners’ high’, the pain of giving birth or the pain of getting knocked in the testicles!) An analogy could be like when young, one felt the pleasures of e.g. cakes, sweets, being free at the playground, rollercoasters or whatever, and couldn’t imagine anything else could make one feel better than that… until older when one experienced an orgasm! And if you’ve never felt one before or yet then it’s really difficult or impossible to truly describe it to someone who hasn’t felt one before. (I don’t know – I’m just a puppy.) It’s related to the topic of ‘qualia’ in philosophy.
We shouldn’t deny people with synaesthesia their feelings just because we cannot feel those experiences ourselves (or cannot remember those feelings if we’re all actually born with synaesthesia but lose it after neuronal pruning as an infant). And so the same with pain – there could be another level of pain or type of pain one has not experienced before, and maybe never will, that one cannot even imagine at this time. Well a pain doesn’t necessarily need to be more intense but different or most of all relentlessly chronic with no end in sight – and it’s usually this type of pain that gradually wears a person down.
So a lot of non-sufferers assume they’d be fine and would cope no problem if they were in a similar situation to a mental health sufferer or anyone else in pain, but unless an exactly similar situation meets them then they’ll never know and their naivety will likely persist. I’ve never been in prison before but it’s kind of like some people who’ve never been either, thinking that a prison sentence would be a doddle for them. If e.g. you’re not a smoking addict or any other addict, then you won’t know for sure how tough it is to beat that addiction – yet it’s so easy to naïvely judge others as if one does know or could beat it ‘if one were in their shoes’ (kind of like spectators thinking they’d have scored or saved a goal in a football match for sure ‘if only they were playing’! Although for most people this sort of feeling is down to the heat of the moment, there is a general illusory superiority bias). Scientific research is revealing to us ever more and more that mental health problems are more real, serious and non-trivial than people had previously surmised.
Furrywisepuppy hopes that the understanding, empathy and compassion for sufferers of all kinds will increase as a result of this post. Now it’s not about making people feel sorry for them, in a swing from stigma to condescension, but about an appreciation for their situation and being thoughtful and considerate. If you think this has helped you to see mental health sufferers in new ways then please let us know through the Twitter comment button below.