Depression isn’t Simple

I read this piece with some irritation, then rethought my reaction and realized the piece was more about politics than psychology or depression. I agree with most of Rhyd’s politics but disagree on the framing with depression.

Perhaps because I just got to see West Side Story over the weekend, I’m immediately reminded of “Officer Krupke,” in which, the Jets mock simplistic attempts to explain their lives via cause-effect theories.

There is a certain degree of crazymaking behind modern theories of mental illness that say waking up on a morning where the air tastes like Giger, Lovecraft, and Poe is really about my grandparents, my rapist, my job, my culture, my politics, or my religion. In some ways, I suspect that ideas about humors and demonic possession were more honest to the experience of having your mind hijacked. There is a big need for a WYFIWYG (what you feel is what you got) psychology that treats depressive/anxiety episodes as depressive/anxiety episodes and not distant baggage or social or religious malaise.

Because just as those episodes are qualitatively different from mystical experiences or the regular blues, they’re qualitatively different from political anger as well. My bad days combine the worst features of amphetamines, espresso jitters, a weepy drunk, and psychedelics. My worst night had some of the symptoms of the DTs, with nothing stronger in my system than an aspirin. There’s a very weird double-standard in our culture where we take for granted the effects of prescription and recreational drugs (including alcohol and coffee) but explain away the effects of mental illness as politics, religion, relationship, or fantasy.

It’s not that those distal factors are irrelevant. To construct a metaphor, I’m sitting on a levee watching the waters rise and fall on a daily basis without a satellite view of exactly where in the watershed the flood is coming from. Some of the tributaries are frequently traveled and mapped, others are unknown. Some of them (since I come originally from Karst land) are likely underground and unknowable.

When the levee breaks, you move and you clean up the damage after. Focusing on this tributary or that tributary isn’t a panacea. Depression and Anxiety Disorders, like life, and rivers, are fractal hydras that can’t be slain by hitting on one head. When we simplify that to religion or politics, we skate on the edge of victim-blaming, and fail to understand either the problems, or the people who have them. 



3 thoughts on “Depression isn’t Simple

  1. Rhyd Wildermuth

    Thanks for rethinking your reaction. : ) The piece was written to myself, after an encounter with the dead and a sudden recognition that my reaction to rage through love is too often to swallow it, distract myself, become depressed and then self-hating (the sword pointed at the heart) as an act of cowardice, because consuming rage is easier than action, just as taking an aspirin is simpler than stretching the neck to alleviate the headache. And the justifications which accompany such patterns of inward-turned rage in myself are atrocious–reminders of past rejection, failures, inadequacies and even doctrines corrupted from eastern religions (seeking inner peace in the midst of oppression rather than fighting it).

    1. cbrachyrhynchos Post author

      My reaction wasn’t just to your piece, but to a general annoyance regarding how mental illness gets discussed in our culture, usually by attempting to straighten a fractal which we don’t (generally) do in trying to explain art, or love, or chocolate, or religion. Thank you very much for your clarification, and if you wish for me to change the post, let me know.


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