Manic depression’s catchin’ my soul
Depression. Most of us probably experienced it once, or more, in their life time. Most of us probably still don’t know what’s going on, or even what happened once is passed. What we know is that depression is not something we want in our life. It might be debatable but, usually, people want to be happy. Being depressed makes us sad. We don’t want to be sad. That’s why we don’t like depression. And for those lucky enough to have people around, we understand that we make them sad as well. Some people are even scared by depressed people, like they were contagious in some way. That’s why most of the depressed people hide their condition. So we come to the understanding that, even in the darkest time, is something we should handle, or treat; for some of us, something we should cope in the long distance.
There are different ideas on what depression is. For some of us depression is just absence of feelings. For others, like Kant is “the weakness of abandoning oneself despondently to general morbid feelings that have no definite object (and so making no attempt to master them by reason)”. For some others, something to be treated and cured, a pathology of the mind. As a philosopher I understand what Kant suggested. But as a human being I don’t take any satisfaction in this definition. As for the clinical definition, this might only give us some clue to identify depression; however, it gives us no tool to understand what is going on with us, and why. I will get back to the pathological approach at the end of the post. As far as I’m concerned here, I will skip the (remarkable) Kant’s insights on the topic to focus on the question: is depression the absence of feeling?
If you meet a depressed person, say one of your friend, and you ask “dude, what’s going on” probably the most honest answer will be “I don’t know”. It can be the case that, using a clinical definition, once she recognise her state of mind as “depression”, she will be likely to say “well, I’m depressed”. That’s, of course, uninformative. Most of the people, depressed included, tend to interpret that “I don’t know” as the inability to feel anything. Some of them experience what Allie clearly describe as a state of invincibility: “nothing can do anything to me, ‘cause I don’t feel anything, so go on, judge me, I don’t care, I don’t feel anymore”.
People that tend to think depression as the absence of feeling sometimes argue that what comes closer to depression is sadness. But depression is not sadness they, I think correctly, say. Sadness is a feeling and depressed people know that, even if we perceive our sadness, that’s only a mirror of the feelings of the others around. Is a clumsy attempt to interact with them via the feeling they have about us. That’s why, usually, we tend to avoid others’ contact. The reason why is so difficult to cope with social interaction when we are depressed is because we lack perception of ourselves. We know that we are present at a time, but we don’t know how we’re doing. We don’t even care. We just are. That’s it.
We don’t feel ourselves and we loose our ability to feel others. That’s look like and absence of feeling. However when we saying that we don’t feel anything are we actually say that we lack any feelings? We feel, after all, something that makes us sad. Just, we don’t know either what it is or its reason. And when we interact with others, are we genuinely not feeling them? we feel their sadness, that’s what make us even more sad. That’s another reason why we avoid interaction.
If depression is not the absence of feeling, then what it is? Depression, I claim, is indeed a feeling; more specifically, is a form of homesickness. What we truly experience when we are depressed is not an absence of a feeling, but its meaningless for us. We still feel and, contrary to general opinion, a depressed person is still able to have –maybe awkward– social interactions; also laugh –from time to time. But what we feel about these feeling is that they are pointless. Is a change in perception. For a depressed person any feelings triggered from the outside world are lies that push her far from what depression points to: our inability to honestly express ourselves. Depression is not a lack of feeling, is a lack of honesty. Is that peculiar feeling we have when we loose perception with what we truly are and miss. Like anarchism is the, mostly unheard, warning bell of our democratic society, depression is the warning when we moved to far to the suburbs of the self.
Then, why we should think depression is lack of honesty, and not lack of feelings? First, I would say, is a more consistent position; we want to admit the ability to feel even when we are depressed. Second, I think it helps to rethink depression in the clinical context. To think depression as a lack of honesty is to rethink depression as something we should truly embrace; as an opportunity to come back home. Is not something to be cured, is the cure. The problem remains in the fact that most of the depressed people do not function properly, or at all. And for those that cope with it in the long term, chemical treatments are mandatory. But chemical treatments are not a cure, they just are something that makes you work and avoid you to be expelled or marginalised from our socio-economical world. So the very reason for a cure is not something wrong about us, but something wrong about the world we now live in; a world in which the honest expression of oneself is something to suppressed. Third, to conclude, is a way to live the darkest moment in a truly transformative way, as a process of liberation. Is an opportunity to understand something about us that we, and only we, can explore and to understand that the reason why we suffer when we are depressed is because we have abandoned ourselves somewhere along the road.
Not all who wonder are lost, but some are. So end your exile, cross your mind-fields, go back, and honestly rebuild your home.
 more about Kant’s depression can be found in this post by Eugene Thacker on 3:AM Magazine
Update: I’ve been suggested by Vincenzo Politi, from University of Bristol, (dear friend and great philosopher) that Matthew Ratcliffe argues along similar lines in his new 2015 book “Experience of Depression: a study in Phenomenology“