18 April 2005

Once again, commentary on someone else's post

I'm not big on the whole piggy-backing thing, but see that link to the right that says "humorous law school blog?" Yup, I'm too lazy to remember the magic code right now for embedding a link in here, so click on that, and find an interesting post on an article in the New York Times. Here's an excerpt of what Jeremy wrote that I found interesting:

But the author of this piece -- which is a really interesting piece -- hits it on the head, I think, in the very last sentence of the article.

"We should have no trouble admiring what we do admire -- depth, complexity, aesthetic brilliance -- and standing foursquare against depression."

And, yeah, that makes sense. It makes sense that depression isn't the same thing as being able to tap into that side of the emotional continuum, as being perceptive or sarcastic or deep or thoughtful. And it really isn't depression that's interesting and compelling, but those other things.

That pretty much stands on its own, but it also got me thinking about how quickly people are willing to designate as depression the things that are simply part of being human. I'll note first that I'm not an expert on clinical depression, that I've never had it or even known anyone who has been diagnosed with it, so I'm not saying it doesn't exist. For example, creative people are often thought of as having suffered from depression. We read journals written decades or centuries ago and make a modern day diagnosis. "Oh, yes, X was clearly clinically depressed because he wrote about being sad a lot." Obviously, some of this is just us trying to understand our great historical figures on a more intimate level. And I find it interesting knowing, for example, that maybe Van Gogh suffered from epilepsy, based on descriptions of his life. But when people write in journals, or talk about their feelings to a therapist, or even a counselor--or just talk things out in general--it's because that's when they're typically frustrated, or sad, or angry, etc. We don't talk about how happy we are. Ok, sometimes, I do. Sometimes someone asks me how I am and I launch into an entire thing about how great life is. But usually, you'll just know because I'm smiling. I'm a pretty happy guy, but it doesn't mean I'm not in touch with all those other feelings. Those other feelings are what make the happiness even tangible. The happiness you feel after having been sad over something is acute and real and wonderful on a different level than just day to day contentedness.

If you read some of my journals from when I was younger, however, you'd probably think "wow, let's get him on some meds stat." Well, maybe not that much of a reaction. But there's some pretty heavy stuff in there. It's part of who I am--it's part of who we all are. And maybe for some people, it lapses into a real medical condition, but I think this is comparatively rare. What I think is more common are people who feel bad about their life or themselves, even just a little. They see a commercial on TV with a little detached head bouncing around looking all mopey and then suddenly looking all chipper and bouncing over butterflies. Or they go online and take an "Are you depressed?" survey, and find out that, yes, sometimes they have trouble sleeping because they had a bad day at work. Or some doctor tells them they're depressed. It's not like many people go to the doctor feeling just fabulous.

I've known way too many people who went through a low period in their life and reacted to it by starting on Prozac or Zoloft or another medication. People who I just would not call clinically depressed, who were experiencing far less "depression" than even I probably have. These are medications we're talking about, and it's serious. They're around for a specific reason and for a specific group of people who really need them, but they're not some magic cure all for the general population. We all go through bad times--really bad times, even. But a big part of life is struggling through some things so you can grow as a person and know how good it is in the good times, and really appreciate it.

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