Me & Bruce & a Bunch of Other Folks: Depression in a Modern Context

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I’ve been hearing a lot about Bruce Springsteen these days. First read a blurb in the newspaper about his recently released autobiography. Then caught portions of an interview with Terry Gross on public radio’s Fresh Air. Also caught two more references in the ether, but don’t remember them in detail. Bruce has never been one of my musical go tos (except for a brief period in the 80s when Born in the USA could not be avoided). However, I’ve always respected him as an artist. He’s told the story of what things are like from where he lives, the people he knows. I think he’s a voice for many, many people in this country. Especially this country’s men.

So I find myself surprised and amazed that every interview or article has touched on Bruce’s experience with Depression. (May I call you Bruce, Bruce? Yes? Thanks.) Sounds like it’s been a huge struggle for him over many years. Without reading the book, I know the drill: staving off the darkness with whatever works, finally admitting you are losing the battle, finding people and meds that help, wasting time with people and meds that don’t help, hiding what’s happening/how you are/feeling like a failure, learning that your own mind can sometimes work against you, the family that wants to help but doesn’t know how, the slow climb back out of the darkness, the vulnerability of having to guard yourself forever more. I don’t know why I’m surprised at revelations of public figures regarding their struggles with mental health. But hey, public figures are people too. And people struggle.

Above: Public figures that have struggled, overcome, struggled again. And the first, most profoundly impactful book  I read on the subject. There would be many more.

I often wonder: is contemporary society putting such pressure on us that our psyches are (figuratively) cracking under its weight? A huge percentage of our population utilizes talk therapy, meds, religion, drugs (the recreational kind), supplements, exercise and whatever else might help to keep themselves out of the abyss. I reference Depression, but also contemplate the numbers of people I know or know of who have struggled with crippling levels of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and addiction.

What the hell is going on?

Were there previously, in fact, glory days (no pun intended, Bruce) during which humans worked so hard to simply survive that they had neither the physical nor mental leisure to notice they were depressed?  After all, if you’re working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, just trying to make ends meet on the farm or in the factory, you don’t have much energy left over for contemplating your state of mind. And probably no one else wants to put up with you doing it, either. (On the other hand, working that much and knowing I’d do it for the rest of my life would be enough to send me into a spiral of Depression deeper than the tar pits at La Brea.) I haven’t the time or the desire to research Depression and other mental illnesses as they exhibited themselves over the course of human history. I’m certain someone already has, anyway. But other than a brief thought in that direction, I’m more concerned about this question: What is it about our lives today that contributes to such widespread levels of Depression? Not the I-feel-so-bummed-out-today-and-have-ever-since-I-broke-up-with-my-boyfriend type depression. Yes, that’s depression, but not depression with a big D.  Clinical Depression. The I-can’t-make-my-brain-stop-going-in-recriminating-circles-or-my-chest-stop- aching-so-I-can-breathe Depression. The kind that has you driving down a beautiful street on a sunny day completely unaware of your environment because you can only see and hear  the violent storm in your head. Depression that Winston Churchill referred to as “the black dog”. The kind that makes you wake up every day wishing you didn’t exist. The kind that leads you to contemplate how not to exist anymore. THAT Depression.

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I have no idea who’s work this is, but I’ve seen several cartoons in the same hand and relish every one. They perfectly describe the experience of Depression but also some of the remedies. Witty, angry. I love them. I should  probably get permission to post them. Okay, will put that on the big “to do” list.

I do think there are things about contemporary, American society that contribute to widespread Depression. And like Bruce, I’m going to describe what I see happening around me from the neighborhood in which I live: white, American, middle-aged, female, upper middle class, reasonably well educated and well traveled.  But I’ve been gleaning in this field for over two decades. I’ve read widely on the subject of Depression —  anecdotal accounts and scientific inquiry. I worked for several years in the field, knee deep in the lives of adolescents with learning disabilities and co-occurring psych “disorders”. (Don’t even get me started on a diagnosis like Oppositional Defiant Disorder — applied to teenagers without a twinge of irony. I mean do you know a teenager who isn’t oppositional?) I’ve gone through my own battles and spoken with many, many people about theirs. I’ve walked more than one young adult through the darkness. I get called on periodically to offer opinions and shore up the floundering. I’m not a professional. I’m just a human that’s been there and done that.

The one thing that helped me the most (aside from excellent doctors and excellent meds) was coming across anything that helped me understand what was happening.  Every time I read something that made sense of the non-sensical, I felt better. Less of a failure. Less inclined to give up. Less self-critical. So while I have some time between Xmas and New Year’s, I’ll try to articulate some of the things I’ve learned and seen. I hope they will help someone else understand what is happening to them — or even better, identify parts of their own story in what I write. Some will be about contemporary society. But some will be about things that have specifically helped me and allowed me to climb back up and out of the abyss. If you are a friend, a partner or a family member of someone who’s struggled with Depression, perhaps you’ll gain some insight into the whys and hows of it all.

I doubt Depression is a purely modern human experience. But how we come to it, in today’s world, has certain explainable elements. I’m certain of it. And some things that we have in our tool box are antidotes. I’m just as certain of that.

More to come. Ending this  post with “Cheers!” just seems … uh, inappropriate. But that’s kind of how I feel. Like I want to say “Hey! You made it through the post! Now go out and take a walk or really enjoy that 15 minute nap!” S0…

Cheers!

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5 thoughts on “Me & Bruce & a Bunch of Other Folks: Depression in a Modern Context

  1. I have wondered, too, about the many, many psychological problems in today’s world. And I have wondered if they occurred so frequently in the past.
    Depression. Aleppo. How could the people there not be depressed? Or are they scrambling so hard to merely survive that they cannot acknowledge the depression?
    I have wondered about the past – those 14-hour days, seven days a week jobs. Did people then simply just do it? And then die? I don’t know.
    I remember after a horrible physical injury I was upset. The doc put me on anti depressants. I didn’t need them. I was bummed and I was angry. But my real feelings were being labeled and treated. I ended up tossing the meds.

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    1. A good point. “Labeled and then treated” happens a lot because for some reason no one wants to communicate that experiencing negative emotions is valid and part of being a human. Instead, we’re supposed to only have positive emotions. (Whee! Yippee!) And if we have negative emotions, something must be wrong with us. More to come on that issue… I’ve made a few notes for myself so I don’t forget to bring up various topics. That one is listed as “The Myth of Successful! Happy! Happy!”

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  2. Hi Susie. I am late in coming to your new blog because I’ve been a bit of a procrasto-potater lately. But I wanted to let you know that I recognize the cartoon that you posted above. It’s called Hyperbole and a Half, and the woman who drew it did have depression issues which worked their way into her drawings. I think she is no longer actively blogging, but like most things on the internet, you can still find it out there.
    Have a brave new year. ❤

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