Continued from ‘Depression’ is ‘not being able to feel’
Some people think that people become depressed if they don’t have enough friends or relatives around. Many times have I heard people say that if such and such was not alone, he/she would not be so depressed. This is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of depression: putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.
Here, I am not speaking of a natural grieving process – a sound support system is helpful there. Nor am I speaking of other specific mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder and so on, but only about the one many doctors term ‘garden-variety depression': where an otherwise healthy brain fails to function properly because of an imbalance or shortage of specific neurotransmitters.
From an evolutionary point of view: our brains have, as their deepest goal, to keep us alive, as best and for as long as possible.
‘Pleasure’ is nice – it is our brain’s reward for ‘good’ behaviours. From foods that nurture us best to reproduction to forming the social bonds which aid our long-term survival – these are all the types of ‘good’ behaviours which aid our long-term survival and propagation as a species. Our brains reward these ‘good’ behaviours by directing the neurotransmitters to activate the ‘pleasure’ and ‘feel good’ centres of the brain. That is how we feel pleasure and happiness.
These behaviours, however important in the long-term, are not helpful in urgent ‘short-term’ survival of ‘fight-and/or-flight’ type situations. When faced with an immediate threat, a person has to react quickly and effectively, or the long-term benefits become rather irrelevant.
These ‘danger’ type situations, out of this necessity for immediate survival, ‘anger’, ‘fear’ and related feelings are capable of being triggered even when the neurotransmitter levels in the brain are too low to trigger the ‘long-term-benefit’ reward ones.
That is why people who are depressed – who are suffering from a physical shortage/imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain – stop feeling ‘pleasure’ and ‘happiness’ before they stop feeling ‘anger’ and ‘fear’, and even, at times, the feeling of ‘self-pity’…
Which also explains why, very often, these people end up alone.
This emptiness of ‘not feeling’ is horrible – it is like one’s body is mechanically walking through life while the self/soul is in a coma. Most people will do just about anything to avoid this desolate emptiness of ‘not feeling’.
Some people react to this ‘inability to feel’ by isolating themselves from friends and other experiences, in order not to be reminded that they can no longer feel. The memory of the experience – while being unable to feel it now – is so painful, these people will avoid any ‘opportunity to feel’. They will keep busy with tasks that do not evoke emotions to the exclusion of everything else – or they will simply withdraw from ‘experiencing life’.
Other people deal with this emptiness by trying to evoke even echoes of their earlier experiences. They will seek behaviours which, when they were well, made them feel ‘most intensely alive': from thrill-seeking on down. Needless to say, this may become self-destructive.
These people will soon find that as the neurotransmitter levels decrease, they will need more intense experiences to get even an echo of a ‘feeling’. And, since the ‘fight-and/or-flight’ responses take the lowest levels of neurotransmitters to make a person ‘feel’, many people spiraling down into a depression will try to evoke those emotions – it’s their ‘last chance to feel’.
This usually means ‘picking fights’ and starting arguments – arguments deep and angry enough to evoke those ‘fight-and/or-flight’ responses in their brain!
Because even the most negative feelings are like a balm for the soul which is unable to ‘feel’!
Of course, this tends to be hard on the people around such a person… Seeing the anger and facing constant arguments and fights – and no positive emotions in the ill person, no positive feedback – that will drive just about everyone away!
Therefore, people are not depressed because they are alone – people are alone because they are depressed!
This is why it is essential that when people notice a loved one is either withdrawing from ‘life’ or seems constantly angry and filled with only strong negative emotions, they get them help from medical professionals.
Depression is a physiological deficiency of specific chemicals, just like deficiencies in other parts of the body are. It strikes people in all walks of life – and of all ages, including children.
It needs to be diagnosed and treated by medical professionals. And the person will need to remain on any medication they are prescribed for as long as their own body is not making the ‘proper’ balance of them.
Like a diabetic may take insulin to function properly, so does a person suffering from depression.
And, just like there are some diabetics who, after getting their diabetes under control can, perhaps, maintain control over their condition without the need to take insulin regularly, some people with depression may be able to do the same thing.
But, this is not possible for all diabetics. Nor it is an option for everyone suffering from depression. The medicine may be different, the organ affected may be different, but the underlying medical problem is ‘the same': their body is not making enough of some things for all parts of the body to function properly.
Just as one would not fault a diabetic for needing insulin for the rest of their life, one ought not demand that a person ‘should get off’ of anti-depressant medication after some period of time. It is not a question of ‘toughness’ or ‘weakness’ or ‘willingness to try': it is a function of the medical condition itself and must be understood in those terms.
Depression is a terrible thing to experience.
Let’s try to use information to shed some light on it in the hope that it will help somebody seek the proper help. If you have some things related to depression you’d like to share, please, leave a comment!