People are not depressed because they are alone – people are alone because they are depressed

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!

‘Depression’ is ‘not being able to feel’

When we say someone ‘is depressed’, we are describing a set of symptoms visible to ‘the outside’.  However, just like with so many other conditions related to brain chemistry, this is a bit of the old ‘can’t-put-weight-on-foot syndrome’:  a single set of symptoms is the only visible result of a number of various and quite different things which are going on deep within the brain.

What I wish to address here is what medical doctors often refer to as ‘garden variety depression’:  not a manic-depressive, bi-polar disorder (though, there is a distant parallel, it is not the same thing), not another type of mental illness (like schizophrenia) which may, at times, cause depression-like symptoms, nor am I writing about a natural grieving process.

Having said what I am not writing about, I find it difficult to start – there are so many really important points to make, things which people who are near and dear to those who may be suffering from depression (as well as the sufferers themselves) need to know…

Imagine having a sinus infection:  your nose is so stuffed up, you cannot smell a single thing. Even if the smell-receptors were not gucked up with mucus, preventing them from functioning, your whole nasal passages are so filled with solid-seeming stuff that no air can enter them.  Now, imagine that you are eating your most favoritest food in the world!

What is it like?

The food – though as good as ever – will not evoke the same experience in you as you eat is as it does when you are well.

I could go into a long description here – but I trust I don’t need to….suffice it to say, the health condition is physically interfering with one’s ability to fully experience the food.

Depression – however it is triggered (there are many ways to ‘get there’) – is a little bit similar:  the ability to experience emotions – all emotions – is severely depressed….hence, ‘depression’….  Like in the above example, the health condition is physically interfering with one’s ability to fully experience life.

In other words, ‘depression’ is not ‘feeling sad’ or ‘feeling sorry for oneself’ – depression is the physical inability to ‘feel’.

Of course, there are various levels – from mild to severe.

But, the underlying problem is the same.

It is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain.  It is a physical problem, which cannot be solved by ‘positive thinking’ or ‘pulling oneself together’ or ‘having friends’ or any such common misconceptions…

And a problem it is:  there is nothing more horrible for a human than to be unable to ‘feel’.

It is worse than death.

Unless one has experienced it themselves, it is impossible to fully comprehend the devastation of the desolate existence:  one does all the things that made one feel alive – and can no longer ‘feel’ them!

Oh, just like with the food:  one can ‘recognize’ the taste and texture is there – but it is not the same, it is not experienced fully, it is not ‘living’.

You can mechanically sense the physical experience – but the brain is lacking the proper chemicals to fire up the ‘sensation’ centres, the ‘feel good/feel bad’ areas of the brain, so the experience is hollow and not properly ‘felt’!

*   *   *

This inability to feel is not limited to one area of sensations:  it is an all-encompassing numbness.

This ‘feeling’ things – from the love of those around us, to the pleasure of seeing a pretty sunset – these feelings are the colouring of our life-experiences which defines each and every one of us as the individuals we are, it makes us unique, it makes us ‘us’.  That is  why loosing the ability to experience this facet of experience is so devastating to people:  it strips us of our ‘self’.

It is as if your body is going through the motions of life, but your self/soul is in a coma.

People who are suffering like this will do just about anything to recapture their ability to ‘feel’, to wake up from this walking coma.


So, many people who are slipping into a depression will go to great lengths to do the things which, before they were depressed, made them ‘feel’ with the greatest intensity:  from risky and destructive behaviour, perhaps seeking a lot of sex or drugs or even abusive relationships, to eating food they liked, and so on.  By doing the things which made them ‘feel’ the most intensely, they are attempting to recapture at least the echo of ‘feeling’.

This is not going to work for long:  they can feel their pulse rise, the physiological reactions in the body will be there.  But, if there isn’t enough neurotransmitters in the brain to fire up the pleasure/fear centres of the brain, their experience will not be ‘felt’ and will leave them more empty and hollow than before!

Other people will try to avoid the situations which remind them that they are not ‘feeling’ things like they used to.  They will avoid friends and places that made them happy, because they cannot face remembering what it was like to ‘feel’ – and that they can no longer do it.

Either way – depression is a serious medical condition with real, physiological causes.  Medical professionals are the ones who are trained to sort through the symptoms and find the best way to treat it.  Getting medical help is essential for one to beat depression!

…continued at ‘People are not depressed because they are alone – people are alone because they are depressed’