Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.
The depression was not incapacitating. It made it hard to take a lot of my suburban life seriously, but that was inextricably mingled with a growing consciousness of the larger brutalities of the world. Ethiopian children were starving on the evening news and genocide was mushrooming in Cambodia. Was I truly depressed or just awakening to the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, the insight that samsaric life is misery? My melancholy seemed like simple realism; if you weren't depressed, you obviously didn't know what was going on.
The peculiar predicament of the present-day self surely came to pass as a consequence of the disappointment of the high expectations of the self as it entered the age of science and technology. Dazzled by the overwhelming credentials of science, the beauty and elegance of the scientific method, the triumph of modern medicine over physical ailments, and the technological transformation of the very world itself, the self finds itself in the end disappointed by the failure of science and technique in those very sectors of life which had been its main source of ordinary satisfaction in past ages.As John Cheever said, the main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.Work is disappointing. In spite of all the talk about making work more creative and self-fulfilling, most people hate their jobs, and with good reason. Most work in modern technological societies is intolerably dull and repetitive.Marriage and family life are disappointing. Even among defenders of traditional family values, e.g., Christians and Jews, a certain dreariness must be inferred, if only from the average time of TV viewing. Dreary as TV is, it is evidently not as dreary as Mom talking to Dad or the kids talking to either.School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone's bridge in Physics.Politics is disappointing. Most young people turn their backs on politics, not because of the lack of excitement of politics as it is practiced, but because of the shallowness, venality, and image-making as these are perceived through the media--one of the technology's greatest achievements.The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. The alternatives to the institutional churches are even more grossly disappointing, from TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos to California cults led by prosperous gurus ignored in India but embraced in La Jolla.Social life is disappointing. The very franticness of attempts to reestablish community and festival, by partying, by groups, by club, by touristy Mardi Gras, is the best evidence of the loss of true community and festival and of the loneliness of self, stranded as it is as an unspeakable consciousness in a world from which it perceives itself as somehow estranged, stranded even within its own body, with which it sees no clear connection. But there remains the one unquestioned benefit of science: the longer and healthier life made possible by modern medicine, the shorter work-hours made possible by technology, hence what is perceived as the one certain reward of dreary life of home and the marketplace: recreation.Recreation and good physical health appear to be the only ambivalent benefits of the technological revolution.
These thoughts are depressing I know. They are depressing, I wish I was more cheerful, it is more pleasant,Also it is a duty, we should smile as well as submitting To the purpose of One Above who is experimentingWith various mixtures of human character which goes best, All is interesting for him it is exciting, but not for us. There I go again. Smile, smile, and get some work to doThen you will be practically unconscious without positively having to go.
You see, people in the depressive position are often stigmatised as ‘failures' or ‘losers'. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If these people are in the depressive position, it is most probably because they have tried too hard or taken on too much, so hard and so much that they have made themselves ‘ill with depression'. In other words, if these people are in the depressive position, it is because their world was simply not good enough for them. They wanted more, they wanted better, and they wanted different, not just for themselves, but for all those around them. So if they are failures or losers, this is only because they set the bar far too high. They could have swept everything under the carpet and pretended, as many people do, that all is for the best in the best of possible worlds. But unlike many people, they had the honesty and the strength to admit that something was amiss, that something was not quite right. So rather than being failures or losers, they are just the opposite: they are ambitious, they are truthful, and they are courageous. And that is precisely why they got ‘ill'. To make them believe that they are suffering from some chemical imbalance in the brain and that their recovery depends solely or even mostly on popping pills is to do them a great disfavour: it is to deny them the precious opportunity not only to identify and address important life problems, but also to develop a deeper and more refined appreciation of themselves and of the world around them—and therefore to deny them the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential as human beings.
A love of neighbor manifests itself in the tolerance not only of opinions of others but, what is more important, of the essence and uniqueness of others, when we subscribe to that religious philosophy of life that insists that God has made each man and woman an individual sacred personality endowed with a specific temperament, created with differing needs, hungers, dreams. This is a variegated, pluralistic world where no two stars are the same and every snowflake has its own distinctive pattern. God apparently did not want a regimented world of sameness. That is why creation is so manifold. So it is with us human beings. Some are born dynamic and restless; others placid and contemplative…One man’s temperament is full throated with laughter; another’s tinkles with the sad chimes of gentle melancholy. Our physiques are different, and that simple difference oftentimes drives us into conflicting fulfillment of our natures, to action or to thought, to passion or to denial, to conquest or to submission. There is here no fatalism of endowment. We can change and prune and shape the hedges of our being, but we must rebel against the sharp shears being wielded by other hands, cutting off the living branches of our spirits in order to make our personalities adornments for their dwellings.