Archive for the 'depression' Category

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.

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We are the bread?

August 18, 2013

Richard Rohr had some daily meditations (here’s one) recently about the Eucharist, and I have been wondering whether it could be seen as parallel to how some other religions view sugar (I tend refer to candy) — we taste the sugar and are transformed, no description of what it tastes like is adequate, we taste it as if someone had popped it into our mouths (during spiritual union), and then, eventually, we come to the realization that we are the sugar, too.

Is that similar with bread?  Sugar connotes an almost pure energy, to me at least, while bread has more of a comforting aspect to it.  So I don’t know if the two substances operate in these images, experiences, and rituals in the same way.

Here’s a possibly related point.  While visiting other people, I picked up on an attitude they were engaging in of dwelling on some very difficult times from years ago.  They wanted me to read material about them and focus on them, and, and this is what sort of tipped me off, walk around constantly as if everything is terrible and we ought to be gloomy, always.  Then they looked to me for comfort and cheering up.

I don’t think one human being can comfort or cheer another out of a deep depression.  I’ve tried.  I cannot reach the person — they have become inaccessible.  To the extent possible, I think people should not do that which is conducive to increasing depression, that ways of reducing it or its likelihood or severity are needed instead.  These people I visited also don’t believe in God.  Which is fine, except that seems to mean they have no effective way of off-loading or dissipating the cares they carry that they cannot handle.  So they turn to me for that, too.  They also engage in self-pity and bitterness.

In my experience it is necessary not to “go there,” into depression, if at all possible.  Some of these people have regained their footing through the use of modern medicine, and I am grateful for that.  But regardless of whether they come predisposed to such mood issues, this over-dwelling on gloom and helplessness and rejection of modes of help seems to me counterproductive.

So my concern about focusing on bread and not sugar is a concern about relying too much on “comfort” to pull us out of a nosedive.  I think the most effective posture is to nip in the bud going down a road that will end in our needing huge amounts of comfort to rescue us.  [How many metaphors did I manage to mix in that sentence?]  I dislike hearing the contemporary mantra that we have to “take care of ourselves,” because it is so vulnerable to (mis)use as a weapon or as an excuse for self-indulgence and lack of consideration for others, for example.  But I do think some version of it is what I’m talking about here:  we need to take care of ourselves as best we can so as not to foster depression.

To the extent that bread instead of sugar orients us towards comfort and not something more energetic, I prefer the sugar motif.  But in point of fact, I love both candy and bread.

Bread and wine

June 16, 2012

I bought a challah at Trader Joe’s last night and I even had some Manischewitz wine with a piece of it when I got home.

I did not recite the appropriate blessings or light candles, although I thought about doing both.  (I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand, either.)

I thought about what challah and ceremonial wine mean to me on a Friday night.  My first thought is tradition.  I think about Friday nights with Willy and the children, I think about other Jewish households celebrating the sabbath (Shabbat).

Then I tried to go deeper.  And that made me think about being offered a meal and feeling contented (here I thought, “Add a piece of cheese and you’ve got a (light) meal”), fellowship, and sharing.

Then I started doing my thought-association thing, and I came up with communion wafers, matzoh, no drinking in Islam and Mormonism, alcoholism, and psychosis-inducing bread mold.  What I pulled out of this mix was an idea about taking something that can be used in dangerous ways and trying to put it in a context in which it is used in a positive way: a measured amount of wine, a bread stuff that stays fresh, community, and religious thoughts.

But I think that’s only half the battle, keeping people safe from depression, spiritual experiences they’re not ready for, pseudo-spiritual experiences, isolation, and even turning them to thoughts about religious beliefs.  There’s also a need for people to make their own spiritual journeys, which eventually include a stage of going beyond the mundane and the usual routine.  How do we encourage and facilitate that?

Social ills

February 10, 2012

In reading all the attention being paid to income inequality, unemployment, and moral decay, I start to wonder why no one talks about the role of anxiety and depression in the interplay of forces.  However depression and anxiety get started, they exacerbate a downward spiral, whether through self-medication or producing a child in the hopes the child will provide love that is missing in the parent’s life or through other maladaptive coping skills.  I suspect at this point that depression and anxiety are larger factors in struggling populations than we are giving these factors credit for, and while I strongly agree that medication can make a huge difference in some people once depression and anxiety become large and otherwise intractable, I don’t think medication is the solution, I think instead we need to treat why there is a net outflow of “energy” in the social group, because I think it is some seemingly innocuous small imbalance that begins it, that then gets amplified and begins a complicated chain of events or process, and whose symptoms we then observe in increased poverty, crime, and fractured families.  I remember reading a case study, while I was in college, about how rehousing poor people into housing projects in or near London unintentionally shredded family and other social networks,* and that this then had far-reaching negative subsequent consequences — the population did much work after the rehousing, much to the surprise of the people who thought they were just proving improved places to live.  That’s the kind of innocuous event I would look for in trying to redress the economic and social ills in the U.S. discussed in Charles Murray’s recent book and all the reactions to it.

*I thought I should add that, as I recall it, the (new) housing projects were high-rise apartment houses, rather than the lower-slung sorts of housing that the people were currently living in, and that the rehousing broke up the physical distribution of the family members, disrupting arrangements, for example, of having an aunt or grandmother around the corner who could pitch in to help with childcare or cooking or emergency help — the rehousing paid no attention to reassembling the physical proximity of the extended family members that was the scaffolding to the social safety net, it scrambled the population by rehousing them according to other criteria, I think.

And I certainly don’t think that the housing should not have been improved, only that the housing planners clearly, in retrospect, needed to take into account additional factors in order to realize the improvements without imposing new costs, however unintentionally.

How happy should we aspire to be?

November 14, 2011

Someone I was talking with yesterday brought up the issue of how depression can be useful, and I got to wondering whether we think we should be happier than we should.  And whether, if that’s true, that maybe in trying to create what are essentially fairy tale lives for ourselves, we (try to, with varying degrees of success,) pull resources away from others, in order to feather our own tales.  And that that dynamic results in some people having an excess of adequacy (my apologies to Gordon Williams for misusing his concept; see his Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry) of happiness (and resources), and others having a deficit of these things, and there being a lot of pushing and shoving over who will be in which group.  So, I am wondering if maybe we all reduced our expectations, maybe more people would be okay and feel okay, while there would be fewer people at the extremes.

Feedback loops

October 19, 2011

It seems to me that a lot of prescriptive advice on correcting social ills assumes that all people have adequately working feedback loops — I think it derives from a behavioralist model, that negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement deployed in some manner will shape behavior into the desired result.

My impression is that there are conditions, including some that people seem to bring in with them to this world at birth, that distort or even prevent entirely from working the reception of the feedback in its intended way.  Depression looms large to me as one of those.  Continued insistence on the usual behavioral models of punishment and reward with depressed people starts looking to me like trying to punish a puppy for something it did too long ago to remember — it becomes an exercise in frustration and damages the recipient and does not produce the desired result — dog-rearing guides, I think, counsel against trying to address an action that took place too long ago, counsel immediate response instead.  When depressed people are unable to meet expectations, I think the depression has to be addressed for the attempts at feedback not to have unhelpful consequences both to the person and to the group.  And addressing depression is often not an easy thing to do.  But I suspect that people who don’t see how depression is a pervasive state of mind may not see that need — that’s certainly my impression from being exposed to educational psychology, for example.  The statistics on the presence of mental illness among inmates in prisons suggests that this attitude comes with high costs.