Defining depression

Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
Steven Wright

It’s very rare for me to get angry, certainly not of my own volition. I occasionally raise to righteous indignation, say, about unfairness of it all or how it sometimes seems the NHS couldn’t organise an orgy in a brothel, for another example, especially when it’s easier to support another’s (J) sentiments. However, I’ve not even been particularly consistent or good at that either to be honest – leaving J feeling unsupported or not understood.

Instead I tend to bottle emotions and sulk, as mentioned previously. One of the unfortunate side effect of this is that I also rarely feel intense pleasure either. J refers to this as my ‘flattened affect’, hopefully not severe enough to be a indicator of Schizophrenia (which seems to dominate the first page of search results – this is why I try not to use ‘Dr.’ Google).

There are two main childhood conditionings to this situation. Firstly, my parents were rarely angry – idyllic you may think, but as a result when I was told off it took on a far more scary prospect. Secondly, one of my aunts suffered from what is now referred to as Bi-Polar Disorder – a condition that eventually defeated her with tragic consequences. So, extremes of emotion carry a lot of baggage and I try to avoid at all costs in myself and by placating others, whether they want it or not.

I was slightly shocked therefore to be told how depressed I was by the Goldberg depression test; I scored 43 ‘moderate to severe’ depression when filling it without giving it much thought early this morning. (With a more concentrated effort this evening I cannot seem to get it above 33 ‘minor to moderate’, which is interesting in its own right – and I think a factor of the lack of weighting to ‘more serious’ symptoms, but I’m not going to dissect the possible rights and wrongs of that approach here.)

J’s score was much higher and when blogged about it has had many kind and supportive comments about how that is not surprising given recent events (thank you all). J does have a history of depressive episodes, that I have tried manfully to ignore and hope they go away while ineffectually trying to be supportive. I too was not really surprised, but once again found I could offer little comfort and it found it scary, even before I took the test myself. At the same time it’s a slight relief that many of the feelings and symptoms of tiredness, lack of concentration and emptiness have a consolidated label and ’cause’. I realise that my natural inclination is now it has a label, I can put it in a ‘box’ and ignore – must try to resist.

“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.”
Dr. R. W. Shepherd

The vexing question is: how to get to know (and accept?) this ‘beast’ within, to prevent it gnawing away at ‘heart’ and all that’s good and true? Can it be tamed or does it need to be let out? My instinct is for the former, but I feel this is a cowardly approach born from my deceptively efficient bottling plant. ‘Letting out’ sounds far too dangerous – someone may get hurt – and also difficult, as it means identifying the emotions, finding the words and being brave enough to expose oneself. Not qualities or skills I’m well practised or competent in.

Far easier to keep to see the parallels in the (yes, sophistic and oxymoronic) mantra that:

it’s far better to be a pessimist that’s occasionally proved wrong than an optimist who’s often proved wrong

I’m certain there are better lessons in classical philosophy, but currently I’m identifying with Eeyore:

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.
A. A. Milne

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