Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Trying to Understand Depression in a Modern Existence
I take time in contemplating the meaning and purpose of my life now that I am approaching a half-century of existence here on this planet. These moments of self-reflection can conjure up a paradoxical combination of pride, disappointment, happiness, bitterness, anxiety, and even terror. Unfortunately, the scales of self-reflection for me anyway, have tended a little more towards the negative side than the positive.
In commiseration with others my age, I would like to attribute this dimmer perspective to the inevitable midlife crisis that every adult must go through (a midlife crisis, given its mental repressiveness and onrushing stream of patchwork happiness and sadness, is wrought out of the pressure cooker of modern life as a categorical imperative) to keep their sanity.
When I heard of Robin Williams’ suicide, I wasn’t taken completely by surprise, not considering the stormy path this great comedian/actor took in his adult life. If you followed Williams’ off-screen, off-stage battles with the habituated corridors of his psyche, you could see a festering of something ominous within him coming to the fore potentially in the worst way possible.
Williams by his own free admission, was an alcoholic. Now it’s far too simplistic to bracket such destructively intemperate behavior within the categories of “weakness”, “cowardice”, “selfish”, and “shameful”. Yes, a person who succumbs to alcoholism or any other addiction can probably be discussed with this descriptive tapestry of opprobrium; but there is far more below what we see on the surface of an addictive past. The complicated weight of what lies beneath concerns an externally miserable and angst-ridden reality that makes people find ways to escape from it.
This may come as news to those who ascribe to the theory that biological or genetic factors are primarily responsible for depression-related behaviors, and not so much social, environmental, or childhood-related ones. We can spend a lot of time on depression’s inherited causality but in accommodating this facile trap of speculation, we cease to concentrate our energies on ruminating about how life in modern society frequently drives many good and well-balanced individuals into the depths of unequivocal despair.
A question we should ask more of is not why people get depressed in this day and age but why wouldn’t they get depressed in this day and age? Depending on your circumstances, times are as tough as they have ever been. You can’t really talk about America today without talking about how the door to the American Dream is being shut to millions of Americans. You can’t really talk about America today without talking about the country being run by a motley collection of stumbling, corrupt, and risk-averse politicians who only care about staying in office. And you really can’t talk about America today without having our anesthetized lives harshly interrupted by the latest police abuse sequel to intensified racial tensions.
The one-point imagery that the reader might visualize in this article is one that begins and ends with a full-throated, charcoal-black lamentation of the sinkhole that is modern existence. Never were we as modern citizens more in trouble than we are now, I must sound like. Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. Not yet anyway. But with the greatest deliberation that I can muster, and based on the grounds of our country being on the verge losing something very precious like its democratic unity, I still appeal to our common sense and consciousness as a people to rescue us from the perfect storm of our extravagant errancy and astonishing self-delusion.
At nearly fifty years of age, I am still musing about my individual existence and on the social, economic, cultural, and political conditions that I discern that existence through. I know it’s too outrageous to believe that our modern-day lives are so mechanically driven through a haze of mind-numbing materialistic ecstasies and their providential rule over people and how they think and feel. Yet, here we are. It’s just that so many of us don’t know it.
I want to think there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I am in limbo, somewhere in between being pessimistically realistic and terribly optimistic. As it turns out, I’m probably better off than many of my fellow Americans who are living the American reproduction of a neurotic and/or depressed existential narrative.