This is the most remarkable time to be living. Change is happening rapidly and many are feeling challenges and crises converging to make their experience of life very difficult right now. I think there are a lot of new causes for depression upon us. Even those who feel they are doing well compared to others are very likely be feeling some impact of this global situation too. I don’t think anyone is immune, anywhere.
I am glad to see so much advertisement and discussion of self-care and community-care promoted at this time. Despite the criticisms that could be launched against the various kinds of help that are being offered, the fact is, at no time in history has so much caring been available to so much of humanity, even if there are problems and not everyone has the same access to it. Our standards and expectations keep outpacing the positive developments.
It’s a good thing we have much information and resources out there, because I do not doubt the reports that depression and other forms of mental distress are very high right now.
I knows what depression is like in a few different forms. I’ve had some blow over me in the past few months as well. I know its challenges and have compassion for those who are facing it. No one’s experience of depression is exactly alike, but at the same time, we could probably assume that all forms of depression have appeared in humanity many times. So many people have been taken down and stayed down while others have gotten back up somehow and made it through. There are a variety of responses, some better than others. But each one has to navigate their own personal situation.
I think we need to have grace for ourselves in the depressed state and for one another right now. All changes, even those that are taking one in a better direction, are stressful, by the nature of what change requires inside the body, inside the mind, and inside social system. We’ve got enormous changes being imposed upon our society and our whole ecosystem – it’s a mighty ‘storm’, if you will – and it’s full of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. There is an important discussion to be had about where the blame for the changes and responsibility for solutions lie, but the inner experience of this stress is not necessarily going to be alleviated by that discussion. Something else than talking needs to be done. It is also very possible that we’re going to have to bear with some of this stress for a while too. The bigger solutions to the bigger aspects of the storm will take time. Individually we will have to be diligent to seek personal solutions in some ways, and we’ll have to practice resilience in others.
Sailing In A Storm
I have not sailed myself, but I love to read about sailing and find the metaphors of sailing extremely helpful to me personally. Following this metaphor, I see that there is a storm upon us, individually and collectively, social and environmental. Each life is a sailboat, and each person the pilot of their own boat. When the storm intensifies for me locally and I feel its effects in depression I tell myself and I share that with you: you have to keep at the helm and keep sailing ahead as the storm rages. It’s OK to cry and rage and whimper while sailing, but do not quit sailing your boat because no one else will do it for you.
However, you don’t have to sail alone. You could sail with other boats, heading in the same direction.
Negative Is Not Bad
Here is a challenging thought: Depression is a ‘negative’ state in the body, but that does not necessarily make it a ‘bad’ state. Technically, ‘negative’ refers to aspects of energy and feelings in the body that are low-energy and low-activation (as opposed high-energy and highly-excited, like surprise, excitement, anger), and ‘bad’ refers to a judgment you place on top of that. Depression might be unpleasant, but it does necessarily make it bad. It might be the first step in the process of making things better.
In many cases, depression is a warning sign that something within one’s inner world or outer world is misaligned and you’d better do something to improve alignment, whatever you can do personally. But that still does not make the depression ‘bad’ – it makes the cause of depression bad while depression (the sensations in your body) is just the warning light telling you to go look for that cause because it hasn’t been dealt with yet.
Depression could be a sign that you’d better start doing something or you’d better stop doing something. Perhaps you need to get that body moving because its internal components are getting ill without being regularly, thoroughly flushed. You might need to add more water or nutritious foods. You may need to get more consistent quality sleep. Perhaps you need to get connected or reconnect with safe, supportive people because the nutritional flow of energy and information between living bodies has subsided too much. Maybe you need remove poor foods that are stressing your body, or remove digital stimulation at vulnerable times of the day. Perhaps you’ve been doing too much, taking on tasks that are not aligned with your deeper self, or taking on too many good things. Depression in winter might be a sign that your body – originally designed to slow down and hibernate in that time of year – is trying too much to keep living like it is summer. Seasonal affective disorder might mean one is not living correctly according to the season, rather than being somehow abnormally vulnerable to it.
Or we might need to zoom out, beyond the self. Depression could be a sign that too many around us are struggling and it has saturated our social environment. Zoom out farther, and we might see that our society or system is broken and though the individual is not personally ‘at fault’ he is still caught up in the chaos and feels its repercussions through socio-biological channels. Each person could be seen as a nerve receptor in the humanity organism being triggered by conditions in the environment, outside himself. His depression is a beacon sending its warning signal from the periphery to the brain for some immediate response to the danger, whatever that ‘brain’ metaphorically is in our society. And that is perhaps why we are suffering in unusual ways – our depression is a signal sent out, yet we don’t know who is suppose to be the regulating brain to receive it and do the job to bring the system back from the edge of chaos.
From an evolutionary and complexity point of view, it may be that our humanity organism has unwittingly created its own crisis (like ancient cyanobacteria) which presents us with the opportunity to adapt, grow (albeit somewhat painfully) and emerge onto a whole new level of individual and social complexity. While that might be true we definitely see that we have the tragic opposite opportunity right before us.
From this same point of view, I imagine each individual as a component of the system and are one of its experiments working on a mini-solution to the crisis. I think each one of us, by how we choose to deal with this stress, this depression, is running an experiment whether we are conscious and deliberate about it or not. The more of us that attempt solutions to stress and depression that are successful at getting us through and getting us to grow, the more those solutions will be seen, validated and the more people will be drawn to use them also. Some experiments will fail, and I am sure we all can think of people who are trying solutions we already know from experience are doomed to fail. But the more people there are who are following more successful paths through this, the more the social current will pull on those who are struggling to adopt a similar approach. We are greatly influenced by the social environment, more than we realize. That is why each individual matters as well as the community. You either contribute to the life-enhancing current by how you live or you tear it down – you make it easier for others to find it or you make it harder.
So, you’ve got to keep sailing your boat.
I don’t think we can wait on a solution to be developed and then delivered to us from others. I think the solution will come from you and me, from inside enough individuals who make that breakthrough personally, and their number reaches a critical mass, in the right place and time, to trigger a more collective shift and a better collective adaptation to the changing world. But even a few individuals can join into a community (it takes just two!) and create more influence than a multitude of separated individuals could. Others who are not as far along may notice and join, lean upon that influence and gain a boost in the same direction. From individuals to small communities, from small communities to regional blocks (and this can be virtual now), an adaptive change in humanity could come eventually through a few people joining a few more, on and on.
In my mind this opportunity we face is all probabilistic. There are so many factors playing into this, and there are no guarantees. A slide back in our development is quite possible too, and probabilities for this increase the less individuals try to do something. A societal breakthrough will be the act of determination among enough individuals to keep sailing, despite the changes in the storm, and emerge on the other side a different, stronger, more transcendent person. The probability of a better outcome shifts in favor when you, individually, decide to work in that direction. Likewise, the probability of a tragedy increases when you decide to do nothing or give up.
I’ve written this in a flow-state, releasing something built up inside. I guess what I am getting at is a message to those of us who are struggling with depression from time to time or a lot. I am not sure what composes anyone’s particular kind. However, regardless, it is both a burden and it is an opportunity. It is a terrible burden, but it is also an important messenger and the whole point is to listen and respond. The message may be about one’s self, or the message might be about the condition of the community or world we live in right now. But it is definitely not a message to give up. It’s a message begging you to respond in a life-promoting way because that is what depression, as a body state, is for- depression is a signal to get our attention to put things back on track with the flow of life. That might mean do more or do less. It might mean a personal change is needed or a collective one. It might mean we do something about it now, or we develop a way of bearing it longer while we contribute to a greater solution in our community.
Depression is a burden like gravity pushing down, which creates resistance to motion. It is through the work against resistance that you develop strength. You lift weights against gravity to increase muscle strength. You move in a life-giving direction against depression to increase the strength of your being. You become strong for yourself and you become strong for others who are not.
Perhaps that message resonates with you. Feel free to reach out to me. And, keep sailing.
Subscribe to the Smooth Strokes Blog