The UK national health service identifies the following as signs of depression – Loss of identify and self-esteem. Sadness, when there is maybe nothing to feel sad about. Extreme guilt over minor matters. A sense of failure, when this is not realistic. Loneliness, even among other people. Tearfulness, when there is nothing to cry about. Constant exhaustion. Feelings of hopelessness, misery or despair. Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions. Thoughts of death or suicide.
To help people recover, it encourages sufferers to be more socially active, less judgmental about ourselves, and to participate in more things that make us happy. There’s an underpinning assumption that if there’s no apparent external source of unhappiness, it’s a cognitive-behavioral glitch to fix. I have no doubt that for many people, this is entirely workable.
So what happened when I think about this as a pagan and a Druid? I look at the list of symptoms, and think about our relationship with the planet. My relationship. The world I live in doesn’t make much sense to me and is driven by values I neither like nor respect. How can I be myself in a context like that? Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be any room for who I am and how I want to live. I feel sad and I’ve carried that for a long time. Sad about the human suffering in the world, animal extinctions, loss of beautiful places, climate change. I don’t know how it’s possible to live in this world and not feel sad, unless you undertake to be carefully oblivious to what’s happening everywhere, all the time. Extreme guilt – how can I not be conscious of my carbon footprint and what my existence costs other life forms? A sense of failure… I look at the world I live in, and I do not feel good about it. Loneliness, because there is so much around me that feels alien and wrong, how can I feel connected? Tearfulness – when is there not something to cry about? How can I not mourn what I see? Constant exhaustion – that goes with lack of inspiration for me, which is a soul ailment and goes with all of the above stuff. Hopelessness, misery and despair – I challenge anyone who is paying attention not to feel this way. Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions – the more aware you are, the more readily you can see the flaws and failings in every available option. Choosing becomes bigger and harder. Thoughts of death and suicide… aware that the planet would benefit enormously from the absence of humans.
Is depression irrational? No it isn’t. Is it an inevitable consequence of being more aware? Possibly. Does that mean it is insurmountable and that anyone who cannot tune out reality is doomed to abject misery?
We have to choose otherwise.
No one single person is going to be able to put all to rights. One single person’s contribution isn’t going to make that much direct odds in the scheme of things. But if you are soul sick, disconnected and in pain, you can either try and find a new way to blot that out (learn a new skill, the doctors recommend) or you can see about fixing it in a deeper way.
Depression is a sickness of realization. The cure is not jumping back into the oblivion pool where most people are still quietly drowning themselves. The cure is action, and making things better. The process of wake up and realization is painful, but we need more people waking up, not more means to drug and befuddle ourselves into not noticing.