Recently I’ve been thinking about, among other things, the evolutionary purpose of depression. What I mean is that, as far as I’m aware, all things be them in the cognitive, affective or psychomotor domain evolved for a reason; our eyes evolved face front to see ahead, our hands, prehensile, evolved to grab, fight, feed, our emotions evolved in brilliant ways concomitant with our bodies and minds.
In some cases in evolution we have, “phenotypic [characteristics that are byproducts] of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection,” called spandrels. Sometimes a spandrel is very useful; sometimes a spandrel is useless; sometimes a spandrel is harmful.
Paul Ekman, in his book, “Emotional Awareness,” poses the idea of the mood being a harmful spandrel and I don’t disagree with him. To paraphrase he suggests that when we are in a mood we are biologically inclined to seek out that which reinforces the mood we are in (different from the refractory period of an emotion we are feeling where Ekman states that we are biologically incapable of accepting information that is contrary to the emotion we are feeling) and this is dangerous and harmful. Moreover he expounds on its danger stating that, for example, being in a frightened mood we are less likely to accept stimuli that will not harm us and, consequentially, we are likely to project fear onto it fallaciously.
I had, upon my first moments of this idea, felt that depression may just be an evolutionary spandrel; an accidental byproduct of our ability to feel and was harmful and useless.
However, when discussing the theory of depression’s evolutionary purpose with some friends produced 22 2-6 page emails my mind was changed. Later, a few of the internet searches produced some good fruit on the subject that also convinced me otherwise. Scientific American had an article on the subject posing the idea that depression does have a purpose and like the, “vertebrate eye – [it is] an intricate, highly organized piece of machinery that performs a specific function.” The function they posed was that depression allowed the person to have a higher analytical focus that provided them the ability to drown out external distraction; insomnia gets rid of sleep so as to stay conscious and ruminate, loss of appetite excludes digestion’s requirement for energy, solitude excludes the distraction of people etc.
It was, though, in those emails between friends that a larger and greater understanding arose.
Before I was to find the evolutionary purpose behind depression I first must find a succinct and apt definition of depression. It was in a friend’ email response that this definition arose. The email is here, posted in full… As an experienced practitioner of depression, I felt that it was by far the most outstanding explanation of depression I’ve ever read.
(The follow up posts to this one will include a theory of depression and how it relates to Csikszentmihalyi‘s idea of the psychology of flow and how manic depression may, too, fall within the lines of flow psychology. I am posting only this now to allow for some, so to speak, depressive rumination on the subject. The references that are mentioned in the email are hyperlinked…)
“I considered the blog both accurate and adequate expression; because of its familiarity I was able to relate my own host of inner experiences to the examples offered thus, not requiring the blogger to be discursive. The blog is not an explanation of depression, but it is an explication to those already in the know.
You will not understand ‘depression’ approaching it as a thing. Depression is a person and, as such, is as many dissertations as there are disciples experiencing it. You can not divorce the experience from the spiritual entity that ‘is’ depression as it is happening, anymore than you can hope to define any processes of a soul. As any reality, depression will be unique to everyone, while there will be enough overlapping of that reality for one depressive to reciprocate the experience of another, without having to ‘know’ it, clinically parsed-out and fissiperated.
–How about depression with a reason?
Depression with a cause or reason I would term ‘grief.’ Even the general state of the world or the vagary ‘life/existence’ can be sited as incitement for this state of grief. But a depressive can not site a specific cause, which would make the dilemma accessible and a soluble matter. The depressive does not have this access to resolution. It could be described as an imbalanced chemical state–the depressive doesn’t know, can’t tell you, and will credulously try any pill, and another, anything just to see. Because anything would be better than the incapacitating apathy.
–Are you saying depression without reason is “non-functioning”?
Depression is compromised functioning. You can’t find the motivation to ‘do’ because you can’t ‘care’ and you don’t know how to care to do or how you ever cared, or when or if you ever can or should care again.
Now, this might enable that highly focused state described in the S.A. article, but I consider that the residual effect of one’s inability to engage with the concerns of the world at large. Your narrowed focus is the subsistance cognition of a person who has lost connection to the pursuits of others that do illustrate a caring interest in engagements which the depressive either no longer comprehends or respects or wishes any association to personally. What makes such a depression non-suicidal is one’s ability to summon some belief in a someday change. It’s a dark ember that’s the distinguishing line.
A whimpered ‘why’ becomes the engrossing, all-encompassing insurmountable question.
From the vantage point of being within the experience you can not identify a ‘function’ of/for it. Within the moment, it is entirely self-defeating and livelihood threatening. If you can still manage to care about yourself and how you are seen by others you will manage at the last and latest possible moment to salvage your circumstances to the extent of going out and earning that money that will provide for your ability to maintain the baseline of couchsitting-afterwork-oblivion. Maybe the depression will let go, but you can not shake it off, because it is you.
–Maybe this particular problem was really bothering her in ways she wasn’t aware of.
A quote from the book of [a friend]: “I didn’t know I was depressed until I wasn’t.”
Another notion: it’s loss of that inertia that keeps us going even when we don’t care for little fits of time. it’s, socially and privately, falling so far behind you have only the suffering to look forward to of every second spent trying to catch up, and why it takes so long to ‘try’ again, if ever. Ever had dreams in which you’ve fallen so far behind at something you are loath to engage in the effort, because it just seems so futile?
A whimpered “what’s the point” becomes the engrossing, all-encompassing answer of the depressive aware of no relation to a world that has no relation to you, that evinces such sparse integrity of purpose or cause for respect, or reason for you to desire to participate ever again.
The ‘non-suicidal’ depressive abides, the ‘suicidal’ kills something in everyone around them.”
And while my car was–just another thing, an object that I wish to detach myself from, an object I wish to remove associative pronouns from, e.g. instead, The Car, The Cadillac, ridding myself from my attachment to it– it is very difficult.
I was left with a feeling of sheer upset, a nagging sense that something else was wrong. What was it? Why was I feeling so horrible about this? I know that I no longer want a car. I know that I would much prefer the bus and have already purchased my April pass so that I may travel freely about town as I wish without having to pay more than a car would cost and, to boot,– I would be doing my part in environmental care.
So why the empty feeling?
Let me back up…
Why do I even have to sell the car?
Two years ago, during the, “2010 Pittsburgh Snowmageddon,” I had the thought in my mind that, “it’d be fun to see how the Caddy handles in the snow,” and decided to travel from Bellevue to Shadyside to Bellevue. Which, in total, is roughly 18 miles of driving.
I had made it to Shadyside without issue. I even made it back to Bellevue, within blocks of my apartment, without issue. And then it happened…
I couldn’t have, possibly, been going more than 10 MPH at most. But when I hit that bridge, I may as well have been doing 80. The Caddy did the old, “Kansas City Shuffle,” and the rear end went right while the front went left. A complete 100 degree fishtail into the wall of the bridge in the passenger lane.
(I’m still thankful there were no other cars on the road at the time.)
The front of the Caddy was almost completely destroyed…
I know– it doesn’t look like much. But we’re talking about a 1991 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham D’ Elegance and I swear, searching for replacement parts for this car, you’d think they only made 10 of them, and only 5 were still good and I had 1 of them while the other 4 were in Florida.
I knew that I was without option at this point– the Caddy needed to be sold– I couldn’t afford what was needed to pass inspection.
I posted a sentimental add on Craigslist.com asking the potential buyer to, “take care of her.” And I did, actually, pass up a few offers because it sounded as if the person had minimal, to no, intention of maintaining the integrity of the vehicle.
Finally I found someone who was not only a mechanic but also someone who knew Caddies fairly well. I could hear the excitement in his voice, “oh, I can fix that, yeah, I got the tools at home, can’t wait- I want that car, seriously, I’ll be by in two days to give you cash in hand for it.”
And so he did just that, and my Stela (her moniker for how incredible she was– you see, Stela, with only one L, is an anagram for Tesla while simultaneously something I can scream at a woman who no longer desires my street car…)
So I went, cash in hand, to the bank, made a deposit and said goodbye to Stela.
I walked into my house with Kitty and fell sullen, depressed and in danger mode. Train wreck mode. Soon, I knew, a depressive episode would come upon me– I could feel it.
I put on a, relatively, terrible movie and decided to, “veg out,” alone with my favorite wine—
And then I heard it… Mr. Ego… Mr. Hidden Within…
“You really… Just can’t keep anything nice can you?”
“God, shut up, shut up. Not now, I don’t want this now, I can’t… Not now… Not after I just sold the best car I’ve ever had… Not after I ruined my car…”
“Look around you… Look at the black scuff marks on your ceiling… Look at your iPhone- it’s cracked… Look at your body for christ’s sake- it’s a piece of shit and everything is broken on it.”
“I can’t take this, not now, not while I’m still mourning the loss of my car and mourning the loss of the future with her.”
“Remember when you were a kid? What, 8 years old? Dad let you wear his letter jacket from high school and you jumped a fence– snagging its pocket and tearing it?”
“How about your motorcycle? You left it parked in the street until it rusted…”
“Your last computer… The Dell… How did you try and fix the fan on it? By pulling the blades off of it with your leatherman? Which you also, somehow broke. Ha. You can’t keep anything nice can you? I mean- nothing! Look at the hole in the wood paneling in your living room! Look at the state of your body! You’re on an electric stim machine now! You’re body’s a lemon just like you made that car into.”
“Everyone of your ex-girlfriends hate you too, don’t forget about those lives you fucked up. Your dad hates you, your sister hates you, your friends just pity you…”
There is a multitude of ways to derail a train…
And when we feel a depressive episode coming on– there are means to getting ahead of your train and laying down trees, cars, cows, boulders or anything in its path to derail it.
One of my preferred methods of derailing my trains is, as I’ve mentioned before, The Work of Byron Katie…
So… I set out to do, “The Work,” and see what I could learn from this experience. And this post is the process of me going through a worksheet in the moment and not from a copy that I did.
“Don’t do this, you won’t get anywhere with this, this is not going to work and you are going to keep ruining things.”
“Use your perceived enemy, to defeat your real enemy.” – Guy Ritchie.
I ruin everything that I own, and everyone that I know.
1.) Is that true?
As I look around my apartment, I can see a multitude of things that are not only intact but also in very good condition. My Semi-Recumbent bike is something that I’ve been using for a long time and it’s still in perfect working condition–and it’s helped me repair my body. The lamp that I bought from the antique mall down the road is still beautiful and illuminating my living room as I type this- it’s in great shape. My 1950’s radio, my yoga matt, my printing press from 1890, my framed portraits of Billie Holiday– all intact and in great shape. And Kitty loves me, my dad loves me, my friends, I know, love me– and I can’t ruin them, they are all far too strong for me to do that.
So… No, this can’t possibly be true.
2.) How do you react when this happens? When you’re internal voice, your ego begins to bully you? What do you do? What do you reach for? How do you stop it?
I tend to listen to it and have a drink, or two, or ten. And then I find myself wanting to be alone. I enter into what I call an, “Episode,” what some friends have known to be called a, “Train Episode,” or a, “Danger Night.” I become lethargic, I berate myself, I call myself names, I ask people to leave, to leave me alone, to wait for me to call them. I’m prescribed pain-killers for my spinal condition and when I’m having an, “Episode,” I will sometimes take more than the recommended dose. I try to reach out to people (e.g. dad, Emily, John) but then feel that I don’t deserve their support and I don’t respond to their responses. Etc.
3.) Who would you be without that thought? Without the thought that, “you ruin everything that you own, and everyone you know?” If everything you own and everyone you know were standing in front of you and you couldn’t possibly think this thought– who would you be? What would you think? Who would they be?
All of my things would not be my things. They would simply be objects that, well since I can’t take them with me when I die, they would be things that only… exist and that I utilize for the time that I am lucky enough to utilize them. They would all be things that I am lucky enough to be able to spend time using until someone else takes possession of them. They would be objects without ownership. All of these things would just be things, and not my things. I would be altruistic with these things and allow people to use them as they please, I would be helpful to those in need by lending them to people. I wouldn’t believe that things get ruined; because they can either be fixed or modified or turned into art. As for the people who stand before me– I would feel nothing but love towards them, I would trust that they know that my 30 year old story has caused some difficulty in relationships, I would trust them, I would believe in their strength, I would know that regardless of how I treat myself or how I believe I hurt them– they’ll stick with me. I would look at my loved ones, my friends, my companions and I would tell them, “I will always, all ways, do my best by you.”
And thus I realize, which is the, I believe, central point of The Work, that it is the thought, the ego, the inner voice, that is causing all the trouble and not the perceived “ruined” objects and people.
4.) Now turn it around, the thought itself… Negate it… And provide examples of why these are more true than the original statement.
I don’t ruin everything I own, nor do I ruin everyone I know.
I look at the art on my walls, the art that I have created and I see beauty. These are things that I have not only created but also continue to maintain the integrity of.
My car being sold has required me to tune-up my bike… My bike! I’ve had my bicycle for years! I have kept it in great shape and put at least a thousand miles on it! And I keep it tuned up and oiled. I’ve never allowed it to be broken.
My Rollerblade Twister Pro series– I’ve been using these since college! I’ve kept the wheels greased, I’ve rotated the wheels every 6 months of use. They are still in great shape and I’ve had them for 5 years.
The chair I am sitting on is getting old, very old, and I have fixed it 3 times to where it is consistently useable.
My drill bits are all in their right place.
The desk that I type at was given to me by John Lambert; it was his mother, Donna’s, and after she passed away I inherited it. I loved her more than a blog could express and I keep it, the desk, in great shape. In the front of it I engraved, perfectly centered, the apt word, “Adytum,” and it looks wonderful and describes the desk perfectly. I’ve even modified this desk and added shelves to it and hanging mechanisms for necessary tools and the desk, while cluttered, is as strong as Donna was.
I think of my friend Emily (The Statler to my Waldorf)… Who once said to me, “being friends with you– I knew I was signing up for a team with someone who had problems that I never had– it didn’t stop me from being your friend then, it’s not going to stop me now.“
I think of my dad, who would, at the flash of a New Orleans storm, jump in his car to be with me when I am in crisis mode.
I think of Kitty and all her affection each time I’m in a, “Train Episode.” The epitome of compassion… In a scientist no less.
I think of Blake… My brother-in-arms… And how he’d burn red lights and tire treads to be at my side.
I think of Diane, Tiffany, Amy, Jerry, Aunt Wanda and all of my loved ones who have time and again sat with me while I cried and broke down over something affecting me in a anguishing manner.
I think of Skot Jones, the newest of my friends, who has always, each time I called– listened to me or demanded we have drinks and discuss. I think of all the simple things he says that stick with me, “Do easy my friend,” “You have to be the barrier.”
I think of John Lambert and the 11 years he has spent mentoring me and know, that if it weren’t for him, I would be lucky to be alive. (Thank you John).
And I think of how this list, for this turn around, can reach into the hundreds… So I move on to the next.
4… Continued…) Can you think of another way to turn this around? To the self? To the other? If there is an other?
Things can’t be ruined, people can’t be ruined.
I’m immediately drawn to cite the Conservation Laws of Physics which states that, “no energy can be created or destroyed, it can only become something else.” For reasons that would take a whole other post, I have a tendency to not believe in reincarnation, but imagine the idea of the reincarnation of objects. A typewriter is destroyed or becomes useless over the years and is taken apart and sculpted from. Calcined clays, calcium carbinate, pryogenic silicas, talc, vinyl, oils, aliphatics, various stabilizers and emulsifiers are all “ruined,” or “destroyed,” to make paint which an artist uses to create something stunning. My car is gone and it has gone to a mechanic who respects Cadillacs and plans on repairing it to a condition that I could not afford to do… My time with Stela is done and she has a new life to attend to.
In October I am eligible for an upgrade on my phone and will be able to afford a new one.
People who have been, “hurt,” by me have, I hope, grown from the experience.
People can not be ruined, they can grow, learn, succeed, thrive. Even if and when they grow heart broken– it’s as Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack, a crack in everything– and that’s how the light get’s in.”
I can’t ruin other people– no one has control over my emotions and actions besides me and this goes for everyone, I simply do not posses this power. If I did– we’d all find beauty everywhere…
“[…]Now Chris’s body, which was a part of that larger pattern, was gone. But the larger pattern remained. A huge hole had been torn out of the center of it, and that was what caused all the heartache. The pattern was looking for something to attach to and couldn’t find anything. That’s probably why grieving people feel such attachment to cemetery headstones and any material property or representation of the deceased. The pattern is trying to hang on to its own existence by finding some new material thing to center itself upon.Some time later it became clearer that these thoughts were something very close to statements found in many “primitive” cultures. If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh and bones of Chris and call it the “spirit” of Chris or the “ghost” of Chris, then you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter. When we hear accounts of “primitives” talking this way, we dismiss them as superstition because we interpret ghost or spirit as some sort of material ectoplasm, when in fact they may not mean any such thing at all.[…]”
And now? What is the point? What is the outcome? As with each time I complete a worksheet of Byron Katie’s I find myself feeling uplifted. Some say that the idea is a form of, “Circle Logic,” that life requires suffering (which is something I sincerely disagree with).
What I know is that after I complete Byron Katie’s methodology- I feel relieved- I feel the proverbial bricks fallen from my shoulders.
I often do these worksheets in private but wish, due to this being a mental health blog, to emotionally expose myself and do them here from here on forth to share with, and show, others what sort of self-improvement and discovery may come from it.
It does, however, go without saying that those worksheets involving identifiable people will either have one of two things happen; the worksheet will remain in my private handwritten journal or, upon their approval, names will be changed and the worksheet will be done as a blog.
And soon, I will say the next post, I will continue with either the story of my mother or how I had the magnificent opportunity to teach a group LCSI the other day while being given the chance to incorporate my research on ASL facial grammar and the problem it causes due to mirror neurons and microexpressions.