e-book Sadness Understood

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Nowhere in the literature do depressed persons speak for themselves. We do not hear what depression feels like, what it means to receive an 'official' diagnosis, or what depressed persons think of therapeutic experts. Nor do we learn the meanings that patients attach to taking psychotropic medications, whether they accept illness metaphors in assessing their condition, how they establish coping mechanisms, how they understand depression to affect their intimate relationships, or how depression influences their occupational strategies and career aspirations.

This book is primarily directed at letting people speak about how their lives, feelings, attitudes, and perspectives have been influenced by depression. There have been some attempts by writers such as Sylvia Plath, Nancy Mairs, William Styron and Elizabeth Wurtzel to record their battles with depression. As instructive as these accounts are, they are not based on systematically collected data and are not directed at discovering underlying patterns in the depression experience.

I have elected to do in-depth interviews with 50 people who have been 'officially' diagnosed as depressed and who consequently became involved in a therapeutic world of psychiatric experts. I approach in-depth interviews as a directed, artful conversation requiring a sensitivity about when to ask certain question, when to prod respondents, and when to respect people's need for privacy. Each of the these interviews both tells a unique story and reveals common themes in the lives of depressed people.

Each interview caused me to marvel at the courage depressed people display in dealing with extraordinary and debilitating pain. Media stories often claim that the cure for depression is just around the medical corner. They describe depression as clearly a biological disease that is best treated with anti-depressant medications like Prozac and virtually promise a 'brave new world' in which we will be able to choose our personalities, like choosing clothing off a department store rack.

Prozac and other drugs do wonderful things for some people, but the claim that depression is wholly a matter of biology is overblown and represents a form of determinism that I find unacceptable. It is appealing to have simple recipe theories about things because they offer neat and tidy explanations. The problem is that social reality is a very messy thing and can rarely be understood with such easy prescriptions. In fact, I see this book as an antidote to overly pat biological explanations about the meaning of depressive illness.

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Plainly, there is a biology to bad feelings. To assume, therefore, that bad biology constitutes the explanation for depression is specious thinking.

What Psychologists Wish People Knew About Depression

As a sociologist writing about depression, one of my messages is to be very careful about jumping on a bandwagon that locates the source of illness in any single thing. Nina was among the 30 people who read about my study in the newspaper and came to talk with me at my Boston College office. At exactly the appointed time, an attractive woman, dressed in a conservative business suit appeared at my office. If ever there was a person who could destroy the stereotype that only occupational unsuccessful individuals, or those from severely dysfunctional families, suffer from depression, it would be Nina.

Nina's parents, it turned out, were successful professional people. While she described her father as 'somewhat odd and eccentric,' her mother and father were, she thought, good and loving people. Both Nina and her sister had been identified as gifted children and from the age of three Nina was placed in exclusive private schools where her talents might be nurtured. Nina's otherwise positive childhood was, unfortunately, deeply marred by an unusual illness that still often requires several operations a year.

She has an auto-immune condition that causes frequent cancers, especially in her mouth and jaw area. As a result, she constantly needs attention to detect the potentially deadly cancers and then to remove them once they appear. In fact, shortly before we spoke, Nina learned that her problems would require yet another hospitalization.

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Because of this condition, she was frequently absent from school as a child. And because of changes in her physical appearance occasioned by the surgeries, Nina was often the brunt of the kind of venomous attacks of which children seem uniquely capable. In response she 'read voraciously, cultivated unusual interests and hobbies, and avoided large social gatherings.

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As we talked I was thinking to myself that Nina's depression was certainly understandable in light of this medical difficulty. However, as she told her story and theorized about the causes of her depression, she claimed that it had little to do with her difficult medical history. Rather, she believed, it was precipitated by a sexual attack experienced in the home of her brother and sister-in-law while visiting them in Europe.

Anger, sadness and other difficult emotions communicate important information

The attacker had been a family friend and when Nina reported it to her parents, as well as to her brother and his wife, she was disbelieved. She was told by everyone that the close family friend could not have done this and perhaps she was misinterpreting what actually happened.

Nina and I explored the meaning of this event to her. She described in detail how the event has affected her relations with family members. About a month after we talked I received a letter from Nina. I had given her a draft of one of this book's chapters and in the letter she shared her thoughts about it.

She also indicated that, in retrospect, she felt she had not provided a clear enough answer to my interview question 'How would you describe what depression feels like to someone who has not experienced it? An essential filter for inclusion in my study was that individuals had at some point been diagnosed and treated for depression by doctors.

For that reason there is a built in bias in the sample toward acceptance of a medical definition of depression's cause and the proper response to it. In contrast, there is no way to know how many people are troubled by bad feelings which never acquire a name or receive medical treatment. I suspect that, if we could somehow count them, the greatest numbers of such persons would be found at the lower levels of America's class structure.

After all, the poorest and most disenfranchised members of the society have least access to the medical system and typically have real life situations that appear to explain their pain. For example, why would we expect a parent, without secure work, struggling to support a family while living in a dangerous housing project, to define his or her distressing feelings as illness?

Such persons have good reasons to feel terrible, none of them apparently connected to having a disease. There are probably millions of people who inhabit a 'parallel world' to mainstream America who never define their difficulty as something requiring medical treatment. Physicians would likely say that such persons suffer from 'masked depression,' a kind of veil of medical false consciousness that could be lifted if only they talked to the right person. Such individuals, furthermore, probably experience emotional crises every bit as powerful as those described by the respondents in this study.

However, instead of going to doctors, they might instead seek solace in religion, for example. They too could be described as following a career path prompted by suffering, but it would be bounded by symbols and stages wholly different from the ones analyzed in this chapter. And now I understand. And I finally am able to forgive her and become who I really am with all my personality and talents I never knew I had. Fuck I feel amazing.

And I have my mother to thank for it.. This is nothing new although unusual in society flooded with antidepressant taking people. Why do they want to be happy?


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Hapiness is gone once you realize your mortality. Could this possibly mean that we are not raising children well enough by not giving them the emotional regularity skills they need to be happy? Are we not teaching them what happiness is? And why would a person reinforce those negative feels if they have the emotional regulatory skills they need to be happy.

How would one go about changing their focus?

Choosing Sadness: The Irony of Depression – Association for Psychological Science

I seem to just be filled with questions. I think depression is only normal if its a temporary feeling of depression that can be self regulated, thus allowing a person to feel more then just depression all the time. One of the reasons that I choose to be low is as a sort of self preservation response. Like when some flowers are threatened, their petals will close for a time.

This is my safeguard against having to move from a good to a low place again when threatened. As my petals reopen, I feel humble. Well, so what would be a good way to fix these choices? I mean, what i could do, for example? It would be better if solutions were included too. Like the guy up there is saying, what to do next?

Thusly a way to avoid being anxious or fearful. The more depressing stimuli is already in a state which renders no further possibility where a positive stimuli has the possibility of going in many mental directions. This could tax a fragile hormonal system. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey. But, sorrow is at least an arriving. Perhaps there was a component of disillusionment that also takes place when depression moves in, accounting for the shift in world view. So just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can choose evidently to not be. Get out of your head.

I say that to myself every day. There is an entrance to depression, an event or occurance, that tells your Self to feel depressed.