Depression, Why Are You Coming Into My Life?
Why Me, Depression? Are you here to harm me??
During years 2000 and 2007 (more or less) I was grappling with shadows in the depths of depression; at the time I didn’t know what depression was, I didn’t see any psychoanalyst and I was convinced that That Was It, I mean, the end of me.
Maybe the worst part of it was that nothing made any sense; I had no idea what, and why all this was happening to me. From the perspective I have now on things, I realize that my depression was in fact the outcome of a powerful inner struggle for clarity and self-knowledge, fueled by my gasping for outside validation, acceptance and acknowledgment; in short, I wasn’t quite “fitting in”, neither in my own vision of myself, nor in the outsiders’ view.
But why would anything like this happen to anyone? Is it a downgrading of the personality? Is it a disease – and if so, what is there that it’s sick, the mind … the brain? The soul? Is it a heavenly punishment for nobody knows what personal, or “original sin”, ancestral mistake of our fathers’ fathers – good to know in case you are a believer??
If religion would attribute all our ills and evils to some sinful nature (see “original sin”), scientists still grapple in the dark. One evolutionary theory attributes the finality of depression to nature’s programs: to help select or restructure next generations’ DNA for better adaptive features – not unlike Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”(*see: Fumagalli, M. et al. Signatures of environmental genetic adaptation pinpoint pathogens as the main selective pressure through human evolution: http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1002355).
But then, view that countless people have come out of it without the use of medication, what are the mechanisms in and out of depression ?
We are “social animals”. In my own case, depression wasn’t triggered either by my own feelings of inadequacy alone, or by the image which outsiders, I thought, may have held of me, but it was rather a combination of the two, in a closed loop of cause and effect. Whether everyone with depression is aware of this one mechanism or not, it is always true that our inner picture reflects what others project on us, and the outer picture – the one that others form of us, is itself a mirror of how we see ourselves.
And this yet would be an oversimplification, as it shows just a short segment of our cause-and-effect type of reality. Whatever we feel that we are at any point in life is just a construct that we make based on all our previous lived experiences.
Daniel Kahneman (https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory/transcript?language=en) has successfully argued on how our self-image is not made of objective memories, but it is, in fact, our subjective interpretation of those experiences.
It could be that, back in my childhood, my mother didn’t give me that last pancake, but gave it to my little brother because she had nothing else left to feed him, while I was supposed to go have my breakfast at the school cafeteria – meaning not at all that my mother stopped loving me and gave all of her love to the newest baby (yea, I agree, too many times mothers do fall into that ancient mammalian instinct of shunning the older baby so that she can provide for the new, helpless one).
It is also true that lots of people fall into depression unexpectedly, unable to see any possible reason that may justify all that terrible fall into darkness. Midlife crisis, if one didn’t know depression before, is sure to come and shake all the solid ground on which an individual has carefully built his whole personality. It is so unavoidable that it is lately seen just as a normal, necessary period of transition from youth’s folly to the appeasement of mature age. If so, why not embrace it?
Midlife Crisis – Time for Transition
When things get stale, when you start growing mold on your soul, it is time for change – want it or not, chaos will come.
They say that depression is often triggered by the midlife crisis, that creeps into your life always unexpected, and, surely, uninvited. I believe in that; I am the active type, the one that looks for and accepts challenges, so I was struggling at the time to achieve more, do more and conquer yet other peaks and heights. It is then that we quit our job impulsively, quit a long-loved spouse, decide to leave everything behind to start a new life, go battle own demons, etc, etc… .
In our quest for happiness we all start from the false premises that this or that thing or achievement will make us happy – we never seem to realize how fast after the realization of our goal, it almost suddenly loses its initial appeal and significance. Or, if we do, we don’t seem to care, because we immediately start aiming for a new one, just to keep going, in a perpetual “chasing the carrot” type of journey.
It’s been established as a routine fact that, at some point in life, the questions begin pounding with ever more persistence: “What is the meaning of it all??”, “Who am I, and what am I doing here?” If all this wasn’t already hard enough for those with faith, it is way harder to get your answers when you are traveling on your own, when there’s no God in sight to agent it, to guide or to support you.
When this happened to me, I didn’t know of any symptom questions or routine signs – I fell in it totally, blindly – I was trying to make myself a place and find recognition inside a culture that was not mine, among people that would perceive me, at least unconsciously, that I didn’t belong – but don’t we all do that to our own “strangers”??
I now recognize how I just fitted perfectly in the pattern: after having been teaching at the same school for nine years, I suddenly decided to quit, on the spur of the moment (sudden bouts of anger are my driving engine), realizing that the school owner and principal would never keep promises and would never allow me to move forward.
Leave the safety of a relatively easy, unchallenging job, for God knows what new challenges must have sounded stupid, I know. It was an especially risky move on my part, due to the unfavorable time and place, inside a culture that was not mine, and not particularly open to foreigners, particularly to those coming from the eastern, ex-communist bloc. Some people around me rightfully asked: “Have you lost your mind??”
That was the step of a Fool, I acknowledge.
The Fool – That I Was, And Still Hope to Remain
Be a Fool – it’s not dangerous: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
I had no idea of arcanas, fools and journeys at the time – far less of archetypes playing defining roles into our lives. My mindset at the time was as aligned to the mainstream as possible: within the “right” materialist-scientific worldview no “esoteric” or “obscure mysteries” could enter my impermeable mind.
But if I choose today to speak with quasi authority on the field of Tarot is my encounter (through his work, at least) with a cutting-edge physicist and specialist in System Sciences. In his book, Genesis of The Cosmos – The Ancient Science of Continuous Creation, PhD Paul La Violette finds amazing parallels between ancient Egypt history, ancient myths and system sciences.
Through his book he is guiding the reader into the realization that some cutting edge scientific principles reflect ancient knowledge kept hidden for eras as utmost spiritual truth – the most guarded occult mysteries. For the first time, due my previous familiarity with the history of religions and compared mythology, I sensed how ancient myths and symbols began glittering with their own light. Could it be that, what mainstream science used to see as “mystical, supernatural, magical powers, practices, or phenomena”, can enter the domain of scientific theory, due to 21st century advances in scientific discovery ?
I was already knowledgeable in the domain of ancient, compared religions and mythology, but the idea never crossed my mind that all those things could be something more than gibberish, not worthy to be told even to little children – I got them just as required studies. But I was in to learn much more: that general, universal truths have been coded and preserved, in the intention of those advanced enough as to grasp, seize and understand an unfathomed, advanced view on the true reality.
Truths are being hidden, suggested or disguised in the allegories and the metaphors of ancient texts, myths, stories, rituals, and none of these had any chance of being scarcely understood before the 20th century advances in quantum physics and mechanics, before the advent of chaos – catastrophe theory and system sciences.
In the Tarot system the Fool is the protagonist of a story that is right about to begin, and as such, it is the zero-point card of the Major Arcana (from here the arcane: known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric”), a number of 21 cards, or images representing human archetypes or instances along a schematic, spiritual journey, “the path to spiritual awareness”. The cards mark, or depict, “the various stages we encounter as we search for greater meaning and understanding” along our own journey.
Unknowingly, the path I just initiated was marked by the Fool, and my journey ahead, designated in Tarot language as the “Fool’s Journey”, was to be a journey of discovery and initiation.
The journey is guided by the main human archetypes (Gr: archein, “original or old”; and typos, “pattern, model or type”) that will pop up at diverse stages through dreams or other means. They may stand for real people and real-life events that will prompt you to the next stage or the next leg of the journey, or they may only appear as symbols signaled by the unconscious – or both.
Looking back at that point in time I can realize with no difficulty that my journey effectively started exactly as described by the “Fool” card: I actually was at a turning point in my life, eager for the next stage of the journey, and, while my foot was already in the air, ready to step forward, I was totally unaware that I was on the edge of a cliff, and that the next step was going to be in the void.
What I find most intriguing is that, this process being autonomous, while it is happening to us, we are never aware of what is going on – or, at least, not consciously aware – maybe we are too engulfed into our suffering and existential pain (and who could blame us?), which renders us incapable of objectivity. We lack the necessary distance and detachment, unable to grasp the bigger picture.
From the perspective that the passage of time allows me, I can also say, although I am against the clichés and the overly used chunks of wisdom:”What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
I am not writing this to describe the journey, but to introduce the “transformation archetype”, the one that Jung rightfully considered the major archetype that dominates our lives.
The Individuation Journey – The Journey of A Lifetime
Absorbed into the transformation archetype we are jumping into the dangerous void of our own insecurities, the realm where our demons dwell. But demons always hide the treasure of our own greatest potential.
We are all, at least once, if not repeatedly, on the point of starting a new journey: leaving home for continuing own education, marriage, a change in the workplace or a new job altogether, a major change of the living place to a new city or country, a newly declared, life-threatening medical condition, a divorce, or the loss of a dear one. Whatever the reason, at some point in life we are about to change our previous worldview and previous identity – our approach to life altogether.
One thing, increasingly common to these times, is that Crisis and Chaos comes with the destructiveness of a tornado that, once has you lifted, whirling and swirling in the void, won’t let you down until it has shattered all your previous assumptions and identifications.
But when it lets you down, you are a new you, a self-contained, stand-alone individual, capable of existing by oneself and through oneself, free from the need to please others, to follow others, to conform and comply; you finally get to be “the real you”, and be fine with it.
Under this new light, the imperative “know thyself” is not a witty, catchy phrase to enchant the ears of generations of theater-goers; it has as deep a meaning as can be. At the other end of the self-interrogation “Who am I?”, “Know thyself!” has been the highest imperative along ages, known to all those who wanted to grasp the meaning of their life. Starting at least as far back as with the ancient Eastern philosophies, it was known to Socrates and Plato, to Shakespeare, and to modern psychology today.
Swiss psychiatrist and depth psychoanalyst C.G. Jung coined the term “individuation journey” for this journey of finding oneself, the journey of transcending the Ego towards finding one’s own center, the Self.
“Jung: individuation process: a journey of personal achievement guided by myth, archetypes and symbols that aim at achieving balance between the person’s conscious and personal unconscious; the journey is figured as a spiral movement towards a center, the center of one’s personality. The journey aims at delivering the person towards its final destiny that can be plenitude and a religious integration” (Andrew Colman’s Dictionary of Psychology, Oxford)
I have found a few excerpts about Jung’s individuation on the net that I’d like to share – these are from mindstructures.com (October 07, 2012):
“According to Jungian psychology, individuation is the process of transforming one’s psyche by bringing the personal and collective unconscious into conscious.
- Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.
- Individuation is a process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.
- Besides achieving physical and mental health, people who have advanced towards individuation, they tend to become harmonious, mature, responsible, they promote freedom and justice and have a good understanding about the workings of human nature and the universe.”
So, from the perspective that the passage of time is offering us, chaos and crisis in our lives may serve us well – could it be that it also takes us closer to finding the meaning, to the fulfillment and the scope of our lives??
This will be the subject for my next post.