The New York Times published a really interesting Op-Ed today about depression and its causes. Apparently there are some doctors out there who surmise that depression is caused by inflammation, which can be caused by viruses or bacteria, which has lead to the hypothesis that if you can kill the pathogen, you can kill the depression. Another doctor in the article, though, views depression as an adaptation that must have some value to our species because we haven’t been able to shake it. This researcher has locked onto the idea that rumination – which he defines as “intense, persistent, intrusive, distraction-resistant thoughts” – has helped humanity advance. He’s postulating that depression helps our species problem solve.
This made me wonder if any of the scientists studying depression have ever actually experienced it. This idea that depression provides some kind of evolutionary assistance because it hasn’t gone away is a little hard for me to wrap my head around. Would the same argument be made for blindness or MS? It’s possible I missed his point.
What I do know about depression is based on my own experiences and that of my friends, most of whom are artists. I feel pretty comfortable stating that no one I know is happy struggling with depression. I also feel pretty comfortable asserting that anyone in their mid-30s no longer shares in the myth of the “crazy artist” – we’ve lived long enough to know you don’t have to be mad to be brilliant – that depression and its anhedonia, its listlessness, is what holds us back, not the middle of the road, day-to-day life experiences. Depression is not an enhancement. Depression is not a motivator. More often, it’s a barrier, and it’s the overcoming of that barrier that results in triumph. Happiness can get in the way of making great art, too, but in very different ways and for very different reasons. Either way, breaking down barriers gets exhausting and never stops being necessary.
As we kick off the holiday season and hurtle towards 2015, remember to keep your expectations low, because expecting things from life is the surest and quickest road to disappointment, which can lead to inflammation, which can lead to depression possibly, and drug companies don’t have a cure for any of those things yet. I’m sure the Times will tell us when they do. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!