But what can you do for a close friend who lives 8700km away? He rescued me, several times, in my mid-20s, before I'd figured everything out.
I know from my own experience how difficult it can be to get out of that house of mirrors. Depression can be a terrible trap, but the one hope is that it is one of our own making. It is a capitulation to Fantasy.
I've written a great deal about The Real and Fantasy here, but maybe not so much about how it's possible to apply it all in one's real life. A while ago, one of our regular commboxers sent me an email saying more or less the same thing. He was depressed and it was getting worse. He wanted to know how my ideas about The Real could help him cope with his brain and circumstances. It was a hard question, not because it's difficult to do, but it's a bit difficult to describe.
Below is an edited segment of my discussion with my friend that gives a fuller answer than I was able to give before.
Can you do me a favour?
Tell me life is worth living.
it's the only thing there is.
what's the alternative?
not death, because that's just more life
the alternative is non-existence, which we do not have the power to procure
I can neither make nor unmake myself
I can entropy my ass into a dissolute state.
you mean not do any housework?
Let the energy bleed away and the matter convert to other fporms.
To be honest, the housework would be okay.
you have some kind of superpower there, mate
if you have the power to induce entropy, I'd like to know the trick
I'm in a a constant entropic state.
but it is debatable whether human existence is entirely in a realm of the natural, and even if we had such final power over the natural realm, which we don't, we have even less power over the supernatural.
we are what we are, we didn't make ourselves, and we don't have the power to change either of those things
you're in a constant state of emotional and psychological turmoil
which isn't at all the same thing
have you ever read Aquinas?
maybe you should try him
A long time ago.
Sorry, not in the mood for flights of fanc today. Talk about what's really bothering you or go away. Nonsense about "entropy" will only annoy
And unable to spell
is it the chemical kind of depressed or environmental?
General inability to face life
Piling on to pre-existing lifelong depression.
I think you may suffer from philosophical depression more than anything else
is it possible you have failed to sufficiently live in and dedicate yourself to The Real?
have you indulged in Fantasy?
Do you lack the mental discipline to order your thoughts towards The Objective Real?
I have noticed when I am becoming depressed, it follows a very familiar pattern , starting with a train of thought
the thoughts are linked together in a chain of logic that leads from one Worst Assumption to the next
it has the appearance of uncontestable truth because the logic is nearly always sound
which is a big problem for wordy-smart people like you and me
I'm familiar with that, yes.
we are able to think our way into being miserable, but not out of it
this is because we have failed in the first rule of rational thought. We have started the syllogism upside down.
to be a true syllogism, we have to start with premises that are themselves true
you and I become depressed when we accept as true greater and lesser premises that are untrue
My favourite untrue premises are things like, "My parents didn't love me because I am worthless".
I move quickly from there to "No one will ever love me" (lesser premise)
"therefore my existence is without value" (conclusion)
it all makes sense to my brain while I'm thinking it, but looking at it objectively, we can both see a whole mess of things in there that are simply erroneous.
My parents didn't love me because they were emotionally and spiritually stunted people
it had nothing to do with me
In fact, loads of people love me.
and as for the conclusion, my worth as a human soul doesn't come from whether any human being ever did or ever will love me. It comes from being created in the image of God.
the entire syllogism is worthless, a Fantasy.
a tissue of self-induced lies and misery that lies on my mind like a pall.
the only thing to do to combat this evil thing, because that's what it is, is The Real.
My wife just hugged me and told me she loves me. That's pretty Real.
Except then I immediately turn that into feelings of being unworthy of that love.
as I said, habits of thought
confront the thoughts with an objective mindset.
what makes you so special as to be the only person in the world unworthy of love?
Hard to do when you are in the grip of those habits of thought. They act to limit your field of vision.
which is why it's more important to do this as a pure exercise of the will
than as a response to feelings
which brings me back to Aquinas
virtue, of which this is a part, is a combination exercise of the intellect and will
you suffer from un-disciplined passions.
you can reduce your suffering by learning to discipline them with your intellect and will
remember in D&D there was a roll you could make to see if you could "disbelieve" in a particular threatening situation if you thought it was the product of an illusion?
I imagine this is like that. You use your will to forcefully ignore the evil thoughts.
when you counter them with the facts, with The Real, they lose a great deal of their power to induce negative emotions,
what Aquinas called the passions
But then the conditions that produce those thoughts are still there.
that's The Fantasy talking
what "conditions" are those?
that you are a good man, with a loving wife, a good job, a decent education and a beautiful child?
It's all very familiar, isn't it?
a big part of the Fantasy that's hurting you is the script that tells you it's not your thoughts that are making youmiserable, but the "conditions" behind them
you are just reacting normally to bad conditions.
your misery is therefore justified and rational
it rather lets you off the hook doesn't it?
there's nothing you can do about the "conditions" .
I will argue that there's nothing I can do about my conditions. the facts of my past, the fact that my mother never loved me, that she abandoned me. that I never was able to get an education.
it allows me to sit back and say, "see? I deserve to be as miserable as I like"
because there's nothing I can do
You have a better education than most people in the world.
that is The Real
the other stuff is the neurotic Fantasy
It can be difficult to get up and face the conditions in a mature way sometimes.
the conditions will always be there, and it is how we think about them that causes all the trouble. But the thinking is where it all goes wrong.
There are things you can control in life and things you can't. Your thoughts about yourself are one of the first group.
but it's very hard. esp. after a lifetime of bad habits
but you have already accomplished a great deal in this vein
The things I can control are the only ones that ever give me trouble. If it is beyond my control then I don't worry about it, because it is not an area in which my personal failures make a difference.
you might also try writing down point by point what you think a perfect person would look like. A perfect you.
you might find it a tad unrealistic.
your personal failures are probably not going to land you in the international criminal court
they might not even be of much interest to a parish confessor
say your three Hail Mary's and stop thinking you're all that.
one of the things that regular Confession does is take out a lot of your pride about your sins.
we can be very proud of what great, awful people we are
and it can be very deflating to have a priest yawn, look at his watch and give you three Aves
the good thing about Catholic praxis is that it cuts you down to size. yo
you quickly find that yo're not really very different from everyone else
because going into the confessional forces you to make a bullet-pointed list of the objective actual things you may have done wrong.
That's really depressing.
and it is never very heroically bad. it's always a pretty tawdry bunch of little betrayals and sad hoardings
I think you suffer a bit from the need to be special in your badness
it can be a let down when you learn you're just ordinary
I always hoped that other people are doing a better job at life than I am. If they aren't then that's truly sad.
but at least it grants you some solidarity.
and makes you more able to cut them and yourself a little slack
jus' plain folks, I'm afraid
and your awful badness doesn't impress God
Not trying to impress anyone or feel special about my unhappiness. Just trying to survive it.
But all this rational discourse has done a lot to settle and calm me down.
it's about Real things
your brain is trying to trick you.
And keep in mind, depression comes in waves, it attacks and then recedes.
while's its happening, it can be overwhelming. but when it goes away, you can be left wondering what all the fuss was over