Tag Archives: mind

Possibilities For Communion

Matthew Ratcliffe, in Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology, provides the most accurate description of depression I’ve ever read. For the depressed person:

“The practical significance of things is somehow diminished; they no longer offer up the usual possibilities for activity. Associated with this, there may be a sense of impossibility; possibilities appear as ‘there but impossible to actualize.’ There can also be a sense of estrangement, as possibilities that are inaccessible to self appear as ‘accessible to others with little effort.’ Other people might continue to offer possibilities for communion, but these possibilities appear at the same time as ‘impossible for me to take up.’ Together, these alterations in the possibility space constitute a feeling of isolation, which is experienced as irrevocable because depression does not include a sense of its own contingency. The resultant estrangement from the world amounts to a change in the sense of reality and belonging—things no longer appear available; they are strangely distant, not quite ‘there’ anymore. Certain kinds of possibility may also be heightened. A world that no longer offers up invitations to act can at the same time take the form of an all-enveloping threat, before which one is passive, helpless and alone. Hope, practical significance and interpersonal connection are not just gone. Their loss is very much part of the experience; it is felt.” (71)

Ratcliffe argues that most people see the world (without thinking about it) as a possibility space open to practical actions and meaningful projects. The depressed person inhabits a different world altogether, even as she stands before us in the same room. Her depression precedes her experience of being present in the world.

It’s not a matter of losing one’s hopes; the depressed person lacks a capacity to hope for any meaningful life at all. She is estranged from the world of non-depressed people for whom possibilities appear “accessible with little effort.” The possibility of believing in possibility itself feels impossible.

Hers is an altered world marked by inhibition and indecision in which she feels inextricably trapped. Her future is not her own, and she is “passive, helpless and alone” before it. Good things won’t happen for her; only bad things will happen to her.

What does all this mean? Why did I choose this passage?

While Ratcliffe’s detailed analysis of depression helps me understand my illness, I wrote this post for people who don’t know how awful depression feels. I hope my blog offers possibilities for communion regarding an illness millions of people across the world know all too well but often lack the words to describe.

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Psychotherapists Or Clergy

I have long maintained that my depression is a spiritual problem. I never ignored the chemistry behind my illness and I’ve always believed that by taking medication I’d relieve some of my symptoms. But I know my depression goes beyond physical concerns. It’s ultimately led me to metaphysics.

But last week my doctor called to say my thyroid levels were high, which means that my thyroid is underactive. “It’s possible your thyroid issues are affecting your depression,” he said. Notice how I wrote “affecting” above, meaning that my thyroid might be making my depression worse. But what if the proper word is “effecting,” meaning that it’s causing my depression—literally bringing it into existence?

If I could take a pill and “lose” my depression, or at least a great deal of it, within a few weeks—why the hell not? Is it possible the root of my illness lies in areas none of my doctors considered before? What if my biology supersedes my will—my brain, not my mind, being the sole determinant of who I am?

We’re still investigating all treatment possibilities. There’s a chance my depression has affected certain hormones, thus leading to lower thyroid function. A lot’s going on inside of me and it’s all, somehow, connected.

Whatever the outcome, I’ve suffered with depression long enough to sense its impact on my whole being. It has brought me closer to my humanity and helped me view my life in a new light, despite the darkness in which I often find myself.

I’m still drawn to the final chapter of Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, entitled “Psychotherapists or Clergy.” My well-being depends on factors both seen and unseen. Some days I need medicine. Other days I need miracles of a different nature.

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