Depression, Choice, and Freedom


People often come into the space of my practice reporting ‘feeling depressed” or “being depressed”. Most people have a pretty good idea what they mean when they say that they are depressed. Globally what people are usually saying is “ I don’t like the way I feel”. Most people also have at least some understanding of the “clinical” nature of the term depression and report at least a couple of the DSM criteria for a diagnosis of “Persistent Depressive Disorder”, which are:

Poor appetite or overeating,

Insomnia or hypersomnia,

Low energy or fatigue,

Low self-esteem,

Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions,

Feelings of hopelessness.

Experiencing only a couple of these symptoms over an extended period of time qualifies one for a DSM diagnosis of a mental disorder.

I shy away from diagnosis in my practice. While a diagnosis can be a handy shorthand for describing a list of behaviors, they tend to point one in the wrong direction as to what is actually happening. There is usually a considerable volume of choices and experiences involved with each of the ways of being in the above list of so called symptoms. Let’s just take one, Poor appetite or overeating, to demonstrate some of the possible influences.

First, one would have to rule out purely medical influences, if such a thing  as purely medical influences exists. What we are left with after that is a disconnect from the somatic experience of hunger or satiation. This would have to be a choice, not necessarily a conscious choice, but a choice none the less. I know many will ask,”why would anyone choose to disconnect from any somatic experience, especially one so directly connected with survival?” The answer is, of course, discomfort. I may block satiety because I feel unloved or empty and find that experience too terrifying to move into so I chose to transfer the feeling of the absence of love or the feeling of emptiness into a never ending hunger. I may block all sensation in my body because of anxiety, or fear of meaninglessness, or memory of trauma. I may be twisting my intestines into knots out of anger because I do not feel safe expressing my anger in the world. The list could go on, it could be anger, grief, fear, sorrow, shame, or whatever I am avoiding that lead to my choice of an  “abnormal eating pattern”. It still comes down to, the relationship I have with my body is the relationship I chose to have with my body.

One could go through the entire list of “symptoms” above and find numerous choices involved with that way of being, or behaving. Depression, for the most part, is not something that we have, or that we are, it is what we do. Everything we do is what we choose to do, even if that choice is not a conscious choice. One of the most difficult characteristics to work with in depression is the feeling of no way out. This feeling rises up from the belief in the solidity of the depressed state. “I am depressed” as opposed to “ I am doing Depression”. Studies have shown that, for the most part, antidepressants do not work on mild to moderate depression. Only on cases of severe depression do they prove to be effective. This suggests that mild and severe depression are entirely different phenomena. That severe depression is more rooted in the facticity of neurochemical interactions. Mild to moderate depression is more rooted in what Sartre calls ‘the spirit of seriousness”, a belief that we are a solid thing or substance. We turn ourselves into a fact in the world, without freedom. I become an object, a flawed object, a depressed object, that can be fixed with pills or the wise interpretations of others.

The truth is depression ends when I recognize what I am doing, and find a way to feel safe enough to stop what is is that I am doing  I then can take responsibility for my own freedom. Easier said than done, right? It is a difficult transition, to take the responsibility  for one’s own freedom. We derive the illusion of safety form the belief in our solidity. After all, if I am a thing, I am predictable. I can also blame phenomena outside of myself for the condition of my existence. If I am free, then I must choose my existence, and I am responsible for every choice I make, and the effect my choices have on my world. Do I take complete responsibility for the condition of my existence, or do I choose to be a depressed object?

This is not a one time decision . It is a choice we make with every breath. We objectify ourselves in order to manipulate the world. Do I become a shy object, a helpless object, a sexy object, a cocky object, or whatever object it takes to get the world outside of myself to behave in a way that I want it to. Self objectification is a handy survival tool that can become a seductive trap when we get fooled by our own illusions. The only way out of these illusions is in, to go in and see what we are doing.

We can choose to be free. We can choose to recognize our choices. We can choose to recognize our inner strength, wisdom, passion resilience, and the ability to transform. We are not solid or fixed. We are in constant motion and in the process of becoming and therefore, cannot be flawed.Only that which is fixed can be flawed. In freedom, we are pure potential.