The notion that depression is largely due to a chemical imbalance is, well.. let’s just say that the “chemical imbalance” story is played out, and it never had much legs to begin with. And I get it, if you’ve bought into this story like I did, you’re probably pretty triggered right now. But stay with me if you can, because I want to challenge your existing beliefs and get some cognitive dissonance going.
I’m not saying that brain chemicals like serotonin don’t play a role in this very complex equation. I’m just saying that there is so much more to this story than we realize and that’s very important to acknowledge. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that someone with depression is just like a diabetic: you take your anti-depressants just like they take their insulin, and there should be no stigma about it.
Well yes stigma is bad, but no depression is not that simple. If you buy into that story, you’ll be quick to pop that pill and believe there is nothing further that needs doing. You will also be more likely to believe that recovery is out of your control. For me, this thinking was a very big mistake as I pissed away most of my 20’s thinking that all was well, only to realize that my sense of dread, worry, fear never actually resolved itself. It was only when I started doing the inner work (going to therapy, reading books, meditating, fixing my diet, exercising, understanding the way the world works, etc) that I realized oh shit.. there are so many legitimate reasons why I’ve been depressed for so long!
To be clear, I’m not saying that anti-depressants don’t work, or that they can’t play an important role in one’s path to healing. I use to think like that, but after seeing the way these drugs can stabilize a person (including myself), I don’t longer cast such extreme judgement. My main message here is that there are so many reasons why so many people are depressed and deeply unhappy in today’s world, and we need to start talking about all those reasons.. because recognition of the root causes leads to understanding of the true cure.
Society is broken
Let’s start with the reasons external to you. Western society is deeply and profoundly sick on nearly every level imaginable. We are essentially free-range slaves working jobs that don’t fulfill us so that we can earn money and buy shit to impress people we don’t even like. Our sense of meaning, purpose, passion, and adventure that is so intrinsic to our true nature is completely absent. We’ve become increasingly more disconnected to each other, to human connection, community, friendship, love. It’s now even trendy for humans to hate on other humans (as is often portrayed by people who prefer the company of their dogs over any other person, for example).
Our diets are absolutely shit and the food we consume (and the way we consume it) is killing us from the inside out. We spend most of our time indoors, glued to technology rather than moving our bodies, playing and being in nature. Our attention span is shot. Social media exposes us to false depictions of reality that we compare ourselves to, we get bullied and we feel inadequate like we’ll never be good enough for the world. We’re constantly being advertised and sold to, as we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into materialistic consumerism that chains us to the comfy jobs that drain our soul.
And what do we do in the face of all this despair? We numb. Ohhh we are so professional number’s. Alcohol, TV, Netflix, weed, games, porn, etc. The endless access to quick/cheap distractions and indulges make it so easy for us to stuff the despair deep, deep down where we don’t have to feel the pain.. until we do. And when we do, we have no clue where the pain is coming from, why we are depressed, and why we feel completely unable to “think” our way out of it.
It’s your psychology
And how about the internal reasons why we are depressed? The way we think is directly related to the reality we experience. If you feel like you live in a hostile world for example, your mind makes it so. You can have two different people with an identical circumstances (location, upbringing, social status, etc.) and each can have a completely different experience of reality based on the way they think.
So how do most people, depressed or not, think? First of all, they think from their ego. I don’t mean ego in the Western sense of someone who is arrogant; I mean ego in the Eastern sense of the over-identification with ourselves as separate beings from the world around us. This ego speaks through our thoughts, and believe it or not, that is not who we are. That is actually just a reflection of all our past experiences (upbringing, education, traumas, the media we consume, etc). We think all of this nonsense is our individual selves, but in reality it’s actually just an identity that has been programmed into us.
And how do we think and behave from this ego? This is where fear, worry, judgement, hate, jealousy, envy, shame, guilt, inadequacy, etc all stems from. When we over-identify with this part of our being, we are inherently controlled by it. Our emotions become victims to these automatic, unconscious thoughts and reactions to our experience of reality. And until you realize this, it seems like there is no way out. “It’s going to be like this forever”, I use to tell myself.
But the reality is, you do have control over this. It takes a lot of work and it’s certainly no easy thing, but you absolutely can take back control of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions over time. It took me many years of inner work to realize this, and that’s at least how long I’d expect it to take for you. But it gets better and better along the way, and sometimes it also doesn’t. Two steps forward, one step back as they say.
I know it’s considered a sin to suggest that we bare any responsibility for the way we feel, but I would like to speak to those who are ready to own that responsibility and finally put an end to the victim-hood mentality that’s keeping you stuck. I’m not saying you don’t have significant circumstances that contributed to your current state of well-being (abusive father, neglecting parents, bullying, sexual traumas, etc). All of those things are very real, and very valid. But living for the rest of your life as a victim to your past/present circumstances is a choice.
Anyway this only scratches the surface of my thoughts on depression and why so many people today are unhappy. The world is fucked up in so many ways, and whatever your circumstances or your genetic makeup, you’ve become fucked up right along with it (while all the “normal” people run around like nothing is wrong). Well let me tell you, many of them are hurting too. Maybe they don’t realize it, or maybe they’ve just mastered the art of living unconsciously. Ignorance is bliss as they say. But the message here is, there is hope. If you want to get better, there is a path. Believe it.