I know a startling number of Druids who suffer from depression. Actually, I also know a just as alarming number of non-Druids with the same problems. It’s increasingly common. In fact, at this rate it’s going to become normal to be emotionally ill. One of the implications is that the nature of depression will need far more understanding. What non-sufferers imagine depression to be all about is painfully wide of the mark. But, if you’re not enduing it, the odds are increasingly that someone close to you, will, or that you will. Understanding how it goes makes it easier to deal with. Both for yourself and other people.
I think many of us assume that depression is a form of melancholy. People who feel sad may describe themselves (often inaccurately) as ‘a bit depressed’. There’s often a sense that what depressed people need to do is pull themselves together, stop being whinging emos, and get on with it. I probably don’t just speak for myself when I say, I find myself wishing it was that easy. Faced with someone who is pale, wilting, claiming they can’t do things, it can be easy to assume you’re seeing a freeloader, someone playing up, being melodramatic, attention seeking. Now, anyone who tells you they are depressed and then starts telling you what you have to do as a consequence of this is, frankly, a bit suspect. Controlling behaviour, regardless of the excuse, is not a thing to support or facilitate. Most of the depression sufferers I know find it very hard to ask for help. Telling people that they have to do things, is hard to imagine. Depression is not something we seek or enjoy, it’s life sapping and a bloody nuisance. Some days I feel like the whole time I’m walking round in lead boots wrestling with an octopus wrapped around me, that no one else can see. Normal things take ridiculous amounts of effort.
Depression is not ‘feeling a bit blue’ or ‘being a bit down’ or ‘needing to pull yourself together’. Depression is a defence mechanism. It’s a way of coping with things that the individual cannot otherwise handle. From the outside it may look like melancholy, from the inside it’s a process of shutting down, climbing into a shell, putting up the walls to keep out whatever it is that the body can no longer endure feeling. Stress, anxiety, and physical pain can all contribute to this process. The person who is weeping over something can often be in a better sort of place than the person who is still and silent because they’ve gone numb. Depression can be all about watching the colours drain out of your world. All the hope, all the reasons to keep going, fade away, and it feels like dying on the inside. Which sometimes results in people thinking that actually dying might not be such a terrible thing.
Why are so many of us falling soul-sick in this way? I think the more interesting question is, why everyone else has not done so yet. We have unprecedented access to the horrors of an entire planet. Every really attention grabbing murder and act of abuse makes it to the media. There’s a daily diet of war crime, tragedy, political idiocy. Every day we see the triumphs of money and power over common sense and decency. We’re driving species to extinction. When did you last see an image of a sick or dying child? Recently, at a guess. When was the last time a news item made you despair for humanity? Probably in the last week, at a guess.
In making a dedication to the land, in relinquishing ignorance and trying to live ethically, Druids take a course that eradicates any real hope of burying the head in the sand, and ignoring what’s out there. And of course we aren’t alone. People of heart and integrity are bound to feel what is constantly presented to them. Of course the violence, cruelty and tragedy are nothing new. It’s just that most of our ancestors only had to deal with what happened directly in their own lives, without simultaneously being burdened with the griefs of the world. One of the big problems with the griefs of the world is that most of the time, individually, there’s nothing we can do. A sense of powerlessness will eat away at your capacity for hope like nothing else. And that, in time, will put you on your knees.
As a Druid I have to stay open and aware. I cannot look away, ignore my responsibilities and pretend that all is well in the world. As some ambling ape-descended biology, I can’t always sustain that and keep moving. I have good days, and bad days. My body has a finite capacity for coping with distress. I try and generate hope. I do not always manage this.
I saw a facebook thing the other day, the gist went like this. The media tells you what to think and what to do. You run round on the treadmill making money for someone else, to buy stuff you don’t need that is killing the planet. Your air, food and water are being poisoned. And still you shuffle along. You are the zombie apocalypse. Wake the hell up.
I think there’s an argument for saying that a lot of depressed people are that way because they are awake. Perhaps if everyone woke up, we wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. None of us. We could just fix things. And we really could just fix things, if enough of us wanted to and we could agree on how to do it. Let’s not go there. Hold the positive thought.