"The Philosophy of Depression" Why? Radio episode with guest Andrew Solomon
2:23AM Apr 9, 2023
Jack Russell Weinstein
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The original episode can be found here: https://wp.me/p8pYQY-jXW
Why philosophical discussions about everyday life is produced by the Institute for philosophy and public life, a division of the University of North Dakota's college of arts and sciences. Visit us online at why radio show.org
Hi, I'm Jack Russell Weinstein. Welcome to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Today we're exploring the philosophy of depression with Andrew Solomon, and revisiting his groundbreaking book the noonday demon. Depression sucks. I recognize that fans of the show expect me to start with a claim more sophisticated and nuanced than this. But I think it's important to begin with an unequivocal acknowledgement of everyday experience. Major depression can be catastrophic, even fatal, more mild and functional bouts undermine relationships and derail life plans. Depression destroys people's self esteem and undoes whatever Goodwill or social capital someone might have accumulated. And an exchange depression offers nothing. It does not build character atone for one's sins or make a companion more interesting. There is nothing to be gained from depression, it just sucks. Recovery is dangerous and debilitating in its own way. People who are once too apathetic for self harm suddenly regard suicide as an achievable option. Those who longed to be more whole find that they don't know how to think of themselves separate from their illness, they become scared and even embarrassed to advertise their healthy selves. Healing is tenuous and unpredictable. A high wire act on a windy day in front of an absent audience. Because the spectators patience has worn thin, there is nothing attractive about the pathetic. There is a surprising dearth of philosophical work on depression. poets and playwrights have tackled the issue novelists and filmmakers have to, but philosophy has been mostly silent. We'll discuss the brief attempts the black bile of the Greeks for example, in The Melancholy of the English, but even the great philosopher of madness, Michel Foucault, only focused on the power politics and social stigmatizing of illness, not the nature and experience of the afflicted. Why? I suspect there are two reasons. The first is that philosophers have always prioritized reason and diminished emotion. Plato and Aristotle taught us that only immoral people lack the willpower to control their feelings, and we believe them. In this tradition. Depression is a weakness and a moral deficiency. The high point of Plato's discussion of illness is in his dialogue comedies, in which a beautiful, promiscuous and alcohol loving young man struggles with an unknown affliction every morning. Only through Socrates his moral instruction, does he come to realize that what he has are hangovers, and that if he would only strive for virtuous moderation his health would return where we must ask, would depression fit in the schema? A second reason depression is such an underserved topic is that it runs counter to the natural divisions assumed by Western philosophy. It is a combination of mind and body. But there is no way to create a taxonomy of which components come from where also, philosophers prioritize the permanent. Plato's forms are unchanging, God is eternal, but depression is something to get rid of. It is in the best of circumstances ephemeral. So philosophers have assumed that investigation about it is inherently less valuable than inquiries into objective reality or everlasting commandments. philosophers are interested in truth, not error. Happiness is the goal and depression is in the way. Finally, philosophers hate the irrational. We don't like things that we can explain subjects we can't break down into discrete part for analysis, effects that we can't reduce to a single cause. One of the most important books of the 20th century is Principia Mathematica, in which Russell and Whitehead showed that math is logic. Since most descriptions with physical science are reducible to equations. That must mean that most scientific truths are expressions of logic. But there's no logic to depression. No propositions with truth values, no equations with equivalents on either side of the equal sign. logic was the word at the beginning least according to John, the English translation of the Greek logos, the term for order, where is the place for the chaos of depression in this theology, it is an affliction that eclipses knowledge and counters righteousness, it precludes intimacy with God, a bulwark to actualization, depression is forever unrealized potential and the philosophical world will have none of it. On today's episode, we're going to challenge this resistance by applying our philosophical lens to the subject, led by a guest who has suffered through both the theory and reality of depression. We will ask what we can learn from an about The illness by assuming its worthiness of our intellect. We aren't therapists negotiating cure. We're not pharmaceutical companies making a buck. We're just a community of inquiry taking a good look, because depression is interesting and relevant. It's among us. I will admit, there's something unsettling about this discussion. I myself, have struggled through a long standing depressive episode currently in its third year. I'm feeling a little better. And I don't want to backslide. We'll probably talk about that a little bit. But this is philosophy, not exhibitionism and I don't want to burden anybody with my lament. There's also no doubt that much of our audience will have similar and probably worse experiences than me. The last thing I want the show to be is a trigger a nudge into the void that does not scream back. Of course, our guest has dark stories to tell his own others and they are worth hearing. So despite this history and trepidation, I begin with my own moral claim. Depression is a virtuous subject. It is interesting, relevant and dangerous, enabling the three virtues of philosophical inquiry, curiosity, persistence, and courage. Not coincidentally, these are three traits depression atrophies, making philosophy, not just inquiry, but a defensive measure. Today, we fight back we make our intellectual stand, and we do so in the name of those who are in too much pain to do it themselves. And now our guest Andrew Solomon is professor of clinical medical psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale University and a former president of Penn American Center. He is the author of numerous books, all of which have had receptions most authors only dream about today's specifically, we revisit his 2001 memoir, the noonday demon, an atlas of depression, a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, Andrew, welcome to why
a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
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Well, I think it's partly a difference of personality or approach. I don't fail to compartmentalize. I don't choose to compartmentalize, I think the vividness and the visceral pneus of the description comes from not compartmentalizing. And I think if you look at the work of Elie Wiesel, for example, there are lots of people whose explorations of the Holocaust weren't based on compartmentalization. Either, you can reflect on something which hasn't directly altered your own life, from the perspective of curiosity, which is one of the issues that you mentioned, but I think courage lies actually in making yourself vulnerable to the anguish that you're describing. Now, I too, would describe myself as a reasonably happy person, but I wouldn't say I'm happy because I've compartmentalized away the stuff that's painful. I would say that I'm happy because I've integrated those painful experiences into a larger vision of the world that contains not only anguish but also redemption.
That's interesting because at one point, you quote Ovid and you say that ovitz quote, as is welcome this pain for you. We'll learn from it. And then you argue that there's a time when we might be able to eradicate the pain and you don't like that idea. You don't want to eradicate that human experience of pain. Why? What does that do? give you or give us when you integrate that pain into the hole as you're describing.
I think there are enormous benefits to having a wide mood spectrum. And indeed a wide spectrum of experience. really severe clinical depression, as you said, in your opening remarks, sucks, I think was the verb you used. And there is a point at which what one is experiencing has reached a level of pain at which it's no longer productive, I wouldn't presume to say that somebody who's just lost his whole family, and a bombing in Ukraine actually has to feel great about it. But our capacity to feel a wide range of emotions, it's at the very core of our humanity. And obliterating half of our emotional spectrum is obliterating half of ourselves. And I think in order to love somebody, you have to include in the experience of love, the anticipation of loss, if we weren't capable of anguish, if I didn't look at my children every day when they go off to school, and think about what it might be like, if they didn't come home, it wouldn't be love in the same way. That's not to say that when we're all on vacation together, having a nice time, that isn't also part of loving my children, if I look at my husband, and I don't think to myself how painful and sad it would be, for me, if anything happened to him and our life together couldn't continue, it wouldn't be the same kind of passion, you know, human experiences informed by transients. And it's also informed by the transience of one's emotional states. And the wider your emotional states are, the more poignant that transients becomes.
That you mentioned, thinking about losing your children when you drop them off to school, or that they don't come back. This is almost a universal experience, certainly, of American parents, every time I drop off my daughter, I think about school shootings, my wife says the same things, many of my friends say the same things. Is it the cause? That is unhealthy? And what I mean by that the pathology of gun violence in the United States? Is that what's unhealthy and therefore, the fear of loss? Which of course every parent has at all times. Right? Is, is a natural response and the context of school shootings is an unnatural response, or is there a lack of health in AI letting it get to you? I'm not I'm not sure how to ask the question, because obviously, your point is well taken, that that love and vulnerability come hand in hand. But there is does feel like something unnatural, and perverted, almost about having that thought every time you drop off your kid. So is it the context? Or is it the way that we deal with the context that leads to this, this this distortion of the human experience?
Look, gun violence in America is a scourge and I spend part of my time I'm a dual national in the UK. And I also spend time elsewhere where guns are not accessible in the same way. I'm currently working on a book that's about youth suicide, actually, the rate of gun suicide in the United States is double the rate of gun homicide. So a lot of the fear associated with guns actually ties back into depression, because their availability means that people's despair is actionable in a way that it wasn't the despair of both crazy school shooting killers, and if the children themselves, but that I think is a separate topic, what I was talking about in terms of the value of negative emotion, and we do have to distinguish between negative emotion in general and depression, in particular, especially depression as a clinical condition. But the value of negative emotion or the experience of negative motion is inherent in the fact that human beings are mortal, in the fact that ultimately, you know, you die before someone or they die before you do, but none of you is going to live forever. And Philip Larkin once said, most things you worry about will never happen, this one will. So it's not really I exaggerate. It's not really that every single time I arrive at the school door, I stand there moved to tears with the sense that my child may not come out. It's just that I'm aware of the time that that could happen. And so even though sometimes it's at the forefront of my mind and sometimes I'm in the back. It's the it's the sense that nothing is permanent, nothing is reliable that any minute the phone could ring with terrible news. It's just it's part of the condition of being alive. I think it was part of the condition of being alive at the time that Abed was writing, or at the time that Socrates was philosophizing. It's the, it's the essence of the human experience.
Is there a definitive way to draw the line between sad sadness and Anhedonia and depression? One of the questions that I've posed my own therapist is, what if I'm just not a happy person? What if this isn't depression? But what what if this is just my character? Is it the wrong approach to try to draw specific lines between those things? Because they bleed into one another? Or do you have to distinguish them to think about treatment to think about self reflection to think about becoming healthy?
There are no sharp lines. And what constitutes a disabling clinical situation for one person is a manageable challenge to resilience for another person. So it's not only not possible to draw those lines, for any individual, it's also really impossible to draw them on a larger scale. Having said that, I think the question is the degree of paralysis that's involved, I've often said that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality. And so people who are experiencing a depression in which they aren't able to do the things that they would otherwise wish to do, or form the relationships or inhabit the relationships they will otherwise wish to inhabit, are in a strong situation of a depression, as opposed to people who are just saying the nature of human experience is ultimately tragic. All of us are born alone, all of us die alone. The world is a dire place. You know, and in terms of temperament, we live in a very medicalized time. And so some of the sharp distinction is, do you take medication? Do you go and see a doctor? Do you attempt to cure your point of view? Or do you say this is who I am, and live in the point of view that you hold, and we have an insurance system, we have all of these other things that draw all of these sharp lines, I take medication, and I see a therapist. So I guess what I have is a clinical condition. You just mentioned seeing a therapist, that means that there's some acknowledgement that there is an experience that's beyond ordinary human unhappiness. But actually, there are lots of people who can feel the way that you do or perhaps the way that I do, who would handle it in a very different way. And I think that there's an artifice embedded in current rhetoric, which is that the natural state of human beings is of relative happiness. And that if you're not happy, there's something wrong with you. And you know, some people are temperamentally happy and some people are temperamentally unhappy. And actually, there's a great deal of darkness in the world. I just read a novel in which everybody in the novel is a really nice person. And the novel is actually some bad things happen to them, but none of them ever seems to do anything. That's not kind. It was sort of reassuring to read it, but it doesn't affiliate very well with reality. And so some of what we are now attempting to treat is a perception of reality, which is painful and from which we wish to be protected, rather than a distorted view of the world.
You create the analogy between supermodels and the sort of super mental state you write that it's been acknowledged that supermodels have been incredibly bad for perception of women's beauty and perceptions of of what counts is as desirable and that there's something going on similar with mental health that that there is this idealization is Is this what you're referring to here this this this social distortion of an expectation of what it means to be happy and healthy. That is such an artifice that all it does is is that it creates more harm than good.
Yes, I think there is what I believe I called I wrote the book a while ago, though I wrote a new chapter that brings it up to date a few years ago. But there is a sort of psychological supermodel in which people have an idea of how they're supposed to feel, and how they're supposed to feel is represented by, you know, celebrity culture and by TV drama. And by the way people portray themselves on social media and by all kinds of other things, people attempt to project an image of themselves, that is happier than the reality. And the people who do that often cause other people to feel very inadequate in their inner reality. I mean, one of the lessons of, you know, adolescence, in particular, but of life altogether is, things aren't so easy. And so great life is, in fact, mostly entails a lot of struggle and entailed moments of enormous joy and transcendence, too. But there's a lot of struggle and a lot of pain and a lot of feeling of inadequacy and a lot of rejection, and a lot of all of the rest of those things. If you experience those things and think to yourself, well, that's what life is like. And here I am plodding through it, that's a lot easier than if you have a sense of failure every time you experience any of those things, if you think I shouldn't be feeling this way. So there is such a thing as clinical depression. And you shouldn't be feeling that way. Because it's very disruptive. But the image that you feel you're supposed to live up to is in general and artifice.
We're going to have to take a break in a minute. So I want to preview the question I'm going to ask you, you published this book in 2001. And so the first question I'm going to ask you what we get back is, does the world treat depression differently now than it did then? And have we learned anything in those years? Or? Well, I'll leave it at that. But for the moment, you're listening to Jack Russell Weinstein and Andrew Solomon on why philosophical discussion about everyday life, we'll be back right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussion of everyday life. I'm your host, Jack Russell Weinstein. We're talking about the philosophy of depression with Andrew Solomon. And before we get back into the conversation, I want to talk for a second about a distinction in philosophy that I think is going to be really helpful right now. And that's the distinction between, well what gets called analytic philosophy and versus phenomenology. But what this means is that there's multiple approaches to doing philosophical inquiry. The first is analytic it's, it's it's looking at things breaking it down to its component parts, trying to find definitions, and accounts that you can use as tests and elaborations and explanations. And that's what we've been doing in the first half. But then there's phenomenology, which tries to describe people's experience. And often there's a fine line between philosophy there and literature, or the attempt to describe a narrative from person's experience, John Paul Sartre famously gives a description of what it feels like to be looked at through a keyhole. And in a moment, we're going to start talking about people's experiences with depression, itself. And so the question becomes, what can we learn from people's experience? Is there a universal structure that underlines experience? Or is this something completely unique? And that what we do is we try to find some sort of generalizations that we construct for ourselves. And I describe this for the audience, Andrew, because in a moment, we're going to be talking about these accounts and my first concern as always, in this I'm gonna I'm gonna preempt the question I announced a moment ago with this. I'm always concerned that when we talk about tragedy, we end up slipping into pornography, or voyeurism that I see this a lot with drug addiction memoirs, especially from rock and roll stars, that people claim that they're ashamed of hitting rock bottom, but there's sort of a kind of celebration and, and and one upmanship that goes on. How do you manage? And I think you did this incredibly well, because you've told some unbelievably horrible stories in that in the book that that only bring sadness. How did you manage to tell these graphic stories without slipping into the pornographic aspect of violence?
Well, I'm sure some of the time I did slip into that. And it becomes a kind of badge of honor. Partly, it was timing. I first published an article about my depression in the New Yorker in 1998, I think it was, which was what led to the book, maybe it was 1997. Somebody said to me recently, it was very brave of you to write about your depression, then. And I thought, oh, it would be less brave. Now, because the confessional has taken over as a social movement. And everyone does that. At that point, people mostly didn't talk about these experiences. They were mostly kept under wraps and considered shameful. I think I had been through the experience of being a closeted gay man. And I had finally managed to come out. And after I did, I thought, I'm never going to have that kind of massive secret, again, where I have to look around and think, well, that person probably knows, but I wonder if that person has figured it out. And I think that person might have told that I just thought, whatever it is, I mean, it's not that I don't have a private life, and many things that I don't talk about broadly. But in terms of these enormous things, I thought, I'm not going to walk around with an enormous secret. And so when I was depressed, I thought, I'm just going to be frank about it and talk about it. But the engine of writing was really that I felt there were so few accounts of this kind of thing, and that it was so important that there be more of them. And that, you know, people experience depression and such loneliness and such isolation. And so I think the reason for telling my story was not so much, because I thought there was a glamour inherent in it. In fact, quite the opposite. It was that I thought, I am the person in a relatively privileged position, you know, I'm a writer, I'm not going to lose my job. Because of this. I have a fairly stable economic life I have. I live in a coastal city where people are tolerant of this kind of conversation. And I thought, if I don't talk about what's happened, then How will anyone managed to talk about it not that everyone has to write a book about it. But there were so many people who were kind of whispering in their correspondence with me about the anguish they were experiencing, because they felt they couldn't tell anyone and I wanted to break down barriers to open this, rather than to glorify myself through those narratives. I have written other things, frankly, which I did quite well to glorify myself and in which I was showing off, but this wasn't one of them.
I understand the point of the commentator 2001 was a different time. But it almost feels like the description of courage is misplaced, because part of what is involved in you telling your story is increasing your vulnerability by opening up to the world and finding the strength within you to tell the story of the thing that consumed you. I mean, I don't know how much we have to get into it. But but your memoir discusses debilitating levels of depression. Maybe Maybe you can summarize it very quickly because I don't want to I don't want to speak for you. But it just seems like the courage Yes, the courage is opening up to the community and judgment. But the real courage is take trying to take control of your own story. Is that unfair? Am I being I don't know. pedantic?
No, not pedantic. There is no question It was partly taking control of my story. And look, I'm a writer, that's the way I deal with the world is by turning my experience into narrative and taking some kind of control over it. Through doing that, it's a way that I bring order to what I've gone through. But I would say that the the other thing that perhaps gets lost is that when I was in that depression, and couldn't get out of bed, and was utterly paralyzed, and wanted to die, and hated everything about myself and my life, and so on, and so forth, it felt like the most barren, useless experience there could possibly be, in writing about it in a way that has proved I believe, to be helpful to other people, I redeemed those experiences themselves and turned them into something that actually had been useful, it had been useful in my understanding of myself, and it could be useful to other people. So it was, in some ways, a process of redeeming what had happened to me, rather than a process of trying to obliterate it, and the courage that you've kindly attributed to me, I mean, it took a lot to write about those things. They were not easy things to write about. But the the courage that it took was the courage to endure the experience itself and, and stay out, stay alive and, and to keep searching for ways to get better until, you know, I did get better. I mean, I'd still have to manage depression, it's a very fundamental part of my character, I'm still treated for it, I have lapses, the lapses can be quite bad. I had a real low point a few years ago, in which I really, really struggled. I'm in the process right now of going off a medication and it's kind of hellish. I'm on other medications instead. But going off that one is difficult. I mean, this is a lifetime's project. And, and the the feeling that this lifetimes project has some, that there's some point to it, I think gives me whatever you want to call it, the courage, the energy, the vitality, to go on, fading out and to stay alive and to build a life in which I find other loci of meaning and self worth.
I, I think that's really powerful and important. And I think that there's another piece that comes out of that, or rather than that I'd like you to talk about, which is for lack of a better term, the guilt that depressed people feel you, you have this really wonderful line where you say that the Depression came after you solved all of your problems. And I know that I feel this way that a lot of other people feel this way that we don't have a right to be depressed, right. We, you know, I myself, I'm, I have a dis, I have a named professorship at a state university, main campus, right. I've got a lovely family, I have a house in North Dakota that I couldn't afford anywhere else, right, I have a, I have a really good life. And so when I articulate my experience, there's a guilt that I feel because I feel like I don't have the right to be depressed. And with that claim that you make, it hits that head on how does this this sense of, of guilt that many depressed people feel fit into that, that courage and that experience of of telling your own story and of telling it publicly?
My first book was about a group of Soviet artists and how their lives change during glasnost. And as I interviewed those artists, I was humbled by their resilience, which indeed became a model for me when I later developed depression and needed to take up some resilience of my own. They had been through experiences that were unbelievably horrific. They had been sent to Siberian prison camps. They had been thrown into jails, they had been unable to get anything to eat, because they were pushed to the margins of a society that was annihilating the very ideas of freedom that they champion. They had gone through things that were really, unspeakably awful. And I felt in writing about them, that I had the opportunity to write about a level of pain that I had, in fact, sometimes experience but to which I did not feel entitled and I felt they were entitled to it. And so if what I wanted to do was write about pain and resilience, I could write about them instead of writing about me. And they were astonishing. And many of them still are astonishing people. But I remember at some point, articulating that point of view to Ilya Kabakov, who had become probably the best known of them, and it's an international art figure now, having worked in obscurity for so many years during the Soviet period, and I said, you know, I don't have a right to this, and I don't, you know, I look at what you've been through, and so on, and so forth. And he said, the sorrow of the world is a constant quantity, and everyone gets his share. And so I've moved away a little bit from those feelings of guilt. On the other hand, when you ask why I had chosen to tell my story, it's precisely because I feel as though I am in a sufficiently privileged position, so that I can do that without cost. Whereas there are other people who would lose their jobs, who would lose their families who would be socially marginalized, we'd have all kinds of experiences that I haven't had. But yes, of course, I feel guilty about it all the time, I feel like I'm a lucky person, and to be a lucky person who experiences depression, it is to feel ridiculous. And you know, you feel ridiculous when you're defragment, everything tries of, okay, I have some things that are great in my life right now that I would like to change. But I essentially have an okay life, and I can't seem to get out of bed and take a shower. And I would spend the whole day trying to get out of bed, and then I would finally make it into the bathroom. And I think I'd have to turn on the water. And I would turn on the water. And I would think I just I can't get under that strong stream of water. And I would end up going back to bed. And I would think this is ludicrous. I have all of these resources at my fingertips. I have all of these things going right? Why can't I function in the way that normal people do? Taking a shower at least many people every day. And, and continuing. And yes, I felt very guilty about it, I felt I had no right to it. But that didn't change it. I didn't have any right to it, perhaps but it was what was happening, it was my reality. So if it is your experience, and there's a point at which feeling guilty about it or denying it is not productive. And to some extent, I would say to you after the description of all of the things that have been meaningful to you, that you are probably drawn toward the practice of philosophy by the difficulty of figuring out these contradictions. But that focusing on those contradictions, as a philosopher must also tax your emotional core. And so I think many people who are in fields such as philosophy, such as perhaps being artists, or writers, are there because of an initial curiosity, but have those symptoms, that reinforced by inquiries into the nature of experience?
You know, that that's really interesting, because, of course, I look back at my life. And I think there's obviously something inevitable about becoming a philosopher, my wife will look at me sometimes with contempt and say, Oh, you're never not a philosopher. But it's also that, that, that even at my lowest periods, I am the happiest in front of a classroom, I have I feel have a sense of control, I am at my best I, I became friends with a student years ago, who would say to me that, that when she was in the class, that she would see me walk out of the class and my shoulders would drop and droop, that there was something about being in that controlled environment. And so it's so it's interesting to think of, of that duality, right of, of the philosophy being one of the factors in both the unhappiness but also as a consequence of the unhappiness but also the way that I manage it the most and my relation, the two things that have saved my soul have been this show, because unlike most academics, I get to celebrate other people's work. And so I don't, I don't have to spend all my time you know, immersed in narcissism. And and the students who I really feel especially in a place like North Dakota, where I for many of them, I'm the only Jewish person they've ever met in their entire life. I have I'm a New Yorker. I'm blunt, I can talk about things that they've never done I've never talked about before. I love philosophy, and for many of them, I am a window into something that they would never have experienced before and that that's the other aspect that saved my Soul. And so it's really interesting because I think and this is one of the the themes in the book, it's, it's very hard to extract cause and effect, and positive and negative. What you have are the emotions and what you have the experience. And there are hard cases and they're easy cases. Right? The it's that line between Anhedonia and depression that I that I brought up before. That's a hard case. But what you experienced is not a hard case, in the sense that we know this is depression, there's no question about it. And so I guess the, the question underneath this comment is, as a writer, as someone who's who's and of course, for folks who haven't read the book, and I strongly urge them to, it's not it's not only a memoir, there's a history of depression. There's there's statistics and scientific exploration, and it is it is an atlas of depression, as you describe, how hard was it to create a framework that incorporated the objective and the scientific and the scholarship, alongside both the subjective experience of depression and the journalism of telling the horrifying stories of other people I mean, you start off with telling the story of, and I am not good with Cambodian names, but Foley known who experienced the Khmer Rouge and one of the most horrendous things I've read in books. And you tell it with just such empathy, which is a word that you actually describe early on in the book that that's one of your intentions is to is is to create empathy. How hard was it to manage those different projects in a single text.
My feeling when I myself was depressed and was looking through the existing literature for help was that there were good books in a variety of categories. There were medical textbooks that were very impressive. There were personal memoirs, which were very interesting. They're mostly about a particular person and his or her particular experience. There were psychological checks, there were sort of self help things. There was spiritual material, there were all kinds of approaches. But there was nothing that put them together and nothing that organized them. And I felt like there was chaos in the kingdom, and that somebody had to take all of these different ways of approaching a single problem, and figure out what the best way was to put them together into a coherent whole. And so that was my project. Yeah, it was really, really hard to do. But it felt like that was what was missing. And that was what I wanted to achieve. And I wanted to tell the stories of lots of other people because I didn't want it to be a memoir, though. That is the word that often seems to get used about it. I wanted my experience to be only a window into a set of larger questions and problems. And so, so that was where I began. And I think the experiences all inform one another. I also wanted to break down a couple of current misapprehensions and I'm afraid remain current, which were essentially the depression is a modern Western middle class illness. So I looked at depression across history and found the descriptions from Hippocrates and from Plato, who argued a lot with Plato saying that depression was a philosophical problem to be solved through discourse and Hippocrates saying it was an organic dysfunction of the brain. So that do we use medication? Do we use therapy question that we think of as being so modern was there in 10th century Athens, I wanted to look at other cultures. And so I looked at depression among survivors of the Khmer Rouge. I looked at depression among the Greenlandic Inuit, I looked at an indeed experienced rituals for the treatment of depression in West Africa. I really wanted to show this is this is everywhere. This is something everyone deals with. It's something everyone always has dealt with. And then finally, I wanted to make the point, which I think is crucial to make over and over again, because of the really disgusting healthcare system that exists in the United States that it's people who are middle class who can afford treatment and who might have health insurance that helps them to get the treatment that they require. But the Depression itself exists. in all kinds of contexts, if you assume that it results from a genetic vulnerability or a biological vulnerability triggered by external circumstances, who experiences the most triggering external circumstances, people mired in poverty. And so a lot of those people, because their experience of misery seems to be commensurate with how grim their lives are, don't eat them think to themselves, Oh, I have a mental illness, they just think life is unbelievably hard. I feel terrible all the time. This makes sense to me. And so we aren't treating those populations. And I've argued in the book and on many occasions since and in many other contexts that are doing that is not only a humanitarian disaster, because we leave all of these people suffering unnecessarily, who couldn't be treated, and could many of them at least get better. It's also an economic catastrophe, because people were severely depressed don't function very well. And if we can help a lot of the people who are mired in poverty, to function well enough to pull themselves out of poverty, the whole American economy and world economy would benefit from it. So I really wanted to sort of break down those things. And I wanted by interviewing lots of people to figure out what are the mechanisms of resilience? What is it that allows some people to get through and to go on and have lives that at least some of the time are worthy and meaningful and rich, while other people are completely defeated, even if their symptoms sound less significant? So those were my objectives in writing the book.
I think it's super compelling to move past this idea that that depression is an indulgence, as you point out that, that middle class Europeans have, and to recognize that what the privilege is, is being able to name the illness and being able to access health care, right. And yet, at the same time that stigmatized you talk about the stigma of medicine, and that and that people will say to you, Well, you got off meds eventually, and and then you say, No, you're still using it. And they say, but you seem fine. And then this this assertion that Well, I'm sure you'll get off of them slowly over time, that, that there's just this this sense that, that it's all just temporary and not something that one has to work with in one's entire life. And I feel like that that's the privilege the privilege is, is, is to diminish the power to I can't think of a the right terms. Whereas this entire population threat throughout history, right, I mentioned the phrase, the black bile, the Greek phrase in my monologue, that, that you talk about in the book and melancholia and things like that. Being able to name it is such a powerful ability. How did these folks that you interviewed from other cultures? How did they describe the process of coming to terms with the fact that they had depression? The woman I mentioned earlier, the Cambodian woman falling down, she created a therapeutic environment in a refugee camp to help others. How do people in those circumstances find the name? And what's the consequence of naming it for them? That might be too ambiguous a question, but I think you understand what I mean, I hope you understand what I mean.
Well, I agree that finding the name is the beginning of a significant liberation, and that once you are able to name something, you are able to address it. So that's very, very valuable. A lot of what Valley Nuan was doing. I mean, she had an extraordinary system for treating the women who are in the refugee camp with her who had survived the indignities of the Khmer Rouge, and then were just sitting there paralyzed, unable even to care for their own children. And what she said to me was, I tried to teach them three things. She said, First, I try to teach them to forget, she said, not that they'll ever really forget the horrific experiences they've had, but they need to accumulate some new memories so that there is something in their mind besides the horror of that period in art history, she said, and then I teach them to work, she said, and she said, some of them will never be able to do more than clean houses, some of them turned out to have all kinds of abilities and time And she said that they had to have something that was giving them purpose, she said, and finally she said, I taught them to do manicures and pedicures. And I said, You did what? And she said, what they had really lost during the period of the Khmer Rouge was the ability to trust one another. She said, and so I would bring them into a special help that I had, I would fill it with steam, she said, they would begin holding their hands out to other people who are holding sharp implements. And she said, bit by bit, in the course of doing that, they began to talk to one another, and they began to trust one another, she said, and then I would teach them that those three ideas are not three separate skills, but three components of a single way of being in the world, she said, and when they understood that they were ready to go out again. But where did she come to her understanding. I mean, she's a with a brilliant and remarkable woman. And when she died some years ago, there was a gigantic procession through the streets of Phnom Penh with people sort of celebrating her and dancing in her honor and so on. And weeping, many people weeping. And so she was a kind of breakthrough person. But I think in general, you give people a great gift, if you say to them, the suffering you are experiencing right now is not necessary. Some of what's wrong with your life is painful, but the level at which you are in disabled agony, can be addressed and can be changed, even before you do anything about addressing it or changing it, just telling people that it can be addressed or changed, that things can get better, that there are methodologies for helping people to improve things that they are not consigned to live this way for the rest of their lives. All of those things are earth shattering, and major and important. And so it's a super phenomenal thing to be able to bring that knowledge to people.
Well, first, I have to say that calling what she has experienced as indignities probably wins the award of understatement. But um, and she, you know, you spend a page a page and a half talking about her, and I don't think I'll ever stop thinking about her for the rest of my life. She's, she's a remarkable human being, is there a limit to the naming, and this goes back to the thing I mentioned before the break, which is, I don't know how old your your kids are. But my daughter who I talked about all the time, and the listeners are very used to she's 17. And she is immersed in the Gen Z culture where the language of the DSM, the language of pathology is intertwined in in her day to day life. So she won't talk about being nervous. She'll talk about having social anxiety, she won't talk about zoning out, she'll talk about disassociation, and that this appears to be ultra common among her generation, of course, you know, all my experience with that is selective because I experience it through her but But nevertheless, and my students do it too. So and this is not I don't mean to do the you know, this generation, they have it easy, you know, that's just stupid. The generation appears to have accepted the fact that naming is, in many ways a solution to itself. I'm not bisexual, I'm pansexual. I'm, I'm, I have this I have that. Is there a limit to what the naming can do? Or is all of this a positive and maybe even an inevitable consequence of taking these more ambiguous disorders, and naming them so that they can be the subject of attention and treatment?
In the first place, people have always named them. It's a question of giving people who individually don't have access to those names that access. So the DSM terminology is different from the Renaissance idea of melancholia. But these states of mind have always existed. But Hippocrates description of depression is one of the best I've ever read. It was written 2500 years ago. naming these things is not new and naming them as conditions that have to be addressed is not new. It's just the way that we named them and as I say, it's naming them to people who might not have been able to understand that they were nameable, but there is a parallel it issue which I see my son will be 14 on Sunday and my daughter is 15 and a half, there is something that I see a lot in their generation, which is a kind of ecstasy of naming in which ordinary experience becomes pathologized. And exactly this is this, what are the issues? Right? So minor issues, then, again, all this terminology attached to them. And again, it has to do, I mean, it's the downside in a way of the medical progress in which we've begun to understand that if you feel nervous, it's probably a thing that's located somewhere in your brain. And there are medications you could take that might affect it. And so we have a sense of everything being addressable. But it also I think, goes back to that psychological supermodel that we talked about earlier, that people think in any way, they have a feeling that is unpleasant, that they must have a pathology, and they therefore don't tolerate experience or learn from sensations that in fact, should be a part of their lives. And, you know, there's a lot of the time when I hear these complaints, and I want to say Pull yourself together, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, get on with things, and stop stop using all this language about them, which is just paralyzing you and achieving nothing.
I think I think everyone who's listening who has kids of this age group, is is is is gleeful right now from what you just said. But is is we live in a materialist culture now. And that I mean that in the Hobbs the incense, and what I mean is that we think of physical reality, as the primary reality the brain, not the mind. And how much of this is the consequence of choosing the body, in the mind body problem, you have you have this anxiety, you take a pill, it's, it's it's the same solution as if you have toenail fungus you. The goal is to find a way to balance the chemicals, the goal of the way is to is to find a way to make the neurological connections, all that and I'm not saying that that isn't 100% Real and a factor. But there is very much this tendency to reduce these the mental illness to the material, the physical the body, rather than the mind. Is it possible I alluded to this in the monologue? Is it possible to detach the the mental, the contextual, the therapeutic part of it from the neurological part, and have we gone too far to the neurological to have an authentic method of treatment?
What we've gone too far with is the idea of that split, which is seen as Cartesian, but really originated with Thomas Aquinas, that there is a difference between the mind and the body, the language of the mind and the language of the body are two different vocabularies for the same set of phenomena. If having this conversation has made me think in new ways, there will be biological correlates of that thinking, whether we have the sophistication to witness or chart them or not. And if I take some kind of medication, it will change the way I feel and the feelings are real feelings, even if they have been affected by that. The tools that we have at this point to to address things neurologically are so much more sophisticated than they used to be, and yet still so primitive, and so blunt. And so the idea that we can fix everything with the medications and the transcranial magnetic stimulation, and all of the other tools that are at our fingertips is, I mean, it's a ridiculous idea, those things help. It's really great that we have them, as someone who suffers from major depression. I'm pleased that I live now and that I didn't live in the 1930s when perhaps it wouldn't have been possible to do much and I would have been barely functioning. But you know, we've got a million miles yet to go with all of this stuff. And I think it's important to understand that your mind is housed in your body and that your body is determined your bodily experiences, what you make of your body, what you do with your body is all controlled through your mind and to stop with this with this split, which really is is an irrational and naive picture of humanity itself.
I, the point, where I think this becomes crucial is one of my favorite lines in the book where you write crazy people are better friends, when you are crazy. They know how crazy feels. Will you talk about why that is? But also, just the reason why I bring it up is that if it were all neurological, that wouldn't make any sense. So what is it that having crazy friends gives you? And why is it that that plays such a therapeutic role?
Well, look, most people want to have friends who share some of their experience. I don't think one wants exclusively to have friends who share any particular aspect of one's experience. But, you know, I'm gay. And it's important that I have some gay friends. I think if I didn't know any other gay people, it would be difficult to figure out lots of the day to day challenges I face or to have a sense of ease and comfort in my identity. I'm Jewish. And it's important that I know some other Jews, not because I'm deeply observant, and because we're discussing the Talmud, but because we share certain cultural experiences. You know, I'm a person who's lived in both the US and the UK, I have a lot of British friends in New York and a lot of American friends in London, because the sense of displacement is something that we all share in common. And so likewise, you know, I have lots of friends who have never experienced anything like major depression, but I have some who have, and I feel like then when I say, Oh, I'm having, you know, such and such a problem, or even when I just want advice. I mean, I remember, at one point in I think it was 2017, when I was going through a bad period. And of course, your thinking gets quite distorted in that kind of period. And I went to see a very wise friend. And I said, you know, that thing where you just, it's so hard when you get up in the morning to force yourself out of bed? Because I mean, you know, do you have that feeling? I said, you know, that feeling? And she said, No, she said, I had that feeling when I was depressed or not depressed right now, I don't have that feeling. You will not be depressed at some point in the future, you will not have that feeling. I mean, it sounds like pretty simple advice. But it was something I desperately needed to hear then and to think, Oh, right. This is temporary, this is not a permanent and unalterable reality. And so in recognizing that they're just and you know, people can say other people to like and have a conversation and say, Oh, you're kidding. So when you took duloxetine, you found it stimulating? I find it kind of sedating. What did you think and who can say? Well, my therapist said such and such, and I just don't know if I'm comfortable with that. And have people will say, you know, I think a therapist who said that to you is really sending you in the wrong direction. And I wouldn't want to be, it's just the thing that you have in common. I also think that when you're going through a period of any kind of craziness, if you're somewhat bipolar if and I know crazy, is a highly stigmatized word now and possibly politically incorrect. But if you're going through an experience of depression, for example, and you know, you behave a little erratically and sometimes destructively, and there are people who can't deal with that very well. And there are other people who when you say to them afterwards, I'm so sorry that I said such and such in our interaction two weeks ago, but I was just going through a bad time. So yeah, I know, that happens to me too. And that's very relaxing. So it's just helpful to be able to to be able to have people with whom you have all that in common.
I, yeah, I, I'm 53 years old. So being Generation X. I don't feel the same way about words that the younger generation feels, but I like the word crazy. Because if if if someone you know says to me, Oh, you feel this way right now because you're depressed, that weight of permanence that you're alluding to that things are never going to change, that that doesn't go away. But if someone says to me, you think that right now because you're crazy. You think that right now because because you're just broken at the moment, your sense of reality is distorted. Trust me. What you are saying right now is crazy, at least for me, that is more soothing. And moreover, and this this commonality, right, you talked about being Jewish and having Jewish friends and things like that, I guarantee you that if saw at some point of some link linguistic or sociology student or anthropologist, I don't know who it would be, we'll listen to the years and years of why radio, they will, they will notice that when I have Jewish guests, we talk in a different way than when I don't have Jewish guests. And I don't know that most of the listeners will notice that but the Jews will. And when I had Carol Gilligan on, when we talked about her book, in a different voice, the number of people who thought that we were, we had been best friends was shocking when we were actually in a remote interview. And there is that sense of connection that's cultural, that's, that's historical that comes that's regional and all of that sort of stuff. Is there going to sound like Marx here, but is there a community of the depressed? Is there a sense of kinship that you encountered when you talked to the Inuit folks who had been depressed? And the Cambodian folks have been depressed? Is there? I don't want to say fraternity but is there is there a universal community of of the depressed that ignores national, ethnic and cultural boundaries?
Yes, there is, in the same way that there are international communities of all kinds of other things. I mean, I remember when I first started reading about deafness, that American Deaf people would describe going to China and seeing a deaf person in China. And even though their sign languages were totally different, and they couldn't understand one another, they had a great sense of kinship there. And I think it exists in all of these other domains as well. And it certainly exists among people who are depressed. Having said that, I think increasingly, because of the extremely troubling algorithms of social media, there is a process through which people are pushed into the contexts of having depression in common. And often it rather than provide one another recognition and comfort, they egg one another on and there is the phenomenon that I am now working on, of people who, you know, click on something about suicide on tick tock, and then they start getting all this suicide stuff until they think everyone is dying by suicide. And if there are people who have felt marginal in the communities where they live, they find a sense of community with all these other people who are thinking about suicide, and then they end up dying by suicide because it's become so normalized for them. So on the one hand, there is a sense of community that is important and rewarding and thrilling. And on the other hand, there is increasingly a sense of community that is fostered online, and that is extremely dangerous. And I think it's often important for people who are depressed not to disappear into a world of other people who are depressed, it's balanced. I mean, no, some depressed people you can discuss it with but don't make that your whole world.
The community that respects what you're going through, but seeks to de escalate it is probably a lot healthier than the community that revels in it and escalates it and eggs, people on how does your interaction and your writing and journalistic skills and empathy how does that differ when you're dealing with someone who is largely in a universe by themselves and I, what I mean by that is you have a book about Peter Lanza. Adam, Lance's father, Adam, Lance is the person who was was the shooter in new town in Connecticut. And obviously, being the father of a mass killer of children is got to be a brutal experience, but he must be so isolated and he must be so brutalized by the consequences of his life. Is that a fundamentally different experience than say, talking to people who have the shared tragedy of the Khmer Rouge or or something else? Is the depression is the anxiety is the pressure qualitatively different because they are, in a sense, a universe of one as opposed to part of this community.
I wouldn't describe Peter Lanza as depressed I would describe Peter Lanza as full of sorrow. and regret and concern and even sometimes despair. But I don't think that he's depressed per se. And he's also a lovely, lovely man. And this horrible thing effectively happened to him. And as for as for the question of isolation, there are many people who are so isolated, that we don't see them, because nobody does. There are people who write to me, some of them, which already reflects an ability to connect that others may not have. And they have, they wake up in the morning, they eat something in front of the TV, they go to a job at which they spend the whole day interacting with the machine, either because they're factory workers, or because they're in front of a computer all day, they walk home, they pick up some food on the way home, they eat dinner in front of a TV, and they go to bed, and they never interact with another human being at all. I mean, I suppose they have the interaction of paying the clerk at the store they go through, but now there's automated checkout, in a lot of stores, they may not even have that the level of isolation that people live in is utterly shocking. Peter Lanza is a likable person, and he had friends before this happened. And he has friends who have stuck with him, which has not been easy in many ways for them. And he understands the people who didn't feel able to do that. But he's someone who's actually quite capable of connection. And he's someone who, in fact, I ended up admiring a lot. The isolation of people who are depressed and cut off can be extreme. And when I talked about myself, having been fortunate at the time that I was depressed, I was fortunate, among other things, and having father particularly, but also a larger social network of people who were all worried about me and all checking in on me and all supporting me. And I think from the conversation we've had, that as you've negotiated depression, that you've had that too, and that's a great and lovely thing to have. And lots of people don't have that. And so the process of dealing with dealing with isolation is enormous. And isolation, of course, is both the cause and the consequence of depression.
I'm not sure how to ask this question, because if I asked it wrong, it's going to reduce things to caricature. And I don't want to do that. It is absolutely true that I have had a community of people who have been Ultra supportive, most of the people that I've been able to do that with have been women, because I live in a largely heterosexual context. And I'm now in a very conservative state, and masculine emotions are still really really frowned upon. So if I, if I express these things to female friends, they will, I'm a very emotional person. Very, lots of reasons for this, but I can have serious emotional conversations with them and talk about my feelings. But if I mentioned this to my male friends, they will take me out cyclic, they'll want to do something with me, and never asked me about it. To what extent and again, this is the way that I'm I'm I'm not sure how to ask this question. To what extent does that context change for you? Because you're a gay man? To what extent does the gender norms that, that we're now fiddling with on a cultural worldwide stage, change the way that people can talk about their emotions and their depression? And to what extent does it become a normal part of conversation for your friend group as a whole? Or you have to be very selective in ways that are distinct from people who've been depressed or not? Are there similar patterns for you that I've experienced, that there are certain groups or demographics I should say, that are open to emotional conversation and have empathy and have sympathy and have a sophisticated emotional vocabulary and people who just don't have it?
Well, at the risk of broadly and repulsively overgeneralizing
that I take blame for that so
but I think you know, my closest friends are mostly not exclusively by any means, but are mostly women, and then to a slightly lesser degree, gay man. Because I do find that those are demographics within which these conversations are easier to have. But I am struck by the fact that many of those men who wants to take you cycling, have probably experienced the same things that you have, and probably didn't know what to do themselves except go cycling. And that that paralysis, which is endemic to so much of modern masculinity is really a grave disadvantage and a point of tremendous suffering for people. And I've often told the story of being at a conference years and years ago, in fact, I think it's in the book in England, and on the first day of the conference, it was a weekend long thing. And the one that this woman took me aside, and she talked about her depression, and so on and so forth, and said she was on medication. And she said, but I've never discussed it with my husband, she said, because, you know, he's just not the kind of guy who could deal with any of this. And I said, and she said, and he's here at this conference, and please don't say anything to him. So I said, No, I won't. So on Sunday of the conference, her husband took me aside and told me about his problems, and that he was taking medication, and then said, but please don't say anything to my wife, because I didn't think she'd respect me as a guy if she knew. And I thought, okay, these two people are hiding the same medication in different places in the same bedroom. Possibly communication in their marriage is a little bit of an issue. But, um, but I thought, It's just a shame that we have this image of men feeling like they can't talk about what they're experiencing, which is strengthened by the experience of women, or others, who perceived them equally as unable to do it, and which results often in there being in fact, unable to do it. So, you know, I think it's, I think it's really, it's really great that you have these women you can talk to, it's really too bad that those men don't feel safe enough to be able to talk about what they're feeling, because a lot of them are feeling what you're feeling and their inability to talk about it going back to the earlier discussion about naming makes it worse.
It's really interesting, because again, you've sort of you've taught me something and the sense of of giving a disservice to the men, because the men I know who need to talk about emotions will come to me and talk to me about them, because I am who I am. But if I need to talk to him about emotions, I usually can't talk to them. And I'll go talk to the women. And I suppose it's something that I could push more aggressively myself, that if I talk about my own emotions to them, they'll be able to respond in a way that maybe I'm not giving them credit for. It reminds me of a story that a friend who's a therapist told me, he was a couple's counselor, and he said that he had this couple who was complaining about being in a sexless marriage. And when they had separate sessions, the husband said, I initiate sex, and she seems interested in so I go and take a shower to clean myself up. And by the time I get back, she's asleep. And he said, and then she says, I initiate sex, he goes and takes a shower. And that they, they both wanted exactly the same thing. But they were, they interpreted their affirmation their ascent as descent, and that that communication was ultimately destructive. Now, we have to close and this is an unfair question, because it's going to put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. But you have this massive body of work, and you have incredible stuff on geographical locations that are in transitions. You have books of parents, and exceptional children, you have a novel, you have all these different things. And all of that stuff deserves focus in and on itself. But the question I want to ask to conclude this conversation is when you engage in those projects, is it possible to leave the lens of depression aside? Can you say I'm not talking about depression right now? I'm talking about something else, or is it something that you always see even if you choose not to focus on it? It's always present like an aura or or a fish or that once you see what once you've worked on such a profound issue such as this, it's just ever present and you have to choose consciously. To put that aside.
It took me a long time to figure out what united the topics I address. And I finally realized that it was resilience. And my interest in resilience is in many ways based in my ability to, despite having depression. So at that level, the whole way I approach things has come out of my own experiences, I think the way anyone approaches things comes out of their experience. You know, if I'm writing about the rebirth of the arts in Kabul, I'm not really focused on mental health, and how its unfolding in that context. But I'm focused on people who have suffered mightily and how they have managed to find meaning in that suffering, rather than finding only desperation in it. So at that level, yes, the depression is always there, but in indirect rather than always direct ways.
Well, I hope that you will come back and we could just have an episode called resilience because as as we had an email exchange about before the show, there's so much more than I want to talk to you about. But in conclusion, given all of the people you've talked to, and given all the conversations you've had, and the research you've done, is there something else that needs to be said, that I haven't yet created a space for? Is there something else that you think the listeners need to hear? Before we call it a day? Well, I
would say only this week, that a lot of the time people experience a depression and think that if they don't acknowledge it to other people or to themselves, that it won't be real. And that if they do acknowledge it, that acknowledgement is a form of weakness. Most people who have been depressed will be depressed. Again, if you've incorporated your experience of depression into a coherent life narrative, then when you are depressed, again, you may be miserable. But you'll think, Oh, it's this thing. It's part of my life, it's part of who I am, I guess I'll get through it. And on to the next thing, if you will try to push the depression away from your consciousness, then when it comes to the next time, it will be a total shock all over again. And you will be right back where you were the first time. So my last bit of advice, I suppose, is, when you are in the worst of the Depression, you have sort of no choice in what you're thinking. But when you're feeling better, try to look back on it and figure out where it came from, how you got through it, what it was like, what the things are, that were meaningful or not meaningful, and prepare yourself for the fact that it's a cyclical condition, and that, that wanting to forget about it, is the thing that will actually make you more vulnerable rather than less vulnerable.
Well, that is tremendously important. And certainly, my own experience. speaks to that as well. Andrew, this has been a tremendous conversation. I've learned so much from the book, and I've learned so much from our conversation today. I'm sure I can speak for the audience and say the same thing. This has been a tremendous gift. So thank you, my whole heart. Thank you for joining us on why.
Well, thank you. They've been wonderful, interesting, stimulating questions. So I've learned a lot both from what you've asked, and from the ways that you made me think you must be a fantastic teacher in that regard. Well, I'm grateful.
Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Um, you have been listening to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, Jack Russell Weinstein. We're talking with Andrew Solomon about the philosophy of depression and I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, Jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking with Andrew Solomon, about depression, about its history, the experience of it, the World Wide invisibility of people who are depressed. And towards the very end, he, in his advice, he said something that I think was tremendously important. He said, If we don't acknowledge it, if we think we can just put it aside, it'll only get worse. This has absolutely been my experience. And in fact, one of the most powerful moments was in a conversation that I had with my students. A student of mine, RJ had said to me, this was, I guess, about a year ago, I walked into class, and he said, You seem really down this semester, are you okay? And he said this in front of the class, and I had to make this decision. And I trust my students, and my students trust me, and I just said,
That's very sweet of you to observe it. And you're right. And I've been struggling with depression. And I told them a little bit about it. And they were silent and attentive. And they were so grateful. And they told me afterwards, and I got emails, and they were just so appreciative that I talked about my struggles, just like during the pandemic, when I told my students that being on Zoom was incredibly hard for me because they thought it was just hard for them. And all of this is to save it publicly, acknowledging your depression can be a strength, it's scary. It's it makes you feel more vulnerable. But it's how you get help. If you deal with this on your own. You are at a disadvantage. If you can't get therapy, if you can't get medication, at least talk to somebody reach out to me if you're in a crisis. We have a relationship, it might feel like one way but we have a relationship. The point is, and the legacy of Andrews book is that there is this rich history and literature and poetry and experience of depression that we can build off of and we can understand and we can think about it intellectually philosophically. There is nothing in this world that we cannot apply philosophy to. The difference between depression and other things, is that when you are depressed, applying philosophy to what you're doing, feels impossible, because you're just trying to breathe, you're just trying to get through it. And philosophy is a discipline for the privileged philosophy is a discipline of leisure. You can't do philosophy. If you're digging a trench to survive. You can't do philosophy. If you're working 80 hours a week. It's just the nature of the beast. So when you're feeling better, look back. When you are feeling worse, reach out. Depression is natural. It's always somewhere and you are not a freak and you are not alone. You are experiencing something that many of us experience on the deepest, most serious level, and Andrew, if nothing else has shown us that there is a rich body of experience and research that we can use to help ourselves heal. With all that said, if you've been listened to this episode on Sunday evening on Prairie Public, please know that a longer version with almost 30 more minutes of discussion is available online and as a podcast. Visit why radio show.org To listen or subscribe for free. For everyone else rate us on iTunes and Spotify to help spread the word about the show. Follow us on all the usual social networks our handle is always at why radio show why radio show and please help us to continue broadcasting by making your tax deductible donation at ye radio show.org Click donate in the upper right hand corner to go to UND alumni donation portal we exist solely on the money you provide. And so that's a wrap. I'm Jack Russell Weinstein signing off for why radio thanks for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life Prairie Public Broadcasting in the University of North Dakota is College of Arts and Sciences and Division of Research and Economic Development. Skip wood is our studio engineer. The music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis Sol. For more of his music, visit jazz flute weinstein.com or mice based.com/mark Weinstein philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the institute, there is no ivory tower