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Sinking In?

Is the Depression becoming internalized?  It may just be a feeling or it may be the people I know, but I’ve been seeing a lot more symptoms of depression in the world around me.  Friends and acquaintances have detached themselves gradually from the hyper-connected world and pushed back on anything not right in front of them.  Some are clearly having trouble coping with even simple things that they used to enjoy.  Calls and e-mails are rarely answered with any kind of consistency or speed.

I wanted to discuss this because if this is true the only way out is old fashioned talking about it.  If it’s not true, I may need a new circle of friends.

There shouldn’t be surprise if people are, in fact, starting to fall apart from the stress of a broken world.  We’re a social species of standing-up chimp that receives a lot of our pleasure and intelligence from simply being with people in a social setting of some kind.  Stress on one person is naturally sent along networks of connections to all of the people around them, creating an epidemic of sorts.

What may be especially difficult is a cultural belief in individualism.  It might seem reasonable that the effects of a Depression would be localized by our beliefs, but instead they are probably amplified.  Individualism means that everything is your fault – and a lack of control over your own world is a personal tragedy.

That’s not to say that many people aren’t trying very hard to stay positive.  During the big wave of Twitter growth about a year ago I read a lot about the “Law of Attraction”.  This neo-pagan belief states that if you send out positive thoughts and energy into the world you naturally attract positive energy your way and achieve good things.  Another popular topic was the idea that you can “opt out of the recession”.  Both of these have faded dramatically as topics lately, a process I would like to try to quantify.  What I can tell you is that one of the cheering optimists still left in my twitstream recently announced he was about to lose his house.

The leading cause of stress induced depression that I see in friends is a growing sense that the world has, in fact, fallen apart around them.  In popular terms this is what is fueling the Tea Party movement, at least among some people.  A major contributor is the feeling that we’ve been consistently lied to by the media, politicians, and businesses about how bad things are – a topic I’ve been waiting to sink in for about 3 years now.  The real problem is the same as the Law of Attraction – many people have been lied to primarily by themselves.

It is probably inevitable that in a culture like ours the Depression would become a kind of epidemic because of our cult-like belief in individualism.   We wind up expressing physically what we cannot say out loud for fear of being called a pessimist or loser.  The wave of depression I’m seeing may simply be the natural end-game of individualism as we came to know it.

Naturally, the rest of you may not see this happening around you.  I’d like to hear what people have seen among their own friends and colleagues.  Is the Depression becoming a personal, physical epidemic?  Tell me about your world.  I’d like to be wrong about this, but if this is in fact happening, well, we need to talk.  All of us.

15 thoughts on “Sinking In?

  1. DEFINATELY, 100% epidemic!

    It seems like all of my friends are going crazy right now. I can’t believe not just how down everyone is but how they are acting it out.

  2. I feel it too, Erik. And it’s become so ingrained in our society now that each story of an individual tragedy just gets blurred and diluted when thrown into the pot with all the others. “Yeah, that’s happening to everyone.” “Oh yeah, that’s this economy, it sucks doesn’t it?” “Join the crowd, you’re not alone.” This isn’t very comforting though, because each individual story is real and painful for the person/family going through it, and no one feels good about having their situation somehow devalued merely because lots of others are going through it too. No one gets excited or really rallies around people anymore when bad fortune befalls them, because there are simply too many of them, and everyone is going through some version of the same thing, even if they are (mercifully) employed. A sense of helplessness pervades, and settles in and casts a depression over everything.

    Combine this with the impersonality of the internet, dilution of of our attention due to the mere vastness of the volume of information thrown at us daily, and the shortening attention span of our population as a result, well… it can really leave one feeling alone and not feeling like sharing. Or, in the alternative, when people don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling, EVEN IF THEY CARE ABOUT THEM, they will tend towards avoiding them, which of course has a negative effect.

    I too bemoan the individualism of our society, but as long as there are tea party activists and the like who will lay their lives down to prevent having to help their fellow Americans out (and they call themselves patriots… ugh… but I digress), I don’t see this changing.

  3. Thanks, it’s good to know it’s not just me. Well, not really, but youknowwhatImean.

    The standard grief cycle includes these stages: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Testing, Acceptance. Anger has been a big hit for a while now. Bargaining doesn’t seem to be in our culture anymore – we’re the kind of people that always pay retail. I think we’re moving right into depression – and I would like to get us to testing and acceptance as quickly as we can.

    That’s what I write about.

    So if this cultural angst is a kind of grief, what died? I think that’s easy – the old ways of doing things in an endless summer of optimism where the US was a great “superpower” that could make everyone, everywhere do what we wanted. That s**t is seriously dead. I say good riddance, but the lack of opportunities for people to be their best is a serious problem.

    What’s the solution? I say the sooner we become honest about the situation the sooner we’ll get over it. We may be early in the long process of cultural acceptance where people think it’s all their own fault, but sooner or later they’ll give in and start working together – because the alternative is to wallow in depression for a long time.

    Restructuring and recovery in the economy is a process, not an event – just like grief. I think we have to internalize it before people are going to be able to accept it. And I think we are doing just that – but it’s not a good place to be, not at all.

  4. Erik, I think you open a very rich and full topic here and many people can surely identify with it. One of the approaches of a group of my friends has been to turn more inward and to focus more on themselves, on their own health, their own family or loved ones, and the things they can control.

    I’m probably in that category myself, having pulled back from my involvement in activities like politics, which I used to enjoy and now find tedious and energy-consuming. At the moment, going for a run or doing a nice, restorative yoga practice are my preferred ways of alleviating feelings of being overwhelmed, and most often those practices are solitary. I do maintain support for these health practices through social media as well though, so there is a network of support from which I have drawn a lot of energy.

    What’s happening among the people I know who are fully employed is that we’re burning out, getting resentful that our employers won’t “fully staff” operations or let us earn vacation but not take it. Managers who used to push work onto us are starting feel a push-back, as we decide that our personal time can no longer be shoved aside when work demands pile up.

    Many coworkers that I know who are “contractors” with my organization receive no benefits and no paid vacation time at all (a state which I endured for over 2 years) and they are probably the most vulnerable in terms of burnout, but they are the least able to speak up about their concerns. Being a temp = being powerless in this economy. Totally replaceable with many other people willing to do your job.

    Oddly enough, I recently returned from Mexico
    City on a work trip and found a tremendous sense of resilience among people who are very poor and should have the most cause for “depression.” Everywhere I went, little food stands were set up, people were selling everything from jewelry to comic books to chewing gum. It was true free enterprise in the sense that I suspect none of them required a license to do business, they simply did what was necessary to get by. Lest we forget, the restructuring of the U.S. economy has had some benefit to poor people around the world, and our state of overindulgence and ennui with our material world is not universal, even to the North American experience.

  5. I’m trying to make myself feel better about my state of perpetual brokeness by asking myself, whenever I feel bad because I want something but can’t afford it, “Did they have this 100 years ago?” and if the answer is no, then I probably don’t need it anyway. I am trying to get back to basics–what’s really important–some food, some shelter, and some love. I am getting more selfish with my time too. Quality of life has become a bigger priority to me, rather than just consume, consume, consume, which I thought made me happy, but really it was only a temporary happy until I had it, and then I was on to the next thing I wanted. I’m stepping out of that ratrace. Instead of going to the mall, I’m going for a walk with my dog, and pulling weeds in my garden and stepping back to admire my work… instead of going out for dinner with a friend, I’ll invite them over for a glass of wine and conversation while petting my cats. Instead of buying new shoes, I’ll take some shoes I no longer wear to a consignment store, put them on consignment, and then buy a pair of used shoes. Repurposing things, using Freecycle.org, farmers markets, there are all sorts of ways to get what you need and then feel good about it instead of feeling crappy because you spent money you didn’t really have or could have been put to better use, say, lowering the principal balance on that high-interest credit card….

    Life has increasingly taken on a get-by-for-today, worry-about-tomorrow-later aspect for me. And I find that I do manage to get through each day, amazingly enough 🙂

  6. Thank you all for some great comments. I hope we get more people involved in what is clearly a very real topic. Where are the guys, however? I’m getting a flashback to my post on gender roles, incomplete as it was.

    Molly, I’ve been living like that for a long time now. I hardly ever buy anything, but I do like to go out once in a while. But your 100 year test is a very good one.

    The great luxury of ennui, as I call it, will probably not be something we can afford much longer. Some of the changes in our culture will have to come from the stories we tell, which is what I’m trying to do with Mythnology. It’s only tangentially related to this topic, but they are all one in the same for me – how do people pass from one era into another?

  7. I work in an industry that is depressed and talk with depressed people who are losing their homes each week. As home sales and home prices decline so does my income. Yet depression isn’t a problem. Maybe a bad day here and there but I can not give into it and will not let anyone or anything drag me down. I try to avoid people who are negative and I don’t believe the world is falling apart . I see opportunity and hope every where . . probably because I search for both. Like Cristy said I think we change our focus during times like this and do what we can for ourselves. We don’t have any control over the job market or the housing market but we do have some control over how we respond to it. Some mornings I literally get out of bed and say to myself today I choose to be happy. Yes it really is a choice.

  8. OK the resident male jerk will now speak/quote. First off I gotta tell you how proud I am lately of some of the improvements in infrastructure. You can now drive between the 2 downtowns without injuring your car or back. You look up and the bridges are being repaired also. Previously you saw all the large infrastructure drainage systems being put in place for the increasing phenomena of large stagnant cloudbursts. This was done partly to help fulfill the law of the cleanwater act. Erik you probably know I drive for metro mobility and lately I haven’t been too talkative but one thing I do ask sometimes of those in wheelchairs or scooters is if they like the new curbcuts. They do, the old ones were too narrow and steep, this was also done to help fulfill the law. As you probably also know lately from our mutual comments on Minnpost I have been pushing the book “Animal Spirits” written by 2 nobel prize winning economists. So here goes (and Hare I’m counting on you to get it published in MNBlOGCABIN) “We see no clear indications that these animal spirits have revived” … “the coherence of our institutions and animal spirits is shattered”..” We need a new egg (i knew you’d like this quote) We have to reinvent our economy”… “It is unfortunate that most economists do not pay notice to the thought patterns that animate peoples’ ideas and feeling”
    Go to it, feel some spontaneous motivation!! And if it makes you feel any worse my family is also struggling a wee bit with health care costs. I’d like to buy a plan for myself with these conditions 1. No resusitation 2. no third trial of chemo or unproven modalities 3. No oxygen 4. no mechanical feeding 5. no 3rd attempt at iv antibiotics.

  9. T: Speaking as one of those who is sure that the world is in fact falling apart, that doesn’t mean that it has to keep doing this forever. I’m sure we will get out of this self-centered craze at some point and start making things better. I think that reality is at the core of a strong optimism, myself. I do worry about some of the people I see on the ‘net, in other words, and hope they can join the effort to bring things ’round. I’d hate to see them be part of the Angry Crowd.

    Also, depression is a biological response. Some of us have a tendency to it whether we like it or not. The economy is one thing, but the past can trigger things when we least expect them to. I find that the things I’ don’t expect are the biggest problem – which is why I’m favor realism strongly.

  10. Erik, and other readers, apologies for only skimming this before commenting, hopefully will have time to return to it with more attention.

    I think you have a point about individualism, but I don’t think individualism itself is a bad thing. No one acts in a vacuum, and we all have an interest in the actions and behaviours of those around us. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of a nation of strong individuals working for both individual and collective goals. I don’t much think a nation of individuals completely subservient to collective goals can accomplish as much, because only a select few individuals would be setting the collective goals, at the expense of the majority of individuals’ liberty to pursue their own goals. (apologies if I misread what you meant regarding individualism).

    I don’t know if I quite agree that the U.S. was in effect pushing others around, although certainly, our foreign policy seems to require making our preferences known. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to true humanitarian crises.

    More relevant to the topic, I do agree that the U.S. appears to be weakened, and this is, and should be a concern to all citizens. Our own government seems to be turning us against each other for political purpose; no sense of national unity can come of it. If you don’t agree with my statement, listen to campaigning politicians using the language of “us and them”, and come up with an alternative as to what national interest it serves.

    If you agree with the policies our government is endeavouring on, perhaps you don’t sense the helplessness of those who strongly disagree with it, directly, but it is certainly going to affect you to the extent that you’re not isolated from those who are feeling it.

    Good topic, Erik.

    Thank you, all.

  11. The “law” of attraction is a load of garbage. I’m in the middle of being evicted from my apartment, not because I haven’t paid the rent, but because German law allows the owner to reclaim it for their own use. It’s called “eigenbedarf”. Apartment leases are effectively month-to-month with notice. Eigenbedarf is the only way that a landlord can kick out a tenant who has been paying rent on time. In my landlady’s case, her husband died about a year ago, and a half-interest in the apartment that he owned to a daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter wanted the money, not to be paid rent by my landlady, so she wants to move into my apartment, which she owned prior to getting married. A series of Americans who rented her apartment have been paying off her mortgage.

    Now, what kind of thoughts could I have had to “attract” that situation to me? I don’t write for soap operas. My situation sounds like a plotline from “All My Children”.

    The surprising thing is how heavily not knowing where I will live a month or so from now weighs on my mind. It’s interesting to KNOW that I am irrational. I have a job and I’m making decent money. The only hard part is getting my stuff to the next place (and finding a landlord who will accept my cat). Landlords in Germany fear big dogs, not spinsters with one cat.

    Being eigendbedarfed out of my apartment is a lot like being forced to watch my home burn. I’m going to be okay, but a lot of people won’t be as lucky. Still, it’s hard to get up and do what I need to do.

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