Saturday, 21 November 2015

Three ways of being depressed

This is a small and preliminary study, which I supervised as a student project; but the results were very clear and interesting - suggesting that further research along the same lines would be worthwhile:


Nicholas Fulford said...

"A second group would be Hyper-emotional (Hyper-E) who experience strong emotions in both negative and positive directions (e.g. they are emotionally unstable, hyper-responsive, subject to mood swings). "

Wouldn't you think of this as Manic-Depressive / Bipolar?

I tend towards being Hyper-E which is where I expect many who have a creative disposition tend to fall. To be truthful though, I actually appreciate the dark side / minor key side as much or more than the elation / major key side. The dark spaces of deep introspection tends to be where I like to reside. I find a beauty in those places which is more abiding, more grounded, more primary than on the sunnier side. Hence, I am drawn into Mahler and the tragedies of Shakespeare more than the comedies. Give me "King Lear" first, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as a chaser.

I find the extremities of emotion are powerful - perhaps addictive - and I would feel diminished having the same relatively flat experience that "healthy" people experience. As a result, deep sorrow is something which when I feel it, I will feel it fully, and it is in resisting the movement of sorrow that the worst of emotional suffering occurs - in my opinion. That is one of the things I love about Mahler's 10th symphony. It hits me, it carries me through the depths of the composer's struggles with death, and then at the end there is this subtleness of looking back and feeling, "despite everything, all is good, and life is beautiful." I hope that when I approach death I will look back as fondly as is suggested by the end of the last movement. It leaves me crying, but never in a bad way. The key is that the dark space must be infused with meaning for it to have its potency without overwhelming and destroying me. Since I find such depth of meaning within it's crevices I walk out feeling renewed and alive when the tempest draws to a conclusion. It is a silent space that inevitably follows, but one pregnant with meaning. When I write from such a space it is my very best work. To someone who is terrified of the descent, the dark side is a terrifying place. The ego runs away from its worst fears in horror, and the faster it runs the more terrified it becomes, and so the spiral of terror feeds ever deeper upon itself. That to me is hell. In my limited experience it is strongly control oriented personalities which who suffer most when drawn into places where the ego is involuntarily diminished.

The one area in which I will not be happy to walk - if such should confront me - is senility. To lose my mind, to feel my faculties slip is not something to which I would be happily resigned. I am too much a creature of thought as well as emotion, and to lose my grasp would be terrible. It seems to me that it would be like being erased, and knowing it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nicholas - The Hyper-E is more like the personality trait of Neuroticism, or the extreme version of this - variously called Neurotic/ Reactive depression or dysthymia.

True Manic Depressive illness is *not* about mood swings lasting minutes or hours or days; but having episodes lasting *months* each, of both mania and also melancholia/ endogenous depression - traditionally, episodes severe enough to lead to (or require) hospitalization. A manic-depressive might expect to have about 10 of these episodes throughout his life. The diagnosis was found in many societies, but was always very rare - maybe one in a thousand people, or less.

But this traditional defintition of manic depressive illness has been expanded (for drug marketing reasons, and also as a cover up for drug induced pathologies) into 'bipolar disorder' - which is very vaguely defined, much less severe (brief mood changes not requiring hospitalization) and is being daignosed in about one in twenty people - or more.

What you describe for yourself is not an illness, but an unusual but healthy and adaptive type of personality in which drives and emotions are strong. In my forthcoming book on genius, I argue that this is the normal, in a sense necessary, personality for creative achievement.