How to fight depression
By Carmine Gorga
Depression is much in the news these days.
It has been said that Robin Williams committed suicide because he suffered from depression. I have not read everything that was possible to read about this sad suicide. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I am not an expert on depression. Still I am moved to make a few comments that I hope will be helpful to some people. I am only interested in what can be done to prevent and to cure depression.
I assume that depression is like an abyss, the abyss of the self. I also assume that the reasons for falling into this abyss are as infinite as the paths that lead to it. I have nothing to say on the complex process of reasons and paths that leads one into the abyss, except to note that it starts from a very laudable pre-Socratic premise: know thyself, which in its more complex philosophical formulation is rendered as “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
All I know is that, by ourselves, we are nothing. We live in a web of relationships. As for the self-made man myth, I like John Bright's pithy retort: "He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
The reality is that each one of us lives in a set of mutual rights and responsibilities in relation to every other entity with which we come in contact.
The point is this: You will never know yourself, if you just look at yourself. You have to set yourself in relation to others. And then you have to be very careful about the reasons why you want to know more about yourself. Watch out if you attempt to look at yourself as you assume others see you. Watch out if you start despising yourself; or if you have too big a conception of yourself.
I was not surprised by many people’s acceptance of Robin Williams’ suicide. Their goodness leads them to that judgment. But I was surprised by some people’s condemnation of those who condemned this suicide.
They are people who assume the case is closed and deter further investigation of the matter.
Let me start from the beginning. The first brutal realization must be this: Suicide is murder.
By the same token, I believe that euthanasia is suicide. Suicide seems to be the recommended way out of depression and pain that might accompany old age. The worst of all considerations is this: The deeper, unspoken justification for euthanasia resides in economics.
No. I do not believe in an absolute prohibition against murder. I can conceive of a few cases where murder is inevitable and beneficial. A classic case is the blessing that the noted theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, gave to the decision to kill Hitler. This sanction cannot be classified as an immoral act. The attempted murder of Hitler was fully justified.
It is long ago that I read of tyrannicide in political science; I never read anything about it in moral theology. If memory serves, political science condones such an act. Is not a moral act to stand up to a bully? Especially if other people are at the mercy of the bully. Especially if you pay with your life for your moral act, as Bonhoeffer did.
I shuddered at the news of Robin Williams' death as I have rarely shuddered at such news. I felt a huge amount of pity for the man. I felt a debt of gratitude for his life, gratitude I never had a chance to express, of course—and I will never, ever, have a chance to express to him personally now.
Death is so definitive. I am also very much concerned with all those who are left behind. Are they going to feel guilty all the time, from now on, when they cannot do anything anymore about it?
Those in a way are easy issues.
My questions were: What did Robin Williams miss in life? What did he want from life?
A few days later, I was with a friend who is a shut-in because of his physical ailments. We talked about Robin Williams. My friend said that Robin Williams suffered from the “Poor me” syndrome.
Yesterday, enjoying the Toblerone that he gave me to bring to my wife, it all came together for me. My friend has not just the courage to live as a shut-in day-in day-out, he enjoys all “little" things in his life: the Toblerone, the cornichons at lunch, the fresh breeze of the morning, the gentle Queen Ann flowers waving at him in the sun out of his window.
After talking with my friend, Anne Curran, last night, I will have this to add: Of course, one could be born with a predisposition to depression; of course, lack of appreciation of little things is only one among the infinite possible explanations for suicide in depression. But is is one of the most hopeful and useful ones. It is actionable; one can make it operational. Let me explain.
I do not know and I do not wish to know anything personal about Robin Williams’ life. But that, it seems to me, was what was missing in his life, a deep sense of enjoyment of the little pleasures in life. It takes real “fortitude” to enjoy the little things, especially when the big ones do not go quite the way we want them to go.
And then, it occurs to me now as I am thinking about it some more, that he must have missed the “big” thing in life as well: Love. No. Not love as sheer sentimentality. He must have missed real, true love: love for himself, love for his neighbor, and love for God.
Love as an act of the will. Love as a virtue. Love as a theological virtue. Love as a grace that God grants to everyone who is open to receive such grace.
I wish to highlight these thoughts, not to throw mud on Robin Williams' memory, whom I loved and still love, but conceivably to help save the life of those who might be suffering from similar psychological ailments as Robin Williams.
As I say, I know nothing about the state of depression. A state that I assume to be a self-enforced closure to the outside world. I am only strongly inclined to say: Whether the chemical imbalance that is diagnosed as depression is caused by internal or external factors, do not use drugs that make people lose control over their mental faculties.
Of this I am fairly sure. I suspect the medicine for coming out of depression is the same as the medicine for not falling into depression: a strong dose of love.
I am not saying it is easy to love or to allow others to love us. It is not easy at all. In fact, that must be the very depth of depression: one’s total closure to love from others.
But why is to love and to be loved the most difficult thing to do for certain people? A burst of enlightenment came after probing this question intensely. The reason is that to love and to allow others to love us we have to submit our will to their needs.
Mr. Gorga would like to acknowledge the invaluable editorial assistance received from Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise.
Carmine Gorga, a former Fulbright Scholar, is president of The Somist Institute, a research organization in Gloucester, Mass. Through A Case for God, To My Polis, The Economic Process, and numerous publications in economic theory and policy, he is transforming our major fields of study from linear to a set of relational disciplines. Dr. Gorga blogs at www.a-new-economic-atlas.com and www.modern-moral-meditations.blogspot.com.