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In Praise of Depression

April 25, 2013

Depression, Happiness, Health, Poetry

John Keats

I have never understood the American obsession with happiness. It is not happiness that etches us with character but sadness. John Keats (1795-1821), the English poet, understood this. In 1819, suffering from depression, he wrote a poem in praise of it, which he called an Ode on Melancholy.

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

In the first stanza he recommends us not to attempt suicide, not to reject and try and forget our depression, and not to wallow in our own misery, because depression comes as a shadowy presence that can take away our state of anguished alertness, our awareness of the depth of our suffering: “For shade to shade will come too drowsily, and drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.”  Better to be alert and aware of our suffering than be dead and feel nothing at all.

In the second stanza Keats tells us that following the onset of depression, “when the melancholy fit shall fall sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud”, we should try to overwhelm our sorrow with natural beauty.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

He explains his recommendation in the third stanza where he shows that joy and sadness are inextricably linked because of the ephemeral nature of joy. Sadness is present in every joy: “Ay, in the very temple of Delight Veil’d Melancholy has her Sovran shrine”.

She dwells with Beauty–Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

Unlike most therapists and counselors today, Keats is not recommending distraction as a cure for depression, rather he is recommending enjoying depression’s intensity and so by contrast, causing beauty to seem that much more beautiful. While we may not want to experience sadness, to be a trophy on melancholy’s wall, it is essential if we also want to experience real joy. Like many artists Keats used the negative energy from his own depression and channeled it into creativity, writing most of his work while depressed. This is exactly the approach that Tom Wootton recommends in his book The Depression Advantage:

“It was the misery of depression that brought me to the realization that I am mentally ill. The unbearable pain is what helped me to recognize the torture I have done to others. Without the heartache, I would never have learned who I really am, and come to understand the power of acceptance. Without the despair, I would not have had the desire to become a better person…Every great change in my life was precipitated by insights gained during depression. Depression has served the function of changing my life for the better.”

Wootton draws on the experiences of the saints, Teresa of Avila, Anthony, John of the Cross and Francis of Assisi, to show how they also channeled extreme physical and mental pain into blissful states and productive lives.

The current American preoccupation with happiness devoid of sorrow breeds blandness and an ignorance of life’s enduring polarities. I certainly don’t mean to romanticize depression but without sorrow and suffering gnawing at our life and ambushing our hopes and dreams, we cannot hope to become fully formed human beings. As Keats wrote to his brother George, “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?”

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

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84 Comments on “In Praise of Depression”

  1. sally1137 Says:

    Mother Teresa was another person who fought depression. And Winston Churchill called it his “black dog.”

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Sally, thank you for pointing this out. I knew about Winston Churchill’s little black dog, “always faithful, a few steps behind”, but did not know about Mother Teresa’s depression. I’m sure we could come up with many more names of the great who suffered in a similar way.

      Reply

  2. Gary Leigh Says:

    Depression just isn’t very pleasant, but it does give us great insight, should we survive it.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. You are quite correct to point out the dangers of depression as it can certainly lead to madness or suicide.

      Reply

    • Mick Berry Says:

      I myself have been severely depressed. I find nothing about it valuable at all. I am glad to know how to avoid it, and glad that I most do avoid it. And I am living a much more profound life free of depression. When I was severely depressed my values were trite and selfish.

      Reply

  3. Charles Mistretta Says:

    Depression like a fine photograph has many shades of grey that make the subject interesting. Severe depression is black – their is no hint of life, or light to give vision hope. Delusion develops to fill the void.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      And yet there is hope. The point of the post is that from the depth of despair and the most extreme physical and mental pain, some people have managed to produce something positive and extraordinary. Tom Wooton and the saints claims this is replicable. I don’t know.

      Reply

  4. kateshrewsday Says:

    What a lovely post. And I’m in total agreement: the sad times are formative.

    Reply

  5. Dr. Michael Edelstein Says:

    Malcolm, as a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping clients overcome depression, I agree with an important part of your message. Secondary depression–getting depressed about being depressed–is frequently a significant factor in long-term depression. The solution, as I see it, involves accepting depression as a discomfort, even a major discomfort, but hardly as the end of one’s world. Paradoxically, fighting it and desperately attempting to squelch it is likely to make it worse. If you go beyond acceptance and use depression as a spur to joy and insight, as Keats and Wootton have, so much the better.

    However once the secondary depression is banished, if the primary depression still remains it can can be overcome by confronting, challenging, and contradicting the ideas creating it. Just as a rare person would plunge a knife into his leg to experience the “beauty” of feeling deeply and appreciating painlessness, few people would require depression to enhance their lives.

    Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.
    http://www.ThreeMinuteTherapy.com

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      No, but if you had never felt pain you would not appreciate being pain-free. Don’t you sometimes have to lose yourself to find yourself? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending depression but some prophets and hermits (Anthony for example) seem to have done just that, i.e. walked off into the desert to lose themselves in depression, fight their demons and return all the stronger for the experience.

      Reply

      • Mick Berry Says:

        The prophets who walked off into the desert are the ones written about. The ones who did themselves in over depression are never flown like a flag. And if anyone gets over their depression, what’s valuable is getting over it, not adhering to it.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Mick, thank you. So we have some prophets walking of into the desert and returning with insights that enrich the world, and other prophets who walk offf into the desert and disappear for ever. It’s not clear to me that one is more valuable than the other. Again, nobody is recommending depression merely illustrating the point that there might be something positive to be gained from the worst mental states we find ourselves in.

  6. Dapper Dan Says:

    As usual, a very interesting post. I’m not a psychologists but it seems “depression” is usually something deeper than mere hardships or sadness. I think you’re right that these are healthy from time to time and “etches us with character.” Like Job said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”

    Reply

  7. Mick Berry Says:

    My take on it is that people confuse depression with sadness. I have found no value in depression except to get over my whiny self.

    Also, these people are usefully avoiding creating a secondary disturbance: depression about depression. If you value depression, you will most likely avoid abhoring having it and creating the thought “I must not get depressed!” I remember reading Virginia Wolf commenting on the onset of depression before she killed herself, saying it was coming again, and she was going to do herself in before it took hold. This is cleary dreading depression. And her behavior was obiviously senseless, and unequivocally self-destructive.

    If you define them as follows, sadness has value while depression is to be avoided.

    Sadness: Unhappiness based upon perceiving a reality which deprives one of what one loves, likes, wishes for or can’t have.

    Depression: Unhappiness based upon a self-created demand for a sad reality to be other than it is.

    With this distinction, sadness is realistic, depression is bullshit.

    I think there is a big danger in people valuing depression, as depression can be fatal. Likewise, I think there is a great danger in demanding not to get depressed. Accepting ourselves as humans who can fuck up by placing demands upon reality and making it worse, we then avoid escalating our depression, and can then address the primary depression, and eliminate that too…by getting rid of the demand that life must not be painful, difficult, or even possibly painful or difficult in the future.

    I’m open to anyone’s addition to my take on this, as I just put this out there off the cuff. However, I can say that I try to avoid depression at all costs, while also avoiding the demand that “I must not get depressed!”

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Mick, thank you. In general I like the cognitive approach to problems of living although I’m not convinced that depression is ‘self-created’ and can’t see why depression is BS.

      Reply

      • Mick Berry Says:

        I can explain it to you over the phone. Or we can try it here. The reason depression is BS is that it’s a demand that life should not be painful. If we start with the feeling of sadness, there’s nothing unrealistic or BS like about feeling bad. What’s unrealistic and BS is escalating that sadness into a belief that all of life is no good, that happiness is an illusion, that there’s no point in doing anything, and that I can’t possibly be happy if I”m unhappy with a situation. Depression is debilitating. It sucks out our energy and ability to cope. It’s throwing up our hands into giving up and despairing that all of life is nothing but meaningless and devoid of any pleasure at all. It’s important to distinguish between depression and sadness. If someone is sad because their loved one died, there’s nothing unhealthy or unrealistic about that. But if someone concludes that all of life is no good because their loved one died, they will be missing out on much possible happiness in the future after they learn to live with the reality of their loved one dying. Likewise, if I demand that I can’t be happy because I am going to die, that is pure BS. I can be happy in my life even with the knowledge that I am mortal. It’s still possible to be happy. Even greatly happy, without ignoring my ultimate future of non-existence. If I accept that I don’t need to live forever I can deal with my mortality. If I demand that I must not die, that life cannot have an end, then I am going to make myself needlessly and unrealistically upset. Life has an end. Accept it and experience it. Deny it, or demand that it must continue forever and you will drive yourself nuts, because you are going to be butting your head up against reality, adhering to bullshit.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Mick, thank you. I think I understand your position much better now and it makes a great deal of sense. However, I don’t see why it is irrational to conclude that life is no good because a loved one has died? I remember the joint suicide of Arthur Koestler and his wife Cynthia in 1983. He had Parkinson’s and Leukemia and decided he no longer wanted to live and Cynthia did not want to live without him. It seemed to me that Cynthia made a completely rational choice even if it was one that you would not have agreed with.

  8. Tom Wootton Says:

    Thank you for mentioning my work Malcolm. Perhaps this article will help put it in perspective for some of the commenters. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-advantage/201207/how-i-found-ecstasy-in-depression

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Tom, thank you for sharing this. That’s a very powerful personal story.

      Reply

      • Mick Berry Says:

        Hi Malcolm. There was no room to reply to your reply of me, so I’m replying here. I do think it’s irrational to kill yourself if you loved ones dies. Doing so is saying there is no chance of happiness without them. That’s simply not true. Mick

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Well, a large part of the world’s population believes that they will meet their deceased partners again after death so, in this case, their decision to commit suicide might be perfectly rational. You might be arguing that suicide is always irrational but I don’t know how you can defend that argument. For example, if I knew I was going to die in three months, during which time I would experience unbelievable pain and suffering and might also lose the ability to communicate my wishes, I might decide that the most rational course would be to terminate my life now while I had the ability to do so. This decision would have nothing to do with any claim that there was no chance of happiness in the next three months but rather with the value I place on autonomy and my dislike of pain. Finally, what about someone who deliberately sacrifices their life to save others?

  9. Nando Pelusi, PhD Says:

    I agree with much of this, and with my friend Dr. Edelstein, especially when depression is viewed from an evolutionary perspective. The second order depression may be a modern malignant outgrowth. The general term depression can refer to many states, some more injurious than others. Is depression a “protected polymorphism,” that is, selected over time to create involuntarily disruption or our routines, or might it create submission so that we reform alliances, or does it have other advantages, as many claim. I think an intelligent approach flexibly discerns these possibilities. (Full disclosure, I’m a clinical psychologist in NYC.)

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Nando, thank you for this. I was not familiar with the evolutionary explanations for depression. What a fascinating subject! Here’s one possible evolutionary explanation from a reliable source:

      “…depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people—especially young children—not die of infection in the ancestral environment, even if those same behaviors are not helpful in our relationships with other people. So while depression may be maladaptive when it comes to mood and social interactions, the symptoms could be quite adaptive when it comes to keeping a person alive while fighting infection.”

      Reply

  10. laurainman Says:

    I agree that seeking happiness and exalting it is misplaced. I would advocate tranquility– not the heights of happiness or the depths of sadness. I take the poem by Keats to be a warning not to seek to “burst joy’s grape” because that will put you into the shrine of sadness. Keep to the golden mean–moderation that eschews the depths of sadness and the bursts of happines produces the tranqulity that leads to a good life.

    Reply

  11. Susie Stockholm (@Artuitive) Says:

    Such a good point. We’ve set up much societal support for the victim-perpetrator-rescuer psychological model in our society. I remember my mother saying she didn’t have time to be sick and have the vapors – she was too busy. My friend, Alice, who is now 90, was friends with my parents. She told me that they never even heard the word stress. Nor had they ever considered “finding themselves” as women. Enlightening isn’t it?

    Reply

  12. skywanderer Says:

    A very intriguing and thought-provoking post.

    In my view however the value is still on the side of happiness, whereas, there is no value – either spiritual or other – in any form of suffering.

    As far as the American – or Western – obsession with happiness is concerned, in my view the issue is not the pursuit of happiness per se, but the narcissistic -false- definition of happiness (see Ayn Rand) and the consequent lack of compassion in its pursuit.

    Happiness should be the goal but it should be defined in a higher emotional and rational realm – in finding real love, real friendship, real creativity, real social bonding, etc – and in a social context in the first place, rather than in the current narcissistic ways – shallow values, selfish relationships, fetishism, self-absorption, celebrity cult, fame, success, power-hunger, greed, etc. The chase of these values inevitable produce suffering for one self and for many others, including depression. On a social level the same wrong definition of happiness produces wars, and what we have now, a continuing crisis in every sense: economical, political, moral, etc, in fact, existential.

    I devoted my blog to analysing these issues.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m not sure what it would mean to be happy if we didn’t know suffering however I like your ideas on what you think happiness ought to be about. I touched on this subject in another post:

      https://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/there-are-more-important-things-than-happiness/

      I look forward to exploring this issue further on your blog.

      Reply

      • skywanderer Says:

        Thank you so much for your reply.

        I have read the other article you posted the link for. I am very impressed with both posts: excellent insights, vast amount of background knowledge and sublime writing.

        This subject is one of the most difficult one to approach, as your fundamental question also demonstrates: “I’m not sure what it would mean to be happy if we didn’t know suffering.”

        I am aware that the above is a widely accepted notion, yet I doubt its validity.

        It is enough to look at an innocent child – then we know how to be happy without knowing suffering. The child does NOT know suffering, yet she is happy.

        When she starts to know suffering, that is, when she starts hurting some ways is when her happiness and her ability of being happy are starting to diminish.

        I am gratified that you plan to visit my blog, Note, I don’t per se analyse this topic, but look into certain related issues on a more general level, eg, how the narcissistic way of thinking causes suffering in our global “family”.

        Again, thank you for your sharing your knowledge and insights. I am glad I found your blog – I am a new follower. : )

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. Your example of the innocent child got me thinking but I’m not sure it’s valid. Life begins with the traumatic and I assume uncomfortable if not actually painful experience of childbirth. I believe most babies don’t come into the world laughing, but rather crying. A child may be innocent but still know pain, discomfort, hunger and thirst. Lastly, I don’t want to remain innocent and childlike even if meant that I would not know pain and suffering. I want to experience life warts and all.

      • skywanderer Says:

        I very much appreciate this conversation – thank you for sharing with me your insights. My response is not to debate your points; it is more like adding another perspective to this really intriguing topic.

        “Lastly, I don’t want to remain innocent and childlike even if meant that I would not know pain and suffering. I want to experience life warts and all.”

        Then (I think) we may conclude that above is merely a subjective preference, not a universal truth. As for me, I definitely choose to remain innocent and childlike, and would definitely NOT want to know pain and suffering.

        This is my preference in general – not only because I personally experienced a lot of pain and suffering without ever wanting to know these.

        My life would be full and happy without the abuses I suffered from my family and society, without the trauma and depression these abuses have caused, and without the social injustices that prevented me to experience the happiness of fulfilling my talents as a professional, rather than being harassed and subjected to all forms of mistreatments at work.

        As this example shows, suffering and pain in many cases are socially defined.
        There are many millions in a social position where pain, suffering and depression are chosen for them by the others.

        More examples: to put oneself onto the edge isn’t suffering, whereas being forced to live on the edge is. The temporary experience of discomfort, being hungry, etc – either as a child or adult – is not suffering. Suffering is the perception of the future in such term: when you know that your discomfort and hunger will be there forever, when you know you can’t change it, when you know you can’t feed your children or yourself, not because you are lazy or lacking skills, but because society won’t let you.

        These forced experiences of pain, suffering and depression are not marginal and are getting more and more prevailing even in the first world. Approaching suffering from such perspective, one might agree it would be far from trivial to praise it.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          I too appreciate this conversation and your thoughtful and heartfelt comments.

          “As for me, I definitely choose to remain innocent and childlike, and would definitely NOT want to know pain and suffering.”

          Yes, these are just preferences and clearly it is your choice, but in response to another comment on another post I wrote:

          “Do you remember the film, The Truman Show where Truman Burbank lives his entire life in front of cameras for a T.V. show although he is totally unaware of this. Would you want to be Truman Burbank, living a near perfect life, and protected from anything that could harm you including yourself?”

          I suggest that to reply positively to this question is to lose something that goes to the heart of our humanity. You raise good points about institutional injustice and suffering but we are all frail and imperfect beings who can only do so much. Consequently it makes sense to try to manage what is in our control and try to ignore what is not. As the examples in the post illustrate, it is possible to be constructive about even the worst of situations we find ourselves in. By doing so we retain our humanity, our determination to act rather than be acted upon and our ability to choose, however restricted the choices.

  13. chr1 Says:

    Malcolm, thanks for the post. Difficult subject to treat, and you’ve done it well here.

    I read Arthur Schopenhauer in school. I think he went through depression and came out the other side.

    Reply

  14. L. Marie Says:

    Wow. I never thought about enjoying depression. I always found it rather paralyzing. But I love the advice to not wallow in it, but to try to understand it and move through it. I used to write poetry when I was depressed at 19.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. I don’t believe anyone is saying you should enjoy depression in the sense that you would actually choose to be depressed. Rather, the examples in the post show how some people can come to a state of acceptance with respect to their depression and use it in a productive way. It is interesting to hear that you started writing poetry while depressed. Do you believe this was due to what you were feeling while depressed or was it just a stage that you would have passed through anyway?

      Reply

  15. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    I agree that all our emotions have great value and learning for us. They are all equally important and hold great messages to us to move onward and upward to a state of aliveness, living life full on with no filters. I look at emotions merely as energy and sometimes removing the label we give them such as sadness, fear, joy etc they can be transformed into a fuel for living life stronger.

    You might (or not) find this post interesting: Do you have the courage to live

    However, I also think there can be made a distinction between sadness as an emotion and depression as a state of mind/being that can be absolutely paralyzing and the greatest benefit is solely the relief of having survived it…

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Hanne,thank you for these thoughtful comments. Emotions as energy seems similar to Keats using the intensity of his emotions to generate something positive, in his case enhancing the creativity of his poetry and writing.

      Your post was intriguing. I kept feeling I was tottering on the edge of a huge chasm and just when I was about to grab something solid (understanding) to keep my balance the solidity dissolved into nothing. The bottom line is that I’m not sure I understand it but my interpretation is that true happiness does not come from something outside of us that we have to work towards, it comes from something within us that we can all attain at any time if only we have the courage to seize it.

      Lastly, of course there is a big difference between sadness and depression. I believe it is only a few rare people like Keats, Tom Wootton and the saints that can find a type of bliss in even the worst depressive state.

      Reply

      • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

        Maybe what Keats and other artist are able to do is to take themselves out of the equation as having a personal feeling and thereby getting themselves out of the way in order to allow the creative force within them to express what’s ready to be expressed, through them, so they merely become the conduit for the arts? I guess what I’m pointing to is not to take ourselves too serious and making the emotions personal, yet they are as energy for personal use and beyond… It is not surprising artists are often known for being ‘suffering’, since the creative energy is a force that takes tremendous strength and talent to harness and use positively instead of being at the mercy of it. Having said that I’m not sure this state of suffering needs to be present to be able to create… Can we chose our emotions? Possibly, or not…regardless; we can transform them, not to become their victim…

        Ah, the huge chasm, very well described Malcolm. It’s an intriguing place to be, as if the veil lifts just for a very brief moment, expanding with mindblowing speed and everything stands clear as nothing… or something 🙂 before contracting again with the same speed.

        I do understand what you mean by true happiness and I absolutely agree it comes from a source within that runs through us all,even when we lose touch with it by getting lost in the outside world.

        For my part, I’m always a bit careful with the word happiness or true happiness because it can make us believe we are only whole if we are happy, so other states of mind, particular the ‘low ones’ are judged as wrong and makes us feel wrong and incomplete for not being happy and shamefully hide the sadness. A belief that happiness can be attained and kept constant, an illusion that can lead to a lot of depression 😉 Imagine again to remove all labels of personal feelings and seeing it all merely as energy expanding and contracting as the ebb and flow of life and sure flow is a much easier energy to be with wheras ebb is equally important as are the natures different seasons, winter and hibernating comes before spring, something arising out of nothing…I find the word aliveness speaking more ‘pure’ and less loaded with interpretation of what it is, and as I see it, aliveness is to truly feel alive while still allowing and maybe even appreciating all seasons within as a painting with more than just one color, yet still underneath all the colors and images is an everlasting blank canvas, somehow remaining untouched, behind it all.

        Malcolm, thank you again for your inspiring posts, they are a rare treat!

        Reply

  16. A Gripping Life Says:

    Opposition in all things… You are a soulful man Malcolm and I get where you’re coming from. The only problem I have is knowing too much about the different degrees of depression and understanding how our unique coping style comes into play. If one person loses a spouse it may be handled well because they have a wonderful network of family and friends to buoy them up. Yet another person who loses their spouse could have absolutely no one in their life and no resources. The death of the spouse could, for that person, become overwhelming, scary and cause them to feel hopeless, maybe even suicidal. Some people might have a low grade chemical depression that they manage easily through out their life, where others might have an extreme situational depression– how a person deals with depression depends on how they were raised, their coping, their belief system, and those around them, etc.

    I think great things have been born from the torment and pain of depression, I’m thinking of Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allen Poe. I’m not a person prone to any sort of chemical depression but recently I had the frightening experience of losing all of my coping- it vanished. I was at a depth I never would wish on my worst enemy. It did give me a new perspective and deeper compassion for the anguish some suffer with daily. I think at that point it becomes about survival. No judgements can or should be made.

    great post! And I DO get where you were coming from and what you were saying.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Lisa, thank you for these comments. I know this is your field and really appreciate the fact that you went to the trouble to understand what I was trying to say in the post, which I acknowledge, is certainly open to misinterpretation.

      Reply

  17. Stephanie Raffelock Says:

    I think creativity springs from the dark and craggy places in ones heart. Grit makes the pearl. Nicely written.

    Reply

  18. SammyScoops Says:

    I know that it, depression, is something I’ve battled with for as much of my life as I can remember. It’s not that my life was particularly harder than most, or that I feel I’ve had it rough or anything like that; I’m just not typically a rah rah kinda guy.

    Sometimes it’s hard for others to understand, and you get the “snap out of it” response (gotta love that one), but I know that if I could trade all my many moments of sadness for happiness instantly, I wouldn’t because it’s almost like the sadness has become a part of me, its what shapes my humor, guides my acts of compassion, and is more often than not the muse for my creative works.

    My own depression in life has left me of the opinion that I’d do anything in my power to prevent those same feelings, those same struggles in another if it’s in my power to whether thats sharing advice or a lesson my own struggles may have taught me, or offerings someone else a distraction or the comedic relief that is always present when I’m involved.

    In a nutshell, to make that trade would be to deny myself a major part of what’s made me me throughout the course of my life. I would like the emotional depth and empathy I now have; I would feel alien and out of place like I was in a movie or I was a cartoon character, I must be if everything in my life was all rainbows and unicorns.

    I think I’d go bat-shit crazy

    Ive learned to appreciate the lessons that came hardest to come by, or those scars that run deepest; they’re growing pains, rooted in real life experience the likes of which you could never get out of any book or off of any chalkboard. They’re the only lessons in life that have any significance or actually matter because they’re the ones where you discovered your own limits as opposed to those that have been placed upon you by others and they’re only available at the school of hard knocks.

    Over the years I’ve learned how to take it whenever it decides to make and appearance and manage it in a manner that doesn’t ignore its presence, but doesn’t allow it to take control of my life in damaging ways either.

    Really appreciated this post! caught me at the right moment I think!

    It’s not often you get to see a post from this point of view. Making a positive from a negative though, I’m all about it!

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Sammy, thank you. Your comments meant a great deal to me. This is clearly a difficult subject but I thought it was an unusual perspective that was worth writing about, although I did receive some flak in an email off the blog from a professional in the field. You write:

      “I know that if I could trade all my many moments of sadness for happiness instantly, I wouldn’t because it’s almost like the sadness has become a part of me, it’s what shapes my humor, guides my acts of compassion, and is more often than not the muse for my creative works.”

      These are very similar sentiments to those I quoted in the post from Tom Wootton. Initially, I had thought that John Keats, Tom Wootton and the saints were some of only a handful of people that had felt this way about their depression. However, reading your comments I wonder if this attitude is more widespread than that?

      Reply

      • SammyScoops Says:

        Haha, I think it’s for sure outside my pay-grade, but I’m sure it is;

        My short time on this earth has taught me that nothing is ever quite as exclusive or certain as we ever think. I think things are far more likely to be of a more universal in nature especially in regards to human emotion.

        I think the key is just learning to accept and appreciate yourself as yourself for yourself as a whole; flaws, painful memories, and everything else as a whole. When you can do that, it’s easier to turn negatives around by converting them into lessons because you aren’t expecting some unattainable idea of perfection any longer, you’re expecting yourself; enabling you to make the most of any situation or circumstance.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Sammy, thank you. There is much wisdom in your statement that “the key is just learning to accept and appreciate yourself as yourself for yourself as a whole; flaws, painful memories, and everything else as a whole.” I think if we could all do this for ourselves the world would be a much better place.

        • SammyScoops Says:

          Ain’t that the truth

  19. Audra Anderson Says:

    I remember once reading a very powerful sentence about depression basically stating that once one accepts and embraces one’s depression, one is free to explore depression and make it one’s ally for greater creativity, expression and compassion. That statement changed my life forever. Depression no longer dictates my life. On a day that I awaken and feel sad, I embrace the sadness and I know for certain that “this, too, shall pass”, and I find the strength to get through the day and hope for a better one for the next.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Audra. After this post so many people told me that only people who don’t suffer from depression can say anything good about it. It’s good to hear another contrary opinion.

      Reply

  20. swabby429 Says:

    In many cases, observing a depressive episode as a “dark night of the soul” is a helpful perspective for the sufferer. To face it, without indulging it is the slippery chore to undertake.

    Reply

  21. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    Double-like. Excellent quotes. I cannot abide today’s vapid self-help ra ra.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Diana, thank you. I agree abut the “vapid self-help ra ra” although I have to say that I think people like John Keats and Tom Wootton who can find something good in depression are very rare.

      Reply

      • Tom Wootton Says:

        The reason we are rare is because those who do not understand have dominated the conversation and refuse to listen to those who know how. They think it is not possible and ignore the evidence that proves them wrong. It is not so rare amongst our students. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-advantage/2011/02/the-black-swan-of-bipolar-and-depression/

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Tom, thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise here. I am certainly open to being persuaded that I am wrong particularly as I acknowledge that I have no special expertise in this area. It is incredibly difficult to challenge an existing paradigm of thought, particularly with all the vested interests arrayed against you, and people who succeed usually do so after years of isolation and rejection. Consequently I wish you all the best. Your continued success will be the best indication that the paradigm is changing.

  22. Tom Wootton Says:

    When I say the conversation is being dominated by those who do not understand I am not talking about this conversation. This is one of the rare ones where the ability to see depression in a more complete light is discussed.

    I am not saying you are wrong, Malcolm. You are correct that the current paradigm is keeping people from seeing the truth. If you are interested, I can teach you how to see depression in the same way so many others do. Your depressions will change from a horrible thing to endure to a rich and beautiful part of your life, just as beautiful as any other. That is far more important than changing the minds of those who refuse to even consider the possibility.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-advantage/201207/how-i-found-ecstasy-in-depression is about my journey, but what I learned from it made the path for others far easier to navigate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDeLaxIPcc8 will give you the eight essential steps.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Tom, thank you for the continuing conversation. I should add that I have a broad intellectual curiosity as indicated by the breadth of subjects covered in this blog. I am fortunate (maybe you would disagree :-)) in that I have never suffered from depression although I have had plenty of occasions to be very sad.

      Reply

  23. Brett Says:

    An excellent post, Malcolm. I like how you unpack Keats’ Ode. As far as your deeper conclusions go, they reminded me of a quote from Camus’ Preface to “The Wrong Side and the Right Side”: “There can be no love of life without despair of life.” It’s a challenge indeed to consider the roles and tenuous paths of depression.

    Reply

  24. madblog Says:

    There absolutely are “positives” to the experience of depression. Well said.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. It’s a very contentious subject as I found out from communications both on and off the blog at the time, so it’s very valuable to get this kind of validation. Thank you also for the follow.

      Reply

      • madblog Says:

        I know it can be contentious. When I say there is something positive to the experience of depression,it’s like saying there’s something white about black; the intrinsic nature of depression would seem to by definition rule out a positive.
        But I have experienced depression, both as a low-level constant and clinically severe. And I am actually thankful that I have had the experience. I have learned a lot from it and one can gain a real sense of accomplishment by outthinking it….as long as you are able to gain the upper hand.
        There’s depression and there’s depression. By its very nature, it is a time full of pain, discomfort, despair with no answer. There is depression so deep that no one would ever wish to be there, and the sufferer is really unable to find a way out on his own. That’s the danger, and we should always recognize that some victims of depression are truly powerless to help themselves.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          I can see that from personal experience you have come to understand the subject of depression very well. You may want to look through Tom Wootton’s comments as I believe he would disagree with your last sentence.

  25. Aquileana Says:

    Impressive post and I much enjoyed reading your insights and mainly the way you related depression with Keat’s poem!… All my best wishes, Aquileana 😀

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for the wonderful feedback Aquileana and I apologize for the late reply as I’m usually more courteous 🙂 You have a beautiful blog and I look forward to reading your posts.

      Reply

      • Aquileana Says:

        Thanks for those words… They mean a lot to me… And your post here is enlightening, Malcolm… I truly liked it (I retweeted it too)… All the best to you. Aquileana 😀

        Reply

  26. dfolstad58 Says:

    A thought generating post as proved by excellent comments. My view comes from years of kidney failure and dialysis which shaped my life in and perspectives about life. I never exactly give thanks for the dark years before my transplant but I am fully aware that bitter stage was in a sense a gift.

    Reply

  27. Beth Says:

    It’s in the valleys that we grow!

    Reply

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  1. Darknessess Maiden | JuSt me Hibana - April 26, 2013

    […] In Praise of Depression (malcolmscorner.wordpress.com) […]

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