The most popular psychological theory about depression these days is the cognitive-behavioral model, which views depression as distorting our perception of reality, making our thoughts abnormally negative. This model, the basis for cognitive-behavioral therapy, is contradicted by another theory that has a growing amount of clinical evidence behind it: the depressive realism hypothesis. This theory argues that depressed people aren’t depressed because they distort reality; they’re depressed because they see reality more clearly than other people do.
Nassir Ghaemi, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, New York, 2011, p. 11
[A]ny company, any employment whatever, he preferred to being alone. The great business of his life (he said) was to escape from himself.
James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London, 1791, vol. 1, pp. 167-168
I have just read your letter over again, and am grieved afresh at your melancholy tone about yourself. You ask why I am quiet, while you are so restless. Partly from the original constitution of things, I suppose; partly because I am less quiet than you suppose; only I once heard a proverb about a man consuming his own smoke, and I do so particularly in your presence because you, being so much more turbid, produce a reaction in me; partly because I am a few years older than you, and have not solved, but grown callous (I hear your sneer) to, many of the problems that now torture you. The chief reason is the original constitution of things, which generated me with fewer sympathies and wants than you, and also perhaps with a certain tranquil confidence in the right ordering of the Whole, which makes me indifferent in some circumstances where you would fret. Yours the nobler, mine the happier part! I think, too, that much of your uneasiness comes from that to which you allude in your letter your oscillatoriness, and your regarding each oscillation as something final as long as it lasts. There is nothing more certain than that every man’s life (except perhaps Harry Quincy’s) is a line that continuously oscillates on every side of its direction; and if you would be more confident that any state of tension you may at any time find yourself in will inevitably relieve itself, sooner or later, you would spare yourself much anxiety. I myself have felt in the last six months more and more certain that each man s constitution limits him to a certain amount of emotion and action, and that, if he insists on going under a higher pressure than normal for three months, for instance, he will pay for it by passing the next three months below par. So the best way is to keep moving steadily and regularly, as your mind becomes thus deliciously appeased (as you imagine mine to be; ah! Tom, what damned fools we are!). If you feel below par now, don t think your life is deserting you forever. You are just as sure to be up again as you are, when elated, sure to be down again. Six months, or any given cycle of time, is sure to see you produce a certain amount, and your fretful anxiety when in a stagnant mood is frivolous. The good time will come again, as it has come; and go too. I think we ought to be independent of our moods, look on them as external, for they come to us unbidden, and feel if possible neither elated nor depressed, but keep our eyes upon our work and, if we have done the best we could in that given condition, be satisfied.
William James, letter to Thomas Ward, June 8, 1866
My more specific purpose in consulting Dr. Gold was to obtain help through pharmacology-though this too was, alas, a chimera for a bottomed out victim such as I had become.
He asked me if I was suicidal, and I reluctantly told him yes. I did not particularize–since there seemed no need to–did not tell him that in truth many of the artifacts of my house had become potential devices for my own destruction: the attic rafters (and an outside maple or two) a means to hang myself, the garage a place to inhale carbon monoxide, the bathtub a vessel to receive the flow from my opened arteries. The kitchen knives in their drawers had but one purpose for me. Death by heart attack seemed particularly inviting, absolving me as it would of active responsibility, and I had toyed with the idea of self-induced pneumonia –a long, frigid, shirt-sleeved hike through the rainy woods. Nor had I overlooked an ostensible accident, a la Randall Jarrell, by walking in front of a truck on the highway nearby. These thoughts may seem outlandishly macabre–a strained joke–but they are genuine. They are doubtless especially repugnant to healthy Americans, with their faith in self improvement. Yet in truth such hideous fantasies, which cause well people to shudder, are to the deeply depressed mind what lascivious daydreams are to persons of robust sexuality.
William Styron, Darkness Visible: a Memoir of Madness, New York, 1990, p. 53
Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self–to the mediating intellect–as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode, although the gloom, “the blues” which people go through occasionally and associate with the general hassle of everyday existence are of such prevalence that they do give many individuals a hint of the illness in its catastrophic form.
William Styron, Darkness Visible: a Memoir of Madness, New York, 1990, p. 7
One day of grief is an hundred years, as Cardan observes: ‘Tis carnificina hominum, angor animi, as well saith Aretrus, a plague of the soul, the cramp and convulsion of the soul, an epitome of hell, and if there be a hell upon earth, it is to be found in a melancholy man’s heart.
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, London, 1621, part. 1, sect. 3, memb. 1
Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it.
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, New York, 1995, p. 6
The depression stayed with me for over a year; it was like an animal, a well-defined, spatially localizable thing. I would wake up, open my eyes, listen –Is it here or isn’t? No sign of it. Perhaps it’s asleep. Perhaps it will leave me alone today. Carefully, very carefully, I get out of bed. All is quiet. I go to the kitchen, start breakfast. Not a sound. TV -Good Morning America-, David What’s-his-name, a guy I can’t stand. I eat and watch the guests. Slowly the food fills my stomach and gives me strength. Now a quick excursion to the bathroom, and out for my morning walk -and here she is, my faithful depression: “Did you think you could leave without me?”
Paul Feyerabend, Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend, Chicago, 1995, p. 147