Before I get to what Tim had to say in the first two chapters, I want to begin by making sure we’re all on the same page, especially since Tim is going to confuse this issue in very serious ways.
First, there are different kinds of depression. There’s major or clinical depression (which can also be chronic,) mild depression, seasonal affective disorder, and the depression that is a part if bipoloar disorder (as well as others). Tim doesn’t distinguish between any of these, and his reasoning for why he mixes all of these up will become clear once we’re further into the book. However, the book focuses on helping people who have major or clinical depression– but then confuses that with mild, temporary, situational depression.
Second, these are the symptoms that doctors look for in order to diagnose major depression:
- difficulty concentrating, sometimes referred to as a “brain fog”
- feeling worthless, guilty (I refer to this using Captain Awkward’s term “JerkBrain“)
- sleep disturbances (insomnia and/or oversleeping)
- disinterest in things previously considered enjoyable
- appetite changes
- persistent pain, headaches, cramps …
- persistent sadness
- suicidal ideation
However, the only “symptom” that Tim gives any credence to in “The Problem of Depression” is unhappiness. He references several ancient writers who describe things like the disinterest and the feelings of worthlessness, but then spends the rest of the chapter talking about how depression is “universal,” (19) that “everyone will be depressed at some point,” and that our society is “starved for happiness” (20).
This is one of the ways that he conflates serious depression with “a general feeling of being sad and unhappy,” which is infuriating and wrong. Yes, everyone at some point in their lives is going to feel sad for a stretch. Life is full of pain and bad things happen to everyone, and we’re going to feel unhappy about it. That is obvious. That, however is not what major depression is.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who “feel blue sometimes,” but then they are able to snap out of it. Frequently these people say things to me like “just find something you love to do!” or “stop that negative self-talk!” and think that’s all it takes. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that these people have never dealt with paralyzing apathy or JerkBrain. When Handsome asks me a question like “what do you want to do?” it takes a serious amount of effort for me to respond with something besides I don’t care. I have spent many, many days over the last few months staring at a spot on the wall for hours, unable to care about anything enough to drag myself off the sofa.
Then there’s JerkBrain, which is a constant voice in the back of my head that I wish I could shut up, and it is different from negative self-talk. I can control the negative self-talk. I can keep myself from fixating on my cellulite and love handles, I can stop myself when I start thinking things like “I’ll never be as good a writer as so-and-so!” However, none of that changes the overriding belief that I am worthless, and the constant, unending feelings of guilt. My brains’ automatic reaction to all conflict is you are a horrible, disgusting waste of a human being. You are nothing. You deserve nothing.
But Tim is one of those people who think I can just change the way my brain thinks (27) and then I’ll be happy. Right.
Moving on to chapter two, where Tim describes some of the different ways depression manifests itself. Before he gets into that, though, he links having depression to emotional immaturity. He blames people who have depression partly on parents who didn’t let their children cry it out (22-23). He describes it as a form of teaching infants and toddlers to emotionally “walk,” because apparently he knows absolutely nothing about developmental psychology.
But, moving on: he says that people with depression are “exhibitionists”– according to him, we struggle with our depression by throwing an extended temper tantrum (24). This apparently takes many forms, including vandalism, but he then goes on to spend a significant amount of time talking about he can tell how depressed a woman is by how short her skirt is (hint: if she’s wearing a mini skirt, she’s sooooo depressed) Also, he says things like “Studies have indicated” without citing a single one, and that “promiscuous” and “oversexed” women aren’t really interested in sex at all– they just feel insecure. Men aren’t promiscuous or oversexed, though– they have “sexual conquests.”
Another way depressed people can act is by being “clingy.” He gives six examples, five of which he genders as female: talking on the phone too much, continuing to nurture children after her own children have grown, being an ambitious hostess, buying love, or exaggerating illness for attention. The one male example: being a workaholic.
There’s no misogyny here, y’all. Not even a little bit.
My reaction to this description was what in the world is he talking about? The human race is pretty diverse so I’m positive that at some point some depressed person has done one of these things, but I’ve been depressed off and on my whole life and when I’m depressed “let’s throw a huge party!” would never cross my mind in a million years. Neither would talking to anyone for extended periods. Or trying to get attention through faking illness. Those could be unhealthy behaviors depending on why you feel the need to do them (seriously, what is wrong with throwing big parties or enjoying long conversations?), but none of these things are symptoms of depression, or even typical of depressed people.
update 4/22/15: I didn’t realize this was going to be a problem, but I have received multiple comments like this since I posted this on Monday. If you’ve never commented before, I will not publish comments on this series that tell me and my readers about some “cure” for depression. You can share your experiences, but don’t come here promoting some “method” or “system” when you’ve never participated before.