I like to write about depression. People everywhere seem to see depression as this immensely horrific but treatable sickness, the “modern plague”, when the truth is, at least for me, is that’s not so much an actual illness as a natural reaction to an unhappy situation or state affairs. The way I see it, it’s not a sickness the way, say, cancer is an illness. Cancer is caused by cells multiplying out of control, and is therefore something out of the control of the person who is suffering from it. It requires extensive chemotherapy, trips to the doctors, medicines, pills and therapy; your body is essentially self-destructing.
Depression, on the other hand, if it’s root causes are fixed, as they often aren’t, is not life-threatening. Like cancer, depression happens for a reason, but unlike cancer, the reason is often not beyond the person’s control (or at least not entirely), which is why I don’t think of it as an actual “sickness”, and should not be treated as such, with pills and so forth. Anti-depressants do little more than poison your body with chemicals concocted by very rich pharmaceutical companies. In the past, I took some for several months, and they had a negligible effect beyond that of an ordinary placebo. Then, halfway through the year, when I accidentally bit a green capsule in half, and tasted the white powder inside it, the chemical bitterness and wrongness of it, sitting there in my mouth, coating my tongue, was so great I immediately spat it out into the sink, wiped my lips, and vowed to ingest any again, and to instead get at the root cause of the depression. It was my brain, after all, and I was no idiot.
Again, I repeat: depression, in almost all cases, has a root, emotional cause. If you cut your finger, you will feel pain; that is your body’s way of alerting you to the injury. In the same way, when something in your life, emotionally and psychologically, is unhealthy or dangerous, then you will feel pain, you will feel miserable, depression merely being the natural reaction to a threat. Animals get “depressed” if you put them in tiny cages—that’s simply their brains’ way of telling them staying in a cage day in and day out is not healthy. Our society, today, is conducive to depression, because it is one big entire cage. From the moment we are enrolled into the school, until the moment we graduate and find a job, we are herded from spot to spot like sheep.
We live lives divorced from that of our ancestors, who spent most of their time outside, in the sun, focused on obtaining and cooking food, hunting, telling stories, talking to each other, looking after children. Loneliness is one of the key factors behind suicide, and if you just take a look around you, everywhere, there are lonely people; it is lonely on the bus, the train, on the streets; everyone sits in their cars, trapped in their own metal universes; grocery stores are impersonal, therapy rooms; money is the name of the game; with the advent of online shopping, it is even now possible to survive without speaking to a single person or stepping outside of your house. Not to mention the fact that cities are not the best environments for humans to live in. We belong among grass and trees, brooks and rocks; not paved floors, traffic lights, constant rumbling cars and trucks, skyscrapers tall as mountains. We would be much happier gathering nuts and fruit and catching birds for nourishment and spending our spare time indulging in our interests, rather than being forced to work at jobs we hate for forty hours a week as the majority of those in the developed world do today. Society has evolved from tight-knit, cozy tribes into an impersonal and cold capitalist system where humans are seen more as units of production than living beings. The way we live is so warped and distorted that the fact that there aren’t more people who are depressed is what is really surprising.
Would I be depressed and housebound and anxious if I did not live in the city, and instead a small cottage amongst nature, the birds and the trees, amongst a group of people who had my back and cared about me, and spent a portion of my day gathering food? No. And I’ll tell you why. First of all, cities, as I said before, are noisy. Secondly, roads are frightening, especially the very large and long highways. These two things—noise, enormous husks of metal flying headlong down stretches of stone—are not conducive to equanimity, to say the least, for any living creature. The only reason people in cities manage to deal with the noise, clamour and vehicles is because they have become desensitised to it, and I have been unable to do so. In effect, they have desensitised themselves to something their ancestors would have perceived as highly dangerous and threatening—and if the number of car crashes and road accidents that occur all over the world everyday are any indication, they would be right.
Thirdly—and this is something I recently figured out, as I began to take over more of the housework to appease my mother—is that supposedly mindless, physical activities, such as cutting up vegetables or roasting chicken pieces (I shall write another post on the pitfalls of vegetarianism soon) or peeling fruit, are actually very soothing. Not only that, they actually require a certain level of focus and concentration, and helps you focus on your own body, your own movements—both of which, when they occur, prevent any miserable thoughts from entering your head. Add in some sunshine and nice breeze while undertaking these tasks, as our ancestors most likely enjoyed, and it is almost impossible to feel unhappy.
Why is, do you think, that many poorer countries, who spend most of their time gathering water and tending to their crops and animals, are actually happier than rich ones? It’s because they spend their time amongst nature, for one thing, without any of that nasty, noisy city business; but it is also because physical activities, especially ones necessary for survival such as the procurement of food, bring you into the present. Depression is just overthinking, really, and the problem is, the citizens of rich countries, who often have their food prepared for them, and spend their days in front of computers, or thinking, lost inside their own thoughts—and often doing so unhappily, at jobs they dislike—have become disconnected with nature and their bodies. If you take those same depressed people, make them move to the countryside, ask them to pick and catch and cook their own food, out in the sunshine, alongside their friends and family, talking and laughing, spend their evenings gathered around the fireplace eating and telling each other stories, or reading books, and go to sleep with other warm, comforting, breathing bodies lying around them, I guarantee you their depression would evaporate. This, in my opinion, is how humans were meant to live.
Instead, what we have is people going to their jobs and sitting at a desk, inside, not moving for hours on end, then shopping for food in a fluorescent-lit supermarket (the cashier a robot, cold, impersonal, “How are you?” spat out of their mouths like a ticket from a machine), driving their car home (not walking!) and putting what they bought in the microwave or oven, then sitting down and eating it while watching television, or reading a book. After that, they shower, brush their teeth, change into their pyjamas, and go to sleep, alone. On the weekends, they might go out with friends, who often don’t really understand them or truly care about them, and then, again, at the end of the night, return to an empty house, or a pet if they are lucky. This is the life of millions of working, unmarried adults all over the world. And then people wonder why depression is on the rise.
And there’s a reason why love, relationships and marriage don’t prevent depression, even though, theoretically, it should, considering the affection and companionship those things provide. But the problem is two people don’t make a tribe. Two people together, no matter how much they love each other, are still, deep down, two lonely people, two lonely people who have to go to their lonely jobs and grapple with the isolating and difficult task raising a child, a job that becomes infinitely more lonely if the mother is single. Did you know that, in the past, in a tribe, a baby birthed by one woman was taken care of and fussed over by many other women? That way, the mother never struggled or felt alone, and the baby received optimum care. The same could be replicated if the woman’s mother or friends all pitched in to help—but nowadays most women look after their newborns alone, or with their husbands if they are fortunate, so the levels of depression among new mothers (known as “post-partum” depression), especially if they are young, is rising exponentially.
It’s a sorry business, and I don’t see it changing any time soon, as more and more people move to cities, and the world grows increasingly urbanized. To turn cities of people into hundreds and thousands of little tribes is near impossible. What capitalism has created, essentially, is one enormous, highly-efficient, highly-intelligent tribe, only instead of love and loyalty creating the bonds, it’s money—and money is cold and unloving, and leaves us all unhappy. For everyone to become self-sufficient, to live more natural lives, at least in terms of their food needs, for people to build their own houses and use solar panels to fulfill their electricity needs, to allocate their urine and faeces to their gardens to nourish crops instead of wasting water and energy to flush it away to be cleansed and disinfected, would be the best way to work towards a world where people are less dependent on the economic system, and therefore less depressed. In such a scenario, perhaps the many “pointless” jobs that exist nowadays could be eliminated.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon—neither in my future, or anyone else’s. So as a compromise, I am doing my best to spend as little time as possible outside in the toxic environment of the city, and to, on the other end of the scale, spend as much time time in the sunshine—I live in a unit, so there’s a balcony to stand on—and cooking and writing and deflecting as much of my mother’s animosity as I can. Because of my unhealthy home situation, loneliness, and where I live, I will still drown in depression every now and then, and be incapacitated for two or three days a week, but it’s better than doing nothing. If only I could have cat. Now that’s a pipe dream. Beside the fact that I live in a unit, and my mother loathes animals of any kind, it would, in my case, be only an extra mouth to feed. The economic system has wormed its golden tentacles into every facet of existence, I’ll give you that.