Here’s the Thing, Mainstream America: Toward Understanding Depression, Situated in Context

I have suffered from depression for over 20 years, since I was a teenager. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to recall a time when my perceptions were not colored by depression. Medication and a successful marriage have helped; meditation has helped, although I currently view it as a sort of opiate. I feel the need to situate my depression in the context of the larger culture. I feel that its roots are not simply personal and biological–although my brain predisposes me to depression, it seems reasonable to me that social factors are responsible as well.

We live in a society that puts a premium on activity and minimizes rest and reflection. My constitution is such that I need more rest and reflection than the average person. I am highly introspective, highly creative, highly intuitive, and highly receptive to sense impressions. These are all positive qualities, but in a society that puts a premium on activity and business, they become liabilities. Situated in the context of culture, my assets become liabilities.

Without silence, I wither. Media stimulation such as television, music, radio, even reading, consumes me. I need silence in order to concentrate on reading. Television commands my attention. Music is similar. While I can process conversation and media stimulation at the same time, it takes a concentrated effort.

I know that I am not alone in these qualities. They are the qualities of introverts, and research suggests that anywhere from a third to almost half of the American population is introverted. As an introvert, I spend more time thinking and analyzing than an extrovert. I am a critical thinker, and when I look deeply at American society, I am disturbed. I see an economics of exploitation, I see systemic racism, I see ignorance that fuels war. And I tend to ruminate on these issues, and ruminative thinking has been linked to depression.

I need to look at these issues; they are close to my heart. But they are deep and seemingly intractable, and there is little that an individual can do about them; yet to throw up my hands and turn away seems a betrayal of morals and of my heart. To analyze these issues can fuel a sense of injustice and begin a cycle of rumination; I need to act, but how? Writing is the best answer I have.

But here’s the thing, Mainstream America: you brag about justice and freedom while prosecuting wars and criminalizing poverty. You drive and consume and play the stock market and hypnotize yourself with the vanity of TV. You hold up your Constitution and Declaration of Independence while violating human rights and demanding dependence. I see that. Seeing that, I feel angry. Living within that collective poverty of soul, I ruminate. Navigating an economics of consumption for survival, I become depressed.

So it’s not me, Mainstream America. It’s you. It’s hypocrisy and usury. It’s your parasitic obesity that I see in the mirror, and that, yes, is very fucking depressing. I cannot escape your image, as I was created in it. I was born into this culture of high rhetoric and low practices regarding freedom. And I don’t feel free. I feel emotionally constrained within the walls of your mass media. I feel physically restrained by your profit-seeking. I feel ill, force-fed your consumer economy. I feel intellectually stunted by your non-participatory version of democracy. And I don’t know what to do, which is how you like me. I don’t know what to do, but I’m learning.

I, too, am working on getting free. I’m a middle-aged white man, and I, too, have been cheated of my freedom. It’s not obvious to you, Mainstream America. It’s not obvious to you, Extroverted Ideal Male. It’s not obvious, but my alienation is real.

I don’t know what to do, but I do know that love and anger can exist together, because they are both within me. I love many things: the sky on a clear night with all the stars showing me the infinite nature that is within each of us; the innocence of children, the wonder of youth; the wellspring of goodness that resides within the human heart and compels us toward justice. And it is because of love, because of a need for justice, because I believe we are all entitled to human rights, that we deserve to live and thrive as individuals and as a collective–because of love, I feel anger. When I see injustice, I feel anger. When I see selfishness, greed, I feel anger. When I watch my country do the exact opposite of what it professes that it does, when I see it suppress freedom and advocate profit over people, when I’ve watched it deliver death to foreign populations in the name of freedom and liberty since I was a teenager, I feel angry.

I don’t want to be depressed. I shouldn’t; I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In order to heal this depression, I need to face this anger. I need to use it to construct something better than what I’ve been offered. This anger is a face of love; I know that now, and knowing that, I can move forward.


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