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Depression: Beginning a Way Through

I woke up this morning thinking about how the opposite of depression is not happiness, but confidence or competence. Both, really. Depression is essentially a trapped-ness. An imprisonment. Feeling incapable (for whatever reason) of changing the circumstances of our lives. KNOWING--GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE--that we are never trapped and always have choices (confidence) and becoming capable of affecting some type of change (competence) is the beginning of a way out.

There are times when the only part of our circumstance we are able to change is our own internal state. Being diagnosed with an illness. A physical limitation or disability. Often life hands us circumstances that we would give anything to hand back. Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, experienced literal imprisonment in a concentration camp during WWII. Having lost his family, and incapable of changing his physical circumstances, Frankl wrote this: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

I suppose happiness is the end we all seek. A means unto itself, as Aristotle said. (Good article on this: Aristotle on Happiness/ Psychology Today/ Aristotle saw the way to happiness as being engaged in meaningful pursuit. This, too, is a choosing.

There is a fabulous scene in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath where Tom Joad (the principal character) and his brother walk into a garage in hopes of finding a car part. They are met by a miserable one-eyed mechanic. The mechanic's empty eye socket is uncovered and trembly. The man is filthy and moaning about the cruelty of his boss--who, in fact, sounds like an awful bully. The mechanic, at every turn, laments the hopelessness of his situation. Quite suddenly, Joad turns on him. Steinbeck spectacularly pens this interchange:

"Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An' ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus' askin' for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. 'Course ya can't get no woman with that empty eye flapping' aroun'. Put somepin over it an' wash ya face..."

"I tell ya, a one-eye' fella got a hard row," the man said. "Can't see stuff the way other fellas can. Can't see how far off a thin' is. Ever'things jus' flat."

Tom said, "Ya full a crap. Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time. Think she was takin' two-bits in a alley? No, by God! She's getting half a dollar extra. She says, 'How many one-legged women you slep' with? None!' she says. 'O.K.,' she says. 'You got somepin pretty special here, an' it's gonna cos' ya half a buck extry.' An' by God, she was getting 'em, too, an' the fellas comin' out thinkin' they're pretty lucky. She says she's good luck. An' I knowed a hump-back...Make his whole living' lettin' folks rub his hump for luck. Jesus Christ, an' all you got is one eye gone."

The man said stumblingly, "Well, Jesus, ya see somebody edge away from ya, an' it gets into ya."

"Cover it up then, goddamn it. Ya stickin' it out like a cow's ass. Ya like to feel sorry for yaself. There ain't nothin the matter with you. Buy yaself some white pants..."

The one-eyed man said softly, "Think---somebody'd like--me?"

"Why, sure," said Tom. "Tell 'em ya dong's growed sence you los' your eye."...

(Mechanic). "...Where d'ya think a fella could get one a them black patches one-eye' fellas wear?"

Joad's words may seem harsh but there is both truth AND a turn in that exchange. From resignation and despair (an inability to choose) to hope. We can choose. Climbing out of depression means latching on to that idea. Having it become our life raft. Find the next thing you need to do--buy an eye patch or have an honest conversation or open your own bank account or go outside and take a walk. One step at a time. Let in hope. Confidence. Competence. Let them grow. Scour the landscape for what breathes meaning for you. Then plot a step in that direction. Get up. Buy an eye patch. Keep going.

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