This post belongs to a series on depression. In this series, we’ll talk about how we think of depression, what’s scientifically researched, and possible solutions to the widely spread, modern phenomenon. In this part, we’ll focus on values.
Paraphrasing the Quran, scientists worldwide and depressed people themselves;
“Depression is a natural reaction to an unnatural situation.”
Depression is the sensation that you’re stuck. In yourself, in time, in this suffering you constantly feel. When depressed, you can’t seem to get out of your head; everything revolves around your pain; you can’t imagine a future or a meaning; everything seems hopeless and worthless.
The word “depression” is, in many ways, wrong. It could be called “disconnection”, because that’s what depression is about: disconnection from ourselves, from the people around us, and from nature. An anti-depressant isn’t just a small pill you swallow to make everything better. It’s anything and anyone that helps you feel connected to the moment. Most of the time we’re unfortunately not. Constant Wi-fi connection does not count as a valuable connection.
I can’t give you a one-hit-wonder, one-size-fits-all kind of solution. But I can give you this:
Once depression kind of lifts, you start to be able to plan again. Once you can sense a future, you know the cloud is lifting. Once we connect to something in ourselves, in others or in nature again, we immediately feel better.
We don’t need miracles. We just need connections.
Minimalism versus materalism
Materialism and consumerism have told us for decades that we need to buy stuff because we’re worth it. #selflove. This is the apple in the garden of Eden. It’s a lie, and we shouldn’t bite it. (Although we do.)
The environmental implications of materialism, consumer culture and worst of all, fast fashion, are immense and inescapable by now. We need to deal with the landfill on our lands, and in our minds. Advertising keep on telling us what we need to buy to be better human beings. Especially since advertising so cleverly continues to boast the message “I love you for what you are, but I’d love you even more if you bought this product, and come on, you do deserve it”.
Human beings are adaptable; that’s how we’ve survived and flourished as a species. We’re also highly impressionable. Taking in stimuli online numbs our senses and fills our brains with messages we might not be aware of. Like how important it is to be skinny, or how this season’s latest denim cut is the thing to complete your life, or how priceless a pair of sneakers is for a particular image you want to embody. These are called junk values for good reason.
Minimalism challenges yourself to find the aspects of life that you personally value, and to invest more time and effort into these things. It’s a philosophy of living, of urging you to find and hold on to the core of what you find important, and to leave distractions behind.
If you feel photography is important to you, invest in quality gear. If you love to cook, fill your kitchen with fresh ingredients. If fashion is your passion, follow that rainbow. However, you should shed everything that is not unequivocally you.
Everything you do and own should either have a purpose or be valued and loved. That’s minimalism. More often than not, it points us to time with loved ones. It urges us to do more of what gives us meaning.
It helps us build a home and a sense of self that’s worth investing in. And that’s why materialism and junk values should be immediately discarded – because they distract you from what’s really important; yourself, your time, your family and your home. If you’re lucky, they’re all the same.
In the 1960’s, behavioural psychologist Abraham Maslow published his theory of needs. The lowest level needs to be met before the human psyche is able to move on to the next one, and so forth. At the very top is self-actualisation, far away from fulfilled physiological needs and a sense of security.
Although I partly disagree with Maslow’s theory – I believe heartwrenching poetry can be written by the downtrodden, for instance – he has a point behind his pyramid. You need a sense of external security. But a sense of home is very different from an expensive flat in a trendy part of town.
What is home?
The cultural landscape was about to change in Berlin, summer of 2011. In a former bad – truly bad – neighbourhood known as Kotti the rents were rising at an alarming rate. The residents were struggling to stay. They were outcasts, a mixture of gay and trans people, religious conservatives and immigrants.
However, when they were faced with evictions, this unlikely group of people came together and defended their neighbourhood through protests until they finally spurred an extensive package of political reforms that changed the housing conditions in Berlin – permanently.
Not only did they make a societal change. The percentage of depressed and anxious in their neighbourhood plummeted – much like other small societies have extremely low percentages in depression and anxiety.
In Amish communities, depression is almost unheard of. Despite their intensively conservative society, the sense of belonging is strong. Church isn’t a building; it’s held in their homes, rotating and housing one another each week. Issues are talked about; they’re shared.
It isn’t utopia. There are other sides to the coin. Kotti and the Amish are in no way perfect. But when it comes to depression, tight-knit community and simply talking – connecting – with your peers is the most effective way to decrease the quota, no matter how you twist it. When home is a shared environment of belonging, its inhabitants feel better.
When human beings began roaming the African savannah, the only reason they survived was because they worked together. Forming tribes, they found that cooperation was the key to survival. Today, we have Facebook groups and group chats, but unlike our ancestors, the Amish or other small communities, our communication and socialisation are largely taking place online – the very opposite of our natural habitat.
In his 2019 interview with Matt D’Avella, Johann Hari says
“if pornography is the only channel for the sexual instincts, you’ll end up irritated and unhappy, since we’re not meant to masturbate at screens, right? […] The relation between social media and social life is the same between porn and sex. We’re not developed to form relationships either with or through screens.”
Evolutionary biologist Isabel Behncke points out that animals in captivity have shown compulsive behaviours not found in their wild counterparts. Parrots rip out their feathers, horses will sway compulsively, elephants will grind their tusks until they’re bloody. Another common denominator is the loss of mating instincts.
Depressed individuals in social groups of bonobos were found. They’re lowest in the hierarchy; the ones who are beaten and teased by the other members on a daily basis. Behncke’s found that depression in wild animals is a survival technique. They’re waving the proverbial white flag, giving up.
For the first time in two million years’ time, humans are trying to disband their tribes. On the savannah, being alone would surely mean death. Of course we’re anxious and depressed; all our instincts are telling us we’re vulnerable in the worst possible way. And much like other animals in captivity, we’re showing tendencies for (sickly) compulsive behaviour; a constant need of social media, of distractions, of assurance.
We are, too, are throwing up our hands and begging, “please, no more. I give up.”
Our instincts are telling us to look for connections while Western culture urges us to become more individualistic. Depressed we stand at the crossroads of externalisation and internalisation. Should we broadcast our problems and try to talk to people, or should be blame ourselves and search ourselves for answers?
Internalisation is our ego at its best. It tells us that our problems are multitudes, that they’re Goliath to the world’s David. It tells us that you, as a person with some trauma, darkness or chaos inside, is the most important thing in the world and nothing and no one can understand your ego.
Sounds very much like teenage drama, doesn’t it? As adults, who has the time for that? When you think about it, home is the place where you go to rest. To be yourself. To talk about what’s bothering you, and to listen to those around you.
The next step of minimalism would be to discard the sense of self, the sense of ego, and instead think about the group, about the community you live with. What do we love, what do we value? Discarding the ego is a great way of understanding how small our human problems are. We’re just drops in the ocean. Together we can make currents.
If you’ve ever suffered from depression, still do, know someone who does, or just want to feel more connected to yourself and the world, please read “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. Everything I write in this series stems from my personal experiences combined with his immaculate research in that wonderful book. We’re lucky to have such dedicated people as him in our midst. The book is definitely worth your time. Please read it.
You can find his book on his website or check your local bookstore (online shopping emits a lot of carbon, and it’s great to support other businessmen than Jeff Bezos).
If you feel like taking the crash course on reconnection, watch the fascinating interview with Hari by Matt D’Avella. Matt does immaculate work free from ads.
Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged.