Depression: Self-Consciousness, Pretending, and Guilt

Depression: Self-Consciousness, Pretending, and Guilt

Depression: Self-Consciousness, Pretending, and Guilt

Depression: Self-Consciousness, Pretending, and Guilt

Synopsis

Most studies of depression focus on the psychiatric or medical interpretation of the experience. Sadness and guilt are human experiences, Keen argues, not disease symptoms. They involve the intricate layers of enacting a style for others, of coping with moral crises, and enduring disappointment. Keen maintains that traditional approaches to depression, its social meanings and stigmas, complicate and perhaps even obscure the experiences of sadness and guilt. By highlighting the uniquely human and moral content of depression, he contends that these are trials that must be lived through and survived, not only to transcend depression, but also to successfully cope with its roots.

Excerpt

There is no question that sadness is sometimes a complicated and fluid reaction to a loss—the death of someone close. Sadness is like standing in the waves. It is wet; it is cold. Sometimes it swamps you. Between such times it surrounds you; it slows you down and makes you realize your smallness, your weakness. It detaches you from what seem to be the trivial matters of rearranging your emotions, loyalties, and commitments, and from taking stock of what is left in order to join a future that re-engages the world.

It is probably equally beyond doubt that smaller losses, including seemingly trivial ones, can carry meanings so basic to one's life that it is like mourning a death in the family. Retirement, for example, is only partly a liberation. Once liberated, the emptiness can be more than disorienting; sometimes it is sad.

The recorded history of the human race is peppered with examples of mourning gone awry, and sadness thematizes a retreat into isolation, eccentricity, and madness. The modern period has tried to cope with this human phenomenon by cataloguing the extremes of sadness as a disease. Mourning is permitted, of course, and even elaborately ritualized, but nearly everyone's tolerance for the sadness of others is markedly limited. Most people who mourn feel alone, even in the presence of well-wishing family and friends.

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