Mapping Depression by Andrew Solomon

Mapping Depression by Andrew Solomon


– I had grown up thinking of
myself as reasonably tough and resilient. And then I went through
a series of traumas. The relationship I was in
came to a crashing end. I had been living here in
the UK and decided I needed to move back to the US. I was grappling the loss
of my mother to cancer. And then I felt that I
had survived those things reasonably well. And then, at some key point,
I began feeling disengaged. I wasn’t so angry or so upset,
but I wasn’t so involved in my own life, and I felt bored a lot. And then, I can remember
everything seeming like a lot of work. I would come home, and
there would be messages on the phone from people who called me. And instead of thinking,
“Oh great, how those people “got in touch.” I’d think so many people
to have to call back. I began feeling like everything
was just so overwhelming. I remember wanting to take a shower. Sometimes I would get up
and get to the bathroom and turn on the water, and
then I couldn’t get in. And sometimes I would
get in, but I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the shampoo. And I knew this was bazaar,
and I knew it was idiotic. And I knew that taking a shower
shouldn’t be so difficult. But it was just all so hard. And then at some point, the anxiety began. And the anxiety was worse
than the depression. The depression was a feeling of deadness, and of nullity. The anxiety was this
feeling of encompassing, gripping terror. I felt frightened the way
I think you would feel frightened if you were a prisoner of war. I was afraid of everything,
I was afraid all the time. It was eating me alive. And it was really at
that point that I began being unable to function at all. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I was afraid to go down the stairs. I was afraid to go back up the stairs. I was lying in bed frozen,
in a real sustained panic. And after that went on for a few weeks, I had to admit it was
time for me to get help. I’ve ultimately been diagnose
as having Bipolar II, which means that I get very
severe clinical depressions, and I get only hypomanias. When, I’m up, I’m quite
an up person and I think, and it’s hard to explain
to people, my underlying personality is pretty upbeat and cheerful. If everything else is neutral,
I have a pretty positive spin on life, and then, it
just begins to come apart. When it comes apart, it
doesn’t initially come apart in my suddenly hating the
world and being really downbeat about everything. It comes apart in my losing energy. You know, this line I’ve used, the opposite of depression is
not happiness, but vitality. And it’s the vitality that drains away. So, it isn’t so much
that I feel like I’m in a state of despair, it’s
just that I think the idea of having to put on two
socks and then two shoes sounds so awful to me. And then, you have this
feeling, this feeling that actually what you’re seeing is real. You think to yourself,
you know, the universe is so vast, and the
earth is a tiny pin prick in the middle of it, and
nothing we do matters. And nothing we say matters,
and we’re all gonna die pretty soon anyway. And I get so overwhelmed
by all of those thoughts, and I just think, why
bother to do anything. And I become very still,
and then, I become very sad. And then, when the anxiety
sets in, it’s when I think, I’d actually like to kill myself. And the difficulty of
depression is two fold. It is an inherently painful condition that entails suffering. You could get rid of all
the stigma in the world, and it would still not
be a pleasant experience to have severe depression. On the other hand, there’s
a lot of difficulty that’s caused by people’s
narrow-minded bigoted attitudes toward depression and
toward the experience of mental illness, and
that needs to be addressed. And some people think that
the best way to get rid of the stigma is to get
rid of all the depression. And some people think you
get rid of all the depression by getting rid of all the stigma. You need to do both. For me, I’m gay, and I
have been in the closet, and when I came out of the
closet in my early 20s, I swore that I was never gonna go back to that situation again, in
which there was a profound, fundamental factor about me
that I was trying to keep from everyone else. That I was afraid people would find out. That I was trying to
disguise every way I could. So, when I got depressed,
I talked about it very immediately, and very openly, out of that shear determination. I don’t know that that
would have been my take if I hadn’t been gay. But I think people use up
so much energy on keeping a secret, it could be so much
better used in getting better. And I thought that while
sometimes it was stressful telling people, and it
was almost impossible when I was at my worst. It’s something I did as
I began to get better. But I also thought it was
such a relief to feel like they all just know, and
they all will understand that if I’m not quite up
to whatever they think I should be up, that there is a reason. And they know what it is. And I can put my energy into getting to be back to functioning as
well as I possibly can. Depression is a disease of loneliness. The deepest feeling you
have in the throws of an acute depression is that
nobody could possibly understand what you’re experiencing. That nobody could possibly
make sense out of it. And that if you told other
people, all you would do is to destroy the friendships around you. If you manage to let in that little window of allowing someone, whoever
it is, into the experience and the loneliness gets a
little bit less pronounced, that helps the depression. It doesn’t make it go away. I mean, you can be surrounded
by people who adore you, and you could try to be
open with them, and then you can go jump off of an office block. But at some level, if
you’re not keeping a secret, if you’re not keeping a
secret, if you act as though you aren’t ashamed of it, you
become less ashamed of it. And if you’re not so
ashamed of it, it’s easier to get better. I am often frustrated to
think that because I wrote a book about depression,
because I’ve spoken about it publicly, that people think
that it’s safely in the past, and that I’ve sort of taken care of it. And that I’m recounting
some ancient history. It’s still there. It’s always there. It’s always threatening to ambush me. Things go slightly awry,
and I begin feeling bad, and I think to myself, am I
upset because of something my brother just said, or am I
plummeting into a depression which my responses are
irrational and carry no weight, and hold no water. And I think to myself, how am I making sense
of my own experience? I take medication, which
has made an enormous difference for me. I’ve tried to go off it,
it has not gone well. I’ve accepted that I’m likely to be on it for the long term. I’m tyrannical about getting enough sleep. I know that when I’m over
tired, I begin to come apart at the edges, and so, even
when there’s a great deal going on, and there
are many demands on me, I protect my sleep time fiercely. I exercise even though my
natural impulse is to lull around the whole time because
I know that exercise makes a huge difference. I’m pretty careful about
alcohol and caffeine. But I think also, I’ve
really activated a network of friends and family who
know that I get depressed, who know what it looks like,
and who will not be shocked or disappointed when it comes up again. There are plenty of people
I know who’ve read my book. But if I said to them, “You
know what, I’m actually “in a really bad depression,”
they would said, “Oh, I thought you were on top of that. “And what do you mean, and
how could that be happening?” If some people will just say,
“So, what do you need now?” What I need mostly is just
to know that they’re there. And when I’m in a depression, I don’t allow myself to isolate. There’s an impulse to be alone. And I know it’s a dangerous one. I’m not out on any sort
of raging party circuit. I keep my husband near me,
I keep my children near me, I keep my father near me,
even now that he’s almost 90. And I have a circle of
friends who I feel are there, and they can come and
sit there, and remind me all the time, that the
outer boundaries of my life are not only my own consciousness,
but the consciousness of other people. My magic formula is to try
always to do as much as I can do and not to push myself
to the point of collapse. So, when I’m really feeling
up, I try to be super high functioning, because I think can be. And I think I won’t stay
feeling this up for that long, and I’m gonna make the
most of it while it lasts. And when I’m depressed,
I now will say to people, “I know it was due to last
week, and I can’t even tell you “it will be in next week. “It might be three weeks
from now, it might be “nine weeks from now.” I try to be very direct about
the fact that I don’t know. I don’t know when I’m going
to be able to do the things that you want me to do. To some extent, all of what
you’ve kindly described as the achievements,
are a good distraction. They give me a focus in
my own lived experience that’s outside of the depression. Depression is a turning inward. I’m just publishing a book about travel, which is entirely about facing outward, and what the value is in doing that. But I also am fortunate to be in a career in which there’s quite
a lot of flexibility. You know, there’s a day
when I actually just can’t leave the house, I don’t
lose my job for that. I’m not working at McDonald’s,
where if you don’t show up, you failed out of the job,
and you’re in serious trouble, or else you have to get
a huge medical survey that shows what’s gone wrong. I’m a writer, I can sort
of run with the inspiration when it’s there. People always say to me,
“Do you write everyday? “Do you do it in this very formulaic way?” No. Everyday, I have to calibrate
what I can do that day, to how I’m feeling that day. But I’ve got it down to a system and now and it runs pretty smoothly. Everyone has some great difficulty
that they’re dealing with and you experience your
depression or your mental illness, or whatever else it is
that you’re negotiating as being the thing that cuts you off from the rest of humanity. Everyone is struggling with something. And if you can manage to
give voice to what you’re going through, you’ll
find out that other people are going through parallel things. Maybe they have a child who’s ill. Maybe they’ve lost their job. They’re dealing with
something and the struggle that feels so isolating is in
fact the most uniting thing there is. And once you acknowledge
the struggle that you’re going through, you give
other people the safety to acknowledge their struggle. And what comes of that
is not the isolation that people imagine,
oh, it’s so stigmatized, that everyone will laugh at me. What comes out of acknowledging it is the greatest intimacy possible. I’m more deeply connected to
my husband, to my children, to my friends, because I
have talked about this, than I ever would have been otherwise. People say it was so brave
of you to talk about it. And I feel like it would
have been so foolish of me not to talk about it. It would not only not have
been helpful to anyone else, it might very well have destroyed me. I mean, there’s a passage
in the Gnostic Gospel of Saint Thomas, in which Jesus
says, and I don’t generally do Biblical quotations,
but this particularly one is so good, he says, “If you
bring out what is within you, “then what is within you will save you. “If you will not bring
out what is within you, “then what is within
you will destroy you.” And that’s what I think
about the depression. Don’t spend all your energy
pretending it isn’t there. Acknowledge it, engage with
it, make friends with it in so far as you’re stuck with it.

Comments

(58 Comments)

  • Jeremy Thomas

    Fluent, insightful and emotionally articulate stuff . Plus some really good tips expressed in a muscular and practical way. Tip top.

  • Yodasstuff

    "it's always threatening to ambush me".

  • Anna Patarakina

    Andrew Solomon's work made a tremendous difference for me to understand my own depression, and helped not only acknowledge it but also find my identity through it.

  • Joseph Cro

    what a beautiful human being

  • Nachu KR

    will be happy if i get a friend like him to share my everyday struggles. Andrew hats off to you.

  • Bonnie Speeg

    I'm with you, Andrew, and that St. James verse (though I don't lean on biblical verse). Thank you for your wisdom and candor. That which is within will surely be out and save me.

  • Elaine Mitchell

    Are you coming to Florida, naples , you are my hero, you make ,me feel normal not crazy, I did my ancestry and it turns out my grandparent. Was put in an asylum oh my gosh …..I investigated thru ancestry and other avenues, I got the asylum records
    We could talk about a lot. You were like the lightbulb moment for me,

  • Lynn R

    Unfortunately, telling people is a double edged sword. After I decided to be "out" about having depression, I did have some very deep, intimate, and enlightening conversations that I never had before. Just the other day I met a guy who's been through some horrible things and he insisted the best way to cope with it was nihilism, and I said no, we need to find joy and connection and love wherever we can. And even though we were having this horrible conversation, we laughed and talked the entire night away. That being said, I've also encountered countless people who shut you down. Where the entire conversation is their opinion about how you should go to therapy. As if you haven't already heard that a million times. And it confirms all your worst fears about how something is wrong with you or you have a moral failing or you're simply too abnormal for most other people.

  • Rob

    Thank you.

  • A. Maria Finta de G.

    The "taking a shower" challenge really seems to be something that a lot of "we people" with depression can relate to. His description of anxiety also resonates with me. Solomon's book : The Noonday Demon, is like my "depression bible".It's comforting and validating to know you aren't alone with this illness .

  • kayvan azarpour

    Helpful tips.

  • weepingwilowwisp

    wow, I have never heard someone describe so perfectly exactly how I've been feeling for years!!!

  • Super Nova92

    He sounds like an adult Stewie Griffin

  • Random 1

    I've long hidden my depression because of embarrassment. People simply think I enjoy my quiet alone time and I never correct it.
    I don't suffer from bipolar. Just depression & chronic PTSD.
    Solomon has helped me on levels no shrink could in so many years.

  • Catherine Velez

    Andrew, thank you. Your articulation is magical.

  • Kinn Thoine

    Ive been avoiding alcohol and being sleep deprived, as being weak mentally made me an easier prey to depression. I didnt know other did so too.

  • Ellie Lindsey

    Thank goodness for this wonderful human.

  • قناة جمعية البرالخيرية بمحافظة الحناكية

    He is very Wise Man!!

  • Jeff Sartain

    Turn the rudder of life into the storm of depression. Face it. Embrace it.

  • Thready

    I did not grow up thinking of myself as tough and resilient. I was undiagnosed autistic and I was confused as to what was going on around me. I was confused by humans. I was especially confused by girls. At 32, I've never had a girlfriend. I'm also bipolar and I have horrible anxiety. I finally got my autism diagnosis at 28. I'm much more resilient now.

  • Betty Jean Goodier

    A gift in time. A question I can not ask of my dear child, who's shadow remains though others can not see it. Answers. More fluent and descriptive than I could ever have wished. Thank you, for being you and for sharing in a way only you could.

  • stjarna 3

    Ultimately, depression has nothing to do with lack of character and everything to do with creativity.

  • stjarna 3

    Biblical quotations are cool.

  • Joy Dot

    isnt it great when someone articulate has something interesting/ useful to say? we need to teach our children penmanship, we need to teach them verbal communication skills… we need to model honesty. there is time for rote learning but it doesnt give you andrew solomons

  • Hae-Eun Cho

    Thank you, Andrew Solomon.

  • Anka M

    Great great respect. For beeing so strong, for beeing so wise, and for ability to use the language in this perfect way. Thank you!

  • Clorox Bleach

    im also hiding something and its so hard to stop hiding it (not my sexuality) how do i do it??

  • Jaymes elliot

    love

  • Jabreel

    A good friend sent me to this. Thank you.

  • Chrissy CY

    Thank you Andrew Solomon. Except the Bible part, I loved every single one of your words.

  • Jesse Brown

    Depression is not a mystery, but there has been so much confusion and distortion around the subject that a psychological condition is now approached as a medical one.

    Depressed people think and behave in extremely predictable ways, which keep the depression going.

    Depression is NOT a disease. The serotonin stuff is nonsense, but useful for selling drugs.

  • Jesse Brown

    Depressed people overdream because of all the daytime rumination they do.

    Even if you want to hang on to the serotonin propaganda, be aware that if you are depressed, you will be in this continuous cycle of unbalanced sleep patterns, resulting in stress and fatigue.

    You have been warned.

  • Ian van Soest

    Thank you.

  • shelly yastagirl

    Thank u universe thank you YouTube for this man I want to cry cause he has describe depression is so evil is a demon .what he said don't ignored depression acknowledge that is there make friends with it.

  • mynametrong

    Beautiful.

  • flower love

    Youre a word angel plus I like your voice.

  • Gee_JO!

    The best thing I ever did in the last few years concerning my depression (and I only did it this month) was acknowledging that it's there.

  • Greeshma Anantharaman

    If you bring out what is within you – it will save you. If you don't bring you – it will destroy you.

  • linda esrick

    Wow. Thank you, I needed to hear you right now.

  • yuriination

    I love solitude. How do you know the difference between that and isolation? I dont feel comfortable around ppl. They're loud. They laugh at mean things. They have no interest in hearing about my rocks or thoughts on spirituality or just anything with any depth. Being around ppl like that is more isolating and depressing than just staying home by myself.

  • 92pinks

    Depression changes one's perspective of everything…FOREVER.

    You THINK differently.
    You FEEL differently.
    You LOVE differently.
    You LIVE differently.

    And if you've experienced pain like Andrew has, your writing & talk will be just as deep, insightful, and eloquent.

  • GG

    Wow the shower part is me now

  • Lily Kim

    Acknowledge it make friends with it…
    But Acknowledgement aside I'm not at all sure if this is depression or..just negative emotions. Because aside from the 'depressive periods'(if thats what is) I consider myself a very positive outgoing person and I'm known to be very energetic and happy by my friends. I feel stupid labelling myself as depressive because I might be just making something huge out of somethings thats not it. So I dont. Talking about it makes me feel like an attention whore. Because who doesn't have problems in this world?

  • Pauli Berg

    what a man — what a gentleMAN — BRAVO..

  • QuoVadis773

    Very well explained…

  • runneryg

    I AM HERE BECAUSE I FEEL DEPRESSED HAD SAVEREA PAIN IN THE LAST FEW DAYS AGO THINKING IT WAS MY LIVER THEN THE DR SAID IT WAS MY KIDNEY ONLY TO FIND OUT IT WAS MASCHELAR, MY DAD DIED THEN ONLY TO FIND OUT I HAVE ADHD AND THE UPSET I FELT ALL MY LIFE WA NOT ONLY ANGER OF BEING MISUNDERSTOOD FROM EVERYONE ONLY TO FEEL I WHAT TO BE ALONE EXCUSE I AM SO SENSITIVE I FELT THIS SADNESS ALL MY LIFE I USED TO TAKE 3 COFFEES A DAY NOW I CUT IT DOWN TO ONE I BEEN RUNNING FOR 30 YEARS WHICH HELPS ME OTHERWISE I BE ON DRAGS WHEN I DONT RUN I FEEL DOWN JUST LIKE NOW BUT I NEED TO RECOVER I DO HAVE TROUBLE GOING TO BED SOMETIMES I AM VERY LUCKY AND I HAVE GRATITUDE YOUR WORDS OF WISDOM ARE OUTSTANDING.

  • WTF how bizarre

    Going off medication was the best thing for me. . it took 2.5 years of withdrawl hell. But in the end, it was the best for all.
    i keep my wife near me. she's the competant one in the family.
    20 minutes of working out at the gym gives me 5 days of diarreah due to MELAS syndrome. MELAS syndrome causes dehydration. and dehydration is a danger of MELAS syndrome.
    My wife works. i know a lot of people are jealous of me. i find it odd. it's like 'try MELAS syndrome for a day. it's literally exhausting. ' i can't tell the difference between psychomotor retardation and MELAS syndrome with fatigue.

  • Lex Farkas

    Andrew Solomon has taken my feelings on being diagnosed with bi polar 2 and put them into words. Listening to his talks has helped me understand myself and my own mental illness tremendously.

  • Amy G

    You're such an inspiring and amazing soul. This world needs you. Whether it be us who suffer, those who are still affected by it even if not personally, the world needs you. Part of your purpose here is this. You're insight has helped me so much to know I am not alone. Not only that, but you help me understand myself more. You're a beautiful soul whose experience here helps others. I find your words and even just the tone of your voice and the delivery of your experience with such eloquence so calming and wise. Thank you for all you are.

  • Rechana Sivadasan

    Such lucid articulation. Andrew Solomon is my new Oscar Wilde!

  • Marco NY

    It’s magnificent

  • Kookie Monstre

    Thank you so much

  • Helene M

    What a beautiful man. Thank you so much for your words.

  • Julz 17

    Thank you for how well you articulated your depression with which I can relate to. Unfortunately there are people out there, that get this condition confused with narcissism and hypochondria. Which has been my personal experience with my own partner who doesn't understand depression.

  • Evelyn Delbridge

    Andrew thank you so much for talking about this, I have been going threw this a long time, Alot of people dont understand this; hugs

  • Rafael Antonio Duarte

    I´m live with depression by almost 30 years, is the most accurate description that I heard ever.

  • Melody Mckinstrie

    Andrew Solomon, I have to say this again, after watching another one of your videos, I just want to hug you. You are so eloquent about your struggles and your way of dealing with things I made a New Year's resolution to take a shower everyday this year and guess what? I have kept it! I particularly like your talk about isolation. That is something I do too. Please stay strong!

  • Patrick Fr

    very honest. thanks for speaking openly.

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