The camera pans to a living room. Dark hues mute an anguished woman’s face as her body blends into the couch. Quiet, sentimental music crescendos. Voiceover: “Are you depressed?” One last shot at the blank, bleak face. Not two seconds later the world is technicolor, the music upbeat. The woman runs in a field, flying a kite, her body bursting with energy. Her children run beside her.
The voiceover returns: “Depression hurts.”
Little pills solve that problem.
Makes me want to throw my TV out the window.
There are a lot of things that bother me about these commercials. The thing that irks me today is the picture of depression. It’s solved so easily. And so quickly. The woman is on the couch for 10, maybe 15 seconds. Before you can reach for the remote, she’s okay. No, not just okay, she’s great!
I know they only have 30 seconds, but this image is worse than sit-coms that solve real problems in 22 minutes.
In real life, depression lacks drama and the simple arc of a hero’s quest.
That’s why there aren’t any movies about depression. Wait, you might say! What about Girl Interrupted, Wilbur (Wants to Kill Himself), Mad Love and On the Edge? I’d like to suggest that those movies aren’t really about depression. They’re about the institutions, the groups, and someone else’s reaction to someone’s suicide attempt. They aren’t about depression. Wanna know why?
Because depression is boring. It would be an hour and a half of the camera focused on someone lying on the couch, flipping channels on the television. Ennui lacks dramatic tension.
By its very nature, depression is isolating. Even if you’re around other people, you can feel completely alone. More often than not, depressed folk don’t want to be around other people. Because there’s so little to say; it’s so hard to explain. There’s no clear identifiable reason for the listlessness. Sometimes I want to be around other people, but I can’t summon the energy to get dressed and leave the house. It cuts us off from the world.
If there is any thing inherently evil about depression, this is it. Yes, evil. I’m loathe to use the word “evil” and depression in the same sentence, but I think it’s appropriate here. If there is something to be fought in depressions, it is the isolation. It is the seclusion. It is the way the mind turns in on itself to make one believe things that are not true: That you are completely alone.
While I value my solitude and moments of contemplation, I think that the message behind the creation story of Genesis 2 underscores the words, “It is not good for humans to be alone” (v. 18). My Hebrew scholar friends tell me that “good,” does not connote moral assessment. Rather when we read about creation and “goodness” in Genesis 1 and 2, it refers more to functionality.
It is not good.
It does not work.
We do not function well on our own.
We need community.
And I don’t think this is a Jewish and Christian thing. My friend (and composer) Andre interprets the third of ten Buddhist precepts in the same way:
“Our species has a drive passed down for thousands of generations to connect and to create.”
We are called to connect and to create.
If you know Buddhism, you’ll pause. The third precept is usually translated as “Abstain from sexuality.” The Zen Center of Los Angeles translates it as “Do not be greedy. Do not misuse sex. Be respectful.”
Likewise, Genesis continues with the edict to Adam and Eve in verse 22: “Be fruitful and multiply.” These words are usually interpreted to promote heterosexual procreative, population-increasing sex. Whether you agree with that interpretation or not, I think it’s noteworthy that the call to community is wrapped up in sex.
Sex is one way that we connect, and it is, especially to ancient peoples, a primary way that we create.
I read the message this way: Connecting creates. The ability to connect with other people, with ourselves, with our land, with our God . . . has creative power. It creates community. It creates health. It creates change. It creates art. And in its optimal manifestations, whether pro-creative or re-creative, sex connects. Sex strengthens bonds of intimacy. (Which is why there’s a level of ironic cruelty in the fact that so many anti-depressants diminish the sex drive.)
I’m not suggesting people use sex to form all interpersonal connections. I’m not intimating that depression is solved by sexual intimacy. But I think that there is something as primal about the need for connection as there is about the human sex drive. And anything – including depression – that robs of us our capacity to connect and to create is against God’s vision for our lives.