Is there a place for sadness? (On depression)

 

Something happened in the last few decades. Quietly, with no notice and without discussing it, grief and sadness were renamed to “depression”. It all happened gradually and without anyone noticing. And no one seems to know how and why that happened. Depression became a brand, a franchise, the theme of the morning talk show. Everyone is welcome to diagnose himself. Experts in the media are constantly talking about it, but taking great care not to actually say anything. We are constantly told how to recognize the symptoms of depression, but no one is explaining to us what it actually is and why do people suffer from it. At the same time the term was stretched to encompass any and all suffering and gradually lost its meaning altogether. That is why the text that follows is not about depression, but about something else, which is so rarely discussed today.

In a way, life is a long line of separations and loss. There is a peculiar universal balance of receiving and giving. Anything that we gain in life one day will be lost and in the end, we will lose life itself. When a person loses something dear, he grieves. But grief is not just some painful emotion or a “negative” experience. It is not merely an unpleasant feeling that we must endure till it goes away on its own.

When a person grieves that which was lost, he thinks about it – we think about the love that left us forever, about the shattered dream or the future happiness that was suddenly rendered impossible. The adolescent may secretly grieve the end of childhood and the adult, without knowing it, may grieve the end of adolescence and youth. A person may even yearn a certain image that he had about himself – an image that he has to let go of. Sometimes to lose a lover is more than losing his affection. It may also mean losing the nice image that the other had of us. A version of us, that we grew to love and believe in, is now all but gone.

When someone close to us dies, the process of accepting this loss is called mourning. Every culture in the world has established traditions and customs surrounding mourning. In the village, the town or the community in general, there is a symbolic space for this grief. It is accepted as something perfectly normal and inherent to our lives. In some cultures you can tell the widow or the widower simply by the way they dress. The clothing alone can tell you whether the mourner lost a child or a parent. There are traditions which define the way you should address a person in the different stages of mourning. Cultures have specific customs and rituals related to the departure of the dead and to the comforting of the grieving relatives.

All of this helped those who lost their loved ones. Traditions played a crucial role in consoling and guiding people through their sadness and helped them accept their loss. And although all of the above has to do with death, we can clearly see how loss in general was thought of and handled in the past.

Unfortunately something very dangerous is happening today. These rituals are gradually abandoned and the symbolic space for grief slowly disappears. There is no place for sadness anymore. Every loss (no matter what it is) must be immediately swept under the rug. Any grief must be quickly stopped at its tracks, before it goes out of control as if it is some contagious disease.

When you seem kind of sad, everyone asks “What`s the matter?”. But usually people don`t try to listen, understand or share this pain – they just want to find the quickest way to cheer you up and take your mind off of it. Few people are ready to just listen and acknowledge sadness.

To be happy all the time, to pursue your dreams, to not think about the past, to keep a positive attitude, to live here and now – all these are unavoidable slogans that are being aggressively shoved in our faces, day and night to the point where it has become grotesque.

But practice shows us, that such recipes lead to even more problems. This happens simply because the process of grieving is much more than simply suffering, like we do from physical pain. A loss must be put to words, it must be thought of. When in our sadness we think about the thing or the person that was lost, when we talk and share, we do something incredibly important. We give meaning to this loss, we put it to words and little by little we find its place in our intimate world. The loss is thus inscribed onto us and we make our peace with it. It stays with us always and marks us. It changes us and often times it helps us get our feet back on the ground by reminding us what is truly important in life. A deeply intimate truth must find its own place in our inner world and become a part of our personal history. We must inscribe this void in our own private narrative of life which no one will ever hear, somehow accept it, make our peace with it and allow it to stay there.

When we do not go through this process of grieving and acceptance, when there is no place for the meaning of this loss, and instead it is discarded from our minds, then we sink into an even deeper pitfall. In the beginning things may appear to be ok – we force ourselves not to think about it, we consciously try to make ourselves believe that it wasn’t that important at all, that it`s irrational to be so sad and that we just need to be stronger, forget everything and move on with our lives. We constantly seek something that would distract us, take our minds off of it, almost as if to switch our brains off. And more often than not we succeed. Unfortunately this has become increasingly easier with the endless ocean of audio-digital fast food that pours constantly from the screens of all our devices. And gradually the current carries us onward in life and in a way we do forget.

But what follows will be much worse and getting out of this trap will be even more difficult. Because practice has shown over and over again, that when buried, the lack of the thing that was lost becomes a lack of desire. This loss that was never accepted and castaway from our inner world returns. It comes back as if from nowhere, completely disguised and what is now missing is desire itself.

This is probably the most important aspect, which many people don’t really understand and few experts attempt to explain to a broader audience – depression is not an endless inconsolable grief over something in particular. Quite the contrary – it is the lack of desire itself which is something much more painful in a very different way.

To live without purpose or passion is a human misery unlike any other. The thirst for life is gone and the current drags you on without resistance into a life, where you remain just a passive observer. You look at the world through a thick piece of glass with the feeling that “life” is happening elsewhere, to others and not to you. This is an entirely different way of suffering. A type of pain, which is very different than that of “not having” and only poets can truly describe it.

Psychologists and psychiatrists may argue, and rightly so, that the forms of depression vary greatly and that there are other important sides to it. But as I said, this text is not really about depression, but about the fact that we have stopped trying to  learn how to lose and part with each other. It is probably the most important skill we need in life and it is becoming unthinkable.

To learn to let go is of course difficult, it takes time and life is a true teacher. But our culture is changing in a terrible way and is not helping us, on the contrary – it hinders every attempt. Of course it is only natural to try and save yourself from the suffering and the pain. We all learn along the way and there is nothing wrong with trying to take the easy way out. But when being happy all the time becomes a commandment of society and no one says a word about sadness and loss – then you know the deep trouble that we`re in.

We live in a world where “to have” has become a religion, and there is nothing unusual in the fact that losing anything has become unthinkable. In the end it turns out that people are willing to do anything, just so that they don’t acknowledge a simply truth.

The virtue of being honest to yourself has degraded so much. How easy it has become for people to maintain foolish fantasies and lies, and to go around convincing everyone in their absurd made-up stories, as if to convince themselves. And the world around them is quite ready to accommodate this dangerous folly and to feed off of their desperate attempt to deny a simple truth.

It is really amazing how people manage such incredible reasoning acrobatics in their minds, only to support an imaginary version of their world, such as it was in the past. It is truly horrifying how the memory of people that are gone can be erased from existence, as if nothing ever happened. We see it all around us – mothers who throw out all family pictures and memories of the father who passed away in order to “protect” her children. We see young lovers who break-up and immediately find themselves someone new, as if they are replacing a broken TV. We see these parents, who simply cannot let go of their children, cannot accept the end of their children’s childhood or their own role as parents. Maybe this is precisely how a certain incapability is passed on from generation to generation.

Separation is a natural part of life and it leaves a mark on us all. From the multitude of mourning traditions around the world it is evident, that in the past these things were very well understood. People knew that loss was something deeply inherent to life and that it cannot simply be discarded, nor can the past be erased without a trace. It has to be acknowledged and accepted. It has to be given a meaning and a place in our inner world. Otherwise it’s shadow will haunt us forever.

Today the notion of depression has been stretched beyond all limits, so that any form of suffering could medicalized, diagnosed and treated with medications. But such a treatment remains just another way to avoid acknowledging and accepting the loss and the truth about what it meant. Many people blame the pharmaceutical industry for pushing and marketing antidepressants as the preferred treatment for depression, and they have a point. But as powerful as the business really is, I don`t think it is to blame.

Our entire culture has devolved – true sadness and grief have become abnormal, they don`t fit in the imaginary world of “endless opportunity”, movies, TV or in the perfectly photoshopped images on Facebook. On the surface it appears as if grief is accepted with compassion, but in reality you are aggressively pressured to get rid of your misery as fast as possible. Billboards, street signs, TV shows, movies, blinking ads on the internet – in a grotesque and vile manner we are forced to obey the only real laws that remain in our culture – “Enjoy!” and “Do not grieve!”.

If someone is sad, than that obviously can’t be normal, right? “Something” must have gotten into him. It’s much easier to say that someone “has” depression. As if he caught a cold or “has” the flu. When you “have” depression, it sounds like you have an ache that interferes with an otherwise perfect life. It has nothing to do with you, your past or with your life in general. What’s the big deal with taking a pill for your ache?

And so the years go by, the number people with depression skyrockets and so does the use of drugs. And the cured… I don`t know how many people were cured of their depression and what that depression really was. What I do know, however, is that there is simply no substitute for the truth about what we lost and that rejecting our grief can lead to only one thing – a much more painful and different way of suffering.

The saddest part of it all is that many psychotherapists, that ought to know better, are ready and willing to work with people, who sought them out for help, by teaching them new and elaborate techniques for deceiving themselves.

But it is definitely not any innovative therapeutic approaches that we really need. What should happen is that this most human of all torments should be heard and accepted, and one should be encouraged to go back step by step to that place, where there are yet no words.

by Valentin Jordanov

Pink Floyd – The madness beyond the wall

1If you ask a random person on the street “What is madness?”, they`ll probably tell you that it`s a sort of sickness of the brain that makes you lose touch with reality and see things that are not real. Such a general explanation seems to be so widely accepted, that it is rarely questioned even among professionals.

pink_floyd_the_wall___the_trial_by_iam16bits-d9kbv9uHowever, in the music of Pink Floyd things seem quite different. The mental breakdown of the founder of the group Syd Baret left a deep mark on the other members. Years later, after having achieved world fame without him, they`ll incorporate the theme of (his) madness into their most successful albums. Full of ambiguous metaphors, allusions and unclear references, their songs will give a different perspective on the matter. Their lyrics portray the madman not as someone who`s out of touch with reality, but rather someone who actually knows something about the world, which everyone else fails to see. As Roger Waters said, “The Wall” is still as popular as ever, because throughout it there is something which runs beneath the surface and resonates with us all in an odd way.

pink-floyd-mothervlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h39m55s1It is in this album and in the film released some years afterwards, where madness takes center stage. With a brutal and raw tone the songs tell the story of a person going insane. Although the lyrics are often mixed with seemingly unrelated and strange reflections on different topics, they actually unfold a life story. The main character is called Pink and as with all people, his story begins before he is born.

In the beginning we witness his childhood marked by an absent father[1], who is killed during the war[2] when Pink is still a baby, and by an overbearing mother[3] who wants nothing for him, but to stay with her forever and be adorned.

pink-floyd-the-wall-teacher-thewall-161pyxurzvlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h24m34s187vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h37m54s67 From there the story takes us to Pink`s difficult entry into society, represented through the image of a harsh and cruel school system. The classroom, which will eventually become a symbol of the whole album, crushes individuality[4]. It is revealed that behind the closed doors, teachers abuse the children with an almost sick sadistic satisfaction[5]. Years later, in his hallucinations, Pink will revisit this school where students wearing horrific masks on their faces will march on production lines only to fall in the end into an industrial meat grinder and come out of it as minced meat.

vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h23m32s157Yet in spite of all the hardship in his childhood, Pink will eventually overcome the difficulties, break free from the system and become a musician – a “bleeding heart” as the teacher called him, sarcastically mocking his poetic talents. In the end of the first act we witness how he, now all grown up and famous, is almost unwillingly lured into the rock star lifestyle along with all of it`s excesses (much like the real Syd Barret).

But after achieving fame and fortune Pink begins his descent into alienation. The lyrics reveal the inner life of a person who slips away from the world. He can`t fit in, his marriage falls apart and he gradually retreats into complete isolation. The passions and struggles of other people seem ever more strange and meaningless to him. His attempts to reconcile with his wife are sporadic, sometimes desperate and always awkward[6].

vlcsnap-2016-02-25-14h04m42s188 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-14h04m53s38He gradually descends into madness and begins to see horror all around him – both in the social and in the intimate world. In his hallucinations we witness the terrifying senselessness of war, the brutality of a social institution, the murderous folly of totalitarian ideology and the mortifying rhythm of the modern consumer-driven life. He sees his mother`s love as literally consuming and suffocating and her embrace – as a wall. His wife is depicted as a vile praying mantis who defiles his body, and his teacher – as a hammer who wants to flay him into shape (or maybe to turn him into another hammer?).

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vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h39m20s160 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h39m15s110In the end of his story Pink realizes that he has gone mad. In his final moment, he is brought before the wicked court of his own conscience in order to be judged. He is accused of showing human feelings and of being mad, which ruined the lives of his loved ones. In this final act, where everyone takes turns accusing and mocking him, he is depicted as a tiny lifeless rag doll, which is thrown around by the grotesque and menacing characters of his story.vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h39m42s125 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h28m50s1
   And it is precisely here, in the terrifying spectacle of this perverse “trial”, where we witness something, which is far from being “out of touch with reality”. Here, in the peak of his madness, Pink encounters something which is in a way much truer, much more real than reality could ever be. He comes to see that his entire life he has really been a tiny rag doll – just a thing in the hands of others, a piece of animated meat which is not entitled to have human feelings, an object for everyone else to enjoy and use, and this is the horrifying truth about his place in the world.

And in Pink`s madness we see it all. We see the overprotective and controlling mother who intrudes into every aspect of his being. Someone who wants to keep him forever under her wing only to be adorned and safely kept behind the bars of the cage called home. We see the school system, which treats him as a lifeless object, as a soulless automaton devoid of any personality, which is to be programmed and incorporated into the sea of lifelike machines that support the system. We see the wife, who views him as nothing more than a mere object of her sexual satisfaction and his band managers, who treat him as just another rock star which they can exploit for profit until he`s utterly exhausted and then throw him away in the garbage with all the other ones before him.

vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h36m55s234 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h40m05s100To exist for the sole purpose of being an object for the use and pleasure of others is unbearable for the human being, equal to being neither alive nor dead. This horrifying answer to an existential question, which Pink cannot escape from, is the quintessence of his madness.

And this is why, in this extraordinary story, Pink doesn’t really break away from reality. He does indeed breakdown mentally, but he doesn’t become grotesque, chaotic and irrational. On the contrary – it is the world that is revealed to be so. In his madness Pink starts to see a terrifying aspect not only of his own life, but also of the world itself and his terror is to not be able to shut his eyes.vlcsnap-2016-02-25-14h05m31s159

While “normal” people are able to keep an inner distance from it all Pink cannot and has only one way to save himself – to build a wall and live in perfect isolation. But his madness tells us more than that. By staging the horrible truth of his own life, his insanity also makes us see a certain truth about the brutal machine which today`s society can be.

Pink sees not only himself, but also the modern man as devoid of any intrinsic value – as just an object, a thing, a lifeless machine, a hammer in an endless army of hammers or simply as another brick in the wall. Once immersed into this gruesome world, the desires of others begin to seem strange and even threatening to him. He can no longer relate to another human being like other people do.

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Society is exposed as brutal, inhumane and mercilessly exploiting all, and his loved ones – as monstrously egotistical creatures who take turns using him as an inanimate object for their own sick satisfaction. All his life Pink was building a wall in order to save himself from a reality which is unbearable for him. A reality that he can neither hide from himself, nor give another meaning to.

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vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h41m13s3 vlcsnap-2016-02-25-12h40m51s49And after all this, it is perfectly logical that in the grand finale of his story, when the judge finds him guilty and deserving the full penalty of law, his punishment is his deepest fear – the wall is to be torn down so that he is exposed before his peers (probably meaning death?). The destruction of the wall marks the end of his story.

Usually the wall in “The Wall” is associated with alienation, a fundamental obstacle within society, something that is imposed from outside, which separates us all. A barrier which we must all fight to destroy, so that we don`t lose touch with one another. Of course this is all true from one point of view, but in another sense it is also a very ironic misconception. It is ironic namely because Pink actually needs his wall. Although he tries to free himself, he actually depends on it. He built it himself – it is the only thing that kept him safe from a world that he cannot bear and this the paradox of his tragedy.

Pink`s misery is actually foretold in the very beginning, when he`s born. The second song is a message to him, which contains much of what he`ll eventually come to understand in the most painful way:

“Momma loves her baby
And daddy loves you too.
And the sea may look warm to you babe
And the sky may look blue…
(But) If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear-stained eyes
(Then) Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet.
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice.”

If previous Pink Floyd albums like “Dark side of the moon” have articulated questions, as Roger Waters says – about whether or not the human race is capable of being humane, then “The Wall” is undoubtedly an answer. Society can be seemingly “normal” or “humane”, but one can live in it only on condition that he is able to repress in his mind certain truths about it. He must not know the cost of his own happiness nor the paradox of his desires. He must be able to see himself as something more than a mere screw in the powerful and unforgiving machine of modern society. Only the ability to not see the horrors of the world, will enable him to live a “normal” life.

There are many possible interpretations of this story and we can speculate endlessly on what it all means and still get it wrong. But one thing is certain – Pink Floyd`s music shows us that there is a certain dimension to our fantasies, dreams, fictions and even to madness, which reveal something truthful about our inner world. Something which can turn out to be much more real than reality itself. Truths that we can`t easily accept without questioning the coordinates of what makes up our own “reality”.

The music and lyrics of “The wall” are dark, irksome and harsh, but at the same time they convey deep humanity and a true compassion towards those who are most rejected in our society – the mad. An extraordinary respect for people, who have much to tell us and whose “nonsense” is worth hearing out.

by Valentin Jordanov

 

 

[1] There are many scenes in the movie, where as a child Pink is looking for his father in different ways, he finds items that belonged to him, dresses in his uniform and even wanders around a trainstation where soldiers who return home are greeted by their families. The third song is devoted entirely to his father and the seventeenth – “Vera” is an allusion to the song by Vera Lynn “We will meet again” – a hit song among soldiers during WW2, which contains Pink’s ironic question about what happened to the promise of his father to one day return home.

[2] The second song “In The Flesh” ends with sounds of war planes, which in the movie mark the death of the father during the war. The death of the father coincides with the birth of the baby (the baby cry in the beginning of the next song).

[3] The song “Mother”: “Mother’s gonna make all your nightmares come true. Mother’s gonna put all her fears into you. Mother’s gonna keep you right here under her wing. She wont let you fly, but she might let you sing.” And in the end: “You’ll always be baby to me.”

[4] „We don’t need no education. We dont need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom! Teachers leave them kids alone!“

[5] When we grew up and went to school there were certain teachers who would hurt the children in any way they could by pouring their derision upon anything we did and exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids. But in the town, it was well known when they got home at night, their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives.”

[6] The songs “One Of My Turns”, “Empty Spaces”, “Don’t Leave Me Now”, „Hey you“, ”Nobody home” all deal with his alienation from his wife and the world, and his desparate attempts to not slip away into complete isolation.

A nation of protagonists

by Valentin Jordanov

There is nothing authentic in the world of the egotistical person. He lives inside a movie, where he plays the main character. Just like in the movies and TV shows, he strolls through life as the main hero – from scene to scene and from episode to episode. The whole world is just a stage to him – a backdrop for his magnificent life story, and the other people are there only to be extras in his script.

He knows very well that he`s a person among others just like him, but deep down inside he doesn’t really believe in that. Those other people, somehow they don`t seem to be quite like him, they don`t have their own identity, their true feelings, rights or some intrinsic value – they`re just a part of the scenery. When he doesn’t see them, they seize to exist.

There is nothing original or sacred in the world of the egotistical person. Everything came to exist when he himself did, and everything will seize to exist once (if) he`s gone. The trash which he`ll thoughtlessly throw out of the window of his moving car vanishes from existence, because the scene of him driving has ended and we`re all now watching the scene of him entering his house.

And as with all main heroes from the movies, the egotistical person knows, that he deserves a happy end. The world owes it to him. And it owes him all other pleasures along the way, regardless of the cost, which the extras will have to pay.

And just as the garbage disappears from reality, so will the pain and suffering of the people he exploits. Because like in the action movies, he doesn’t concern himself with collateral damage – the destruction he causes or the death of the extras and the supporting cast is of no real importance to him. He may be concerned to a certain extent about the suffering of others, but if he wins in the end, then it doesn’t really matter all that much. And whether he ruins a whole community, like the mafia and big businesses do, or whether he ruins the seats of the new public bus – this person will leave an unmistakable trail as he goes through life. Because in his world there is nothing sacred – it`s all a stage, which exists for him, and anything in it can be sacrificed for his personal gain.

Maybe you think that there aren’t that many people like the one described above? You may very well be correct, such “statistics” are only in our heads. But it is becoming quite obvious that in the world around us there is more destruction than there is creation and at least one of the reasons for this is also obvious.

At some point during my life it came to be widely believed that children should not be educated (i`m referring to upbringing, not academics). Many parents refuse to impose any restrictions on the desires and wants of their children, and they feel proud for managing to program their entire lives around the satisfaction of their young ones and every last one of their most insignificant caprices. You’ve seen these little children – raised to a cult status and put on a pedestal in their homes; their every wish – a command for everyone else. Well then is it that difficult to believe that a child who`s literally idolized in the world that is his family, will one day expect and demand the same from the world of adults?

The devastating mantra of the liberal pseudo education, is that a child should not be refused anything, should not have anything imposed onto him, and this will guarantee that he`ll grow up to preserve his purity and kind nature. However, real life practice shows us again and again, that once such a person grows up, he`ll never really be able to let go of this terrible fiction, that he`s the center of the world, just as he was before in the family. All his life, he`ll manage to somehow safeguard this illusion from the arbitrariness of real life. Somewhere deep inside, this myth will burn forever and the unforgiving harshness of reality will be helpless to extinguish it.

Even if this child doesn’t grow up to be like the extreme case described in the beginning, chances are that he`ll still spend his days in a movie, much similar to the first one. He`ll expect again and again the happiness, which is owed to him, and dread the hardships of life. Every pain will be a bitter injustice, every gain – “too little too late”. With an ever thirsty gaze, he`ll stare in the mirror of other people`s eyes, thinking that everyone else judges and evaluates him just as carefully as he himself does. The gaze of the others will be the camera of his movie and he`ll concern himself much more with his image in the lens than with reality, which he`ll conceal from himself with great care.

Just as Narcissus, from the ancient Greek myth, this adult child will live obsessed with images. He`ll fade year after year and decade after decade investing all of his life energy into supporting fictions. Immersed in the care of his image in this great lifelong movie, he`ll never be able to invest himself in an idea, or consciously sacrifice his desires in the name of something.

It may sound trivial, but in the end, it all comes down to the culture and the upbringing in the first years of life. Because to educate a child is not simply to teach him not to talk with food in his mouth, nor is it a guide on how to be polite. To educate is to drink the bitter cup of your child`s discontents, hardship and even his anger, while teaching him how to accept boundaries and to accept the rules and responsibilities of a society as his own. To educate is to gradually set a person free from the destructive illusion that he`s the center of the world, by handling his pain with wisdom and patience. This is the only way to prepare someone for a world, which doesn’t owe anything to anyone, and where nothing is free. A world of people and nature which we must all honor and protect.

All of this is necessary not simply so that we have order in a society, but also so that there is order in our inner world. Because a child, which was never told “No”, will not be able to tell himself “No” when he grows up and will end up being a slave of his own chaotic wishes and impulses. Trapped in the pitfall of narcissism, he`ll be doomed to a life consumed by fictitious images and petty passions, and will never be able devote himself to ideas and ideals.

But to say “No” is not popular with parents today, it somehow doesn’t fit the absurd ideal of “childhood happiness by all means necessary”. On the pages of mommy-magazines you won`t find pictures of angry children, who begin to understand the inconvenient and harsh truths about the world and the life that awaits them. No… the cult of the self must be supported at all costs. Children must be assured again and again that their wishes and demands are laws to everyone else, that rules don`t apply to them, that they`re the most beautiful, the most special, that they`re the center of the universe and that they deserve everything by default.

But when they grow up, let someone else teach them how to live among equals. Let someone else suffer the destructive force of their anger.

by Valentin Jordanov