The Tyranny of Self Help or the Necessity of Existential Depression

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Existential Depression: What to do

Of the many articles and books I've read on this (my) condition, your blog resonated significantly with my experiences, thoughts and feelings. Since age 12 when I first experienced existential depression, I've looked to "the literature" for help, as I have always done with day-to-day life problems. Now 69, having fought in Viet Nam and having been committed to a mental hospital, having exhausted a dozen therapists as well as my family's patience and kindness, I nevertheless managed to cobble together a kind of life, mainly, I believe, through my engagement with writing and art. Now retired, the depression has returned with a vengeance (actually as though it is trying to avenge the delusions I attempted to master). So as not to burden my family and friends any further with this darkness, my instinct is to disappear, not necessarily from life, but from their lives.I still do not understand why my delusions fail, but I certainly do not want to erode those of others. I think of myself as a spiritual toxin. My wife has never been able "to get" this condition, and lately I am glad, for "to get" it is to be in it, to be burned by it, and why would I want that? She prefers to think that I am being selfish and indulgent, and while I do not agree, I know that opinion brings her comfort. My own psychiatrist tells me that my condition resists treatment. He actually said that he did not know any "talk" therapists who could help. He said, in his East Indian accent, "You are too smart for them, I'm afraid." So we play with drugs. Lately others have echoed Yalom's view, but I've never been able to regard my condition as an asset in any way. I don't feel enlightened but rather endarkened to the point of paralysis. "The world is too much with us, late and soon; Getting and spending we lay waste our powers" to quote Wordsworth. It seems that we in the West and elsewhere are laying "waste our powers" at an accelerating rate, giving rise, I believe, to every manner of pathology... So what is this, exactly? I suppose just one person's validation of your views. In his obscure essay, "The Last Messiah," Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe, argues that we may be over-evolved, which allows him to reach his "antinatologist" position. To find comfort in that view is impossible, but perhaps the effort to find and have comfort is the wrong path. Perhaps comfort is the toxin. Thank you for your article and your time. (BTW -I love the expression "The Tyranny of Self Help.")

Michael Smith more than 6 years ago

About Real World CSW

Dr. Danna Bodenheimer is the author of Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way and On Clinical Social Work: Meditations and Truths From the Field. She shares practice wisdom with new clinicians.