There is indeed a lot of self-obsession involved in depression; it’s like a drive towards introspection, but I’m not sure what came first, the depression or the drive to self-explore and figure out your own way out. People like Andrew Solomon have helped so many others through their writing and lead such compassionate lives precisely as a result of that drive to understand; his words comfort so many lives as a direct result of the introspection that allows him to describe the processes involved so accurately, to zero in on the unhealthy coping patters with such surgical precision. The Noonday Demon could not have been possible absent that ‘self-obsession’ that allowed him to zoom in on what it means to live with severe chronic depression. Sometimes, with the right perspective and a little self-acceptance, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Still, for me, depression’s defining characteristic is lack of vitality, not self-obsession. It has indeed resulted in a sort of self-focus, a desire to understand my own mind in particular and other people’s minds in general. But I do believe we’re rather more so trapped within ourselves as a result of our struggles, than we are self-obsessed. That’s why we tempt to make such good artists/why you see so many creative minds struggling with depression. The friends who bear with my terrible (heroes, no joke) all seem to agree I make an excellent and most compassionate adviser in matters of the human mind and delicate emotional dilemmas; I have my introspective nature to credit for my ability to do so.

Maybe, again, it’s different for everyone, so this is not to undermine your own experience. Which leads me to: I don’t think there is a single way out of depression, and many qualified professionals will agree with me on the highly custom nature of the entire ordeal. While there are so many similarities between cases and you can see chronic depression on an fMRI scan, unlike a broken leg, everyone experiences mental illness differently. Which explains why we can today identify about 5 types of depression on fMRI and about 50 by talking to people actually experiencing depression.

Yet I do agree that compassionate, meaningful action is a vital part in one’s journey towards recovery, as it is a vital part in any individual’s life in general. Sometimes, it is that very ‘self-obsession’ you describe that leads people living with severe cases of depression into outstanding creative careers or into revolutionary discoveries in the study of the human mind.

Secular thinker with an empathy compulsion. Anxiety-nerd. Certified Crazy Cat Lady.

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