Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Civil War Would Depress Me Too

Much has been discussed recently concerning Abraham Lincoln’s depression, slightly more interesting than the “was he gay” discussion. I think this interests people because it legitimizes depression, a disease that has struggled not to be considered a trend or a stop on hypochondriacs railway. Because depression is so wide spread, and because the symptoms and triggers are so abstract, it is easy to write depression off as nothing more than a medical excuse for self-pity.

Depression has to be a unique disorder because it is so attached to personality and therefore entirely individualized. A good example is the contradictions in the story above — “Clinical depression is characterized by persistent sadness; sleeping too much or too little; reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.” As a result, the treatments vary from very natural to very synthetic. A great example is two prominent treatment possibilities: mindfulness — solving it through thought patterns — and the vagus nerve stimulator — an implant that shocks nerve ending. Then there are the triggers: If depression is related to a chemical imbalance, then how can an emotional trauma set it off?

But if Lincoln had it... If Lincoln had it in 1860, and had it from emotional triggers, then maybe it’s the real thing. But like homosexuality, depression has always been around. Only the words we use for the discussion are recent.

I’ve heard depression described as a computer glitch already inside the computer. The glitch may never be discovered during the entire life of the computer, but try and run a certain program or open a certain Web site and everything crashes. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone is susceptible, but the severity of stimuli it takes to set it off ranges from person to person. The reason we hear about it more now is A) people know about it, B) people will talk about it, C) we are processing larger amounts of information than ever before. A friend told me once she thought depression was a tool of nature meant to slow people down. I would add speed people up, because inactivity triggers as much depression as over activity.

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