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August 7th, 2019

Unhappiness and depression

I have a lot of friends who are unhappy, some who are being treated for depression, and it's made me think really hard about the difference between the two. I guess there's a technical difference: if you're unhappy to the point of wanting to kill yourself or for a really long period of time, and it makes life harder for you because of spoon shortages, a shrink will pronounce you as suffering from depression and hand you some pills. Sometimes the pills help. Sometimes they don't, and I've come to wonder if it's not just a matter of brain chemistry, it's a matter of trying to treat a normal human emotion like an illness.

I have some personal experience with this. Back when I was married and in the Army Reserve, I had a lot of stress in my life, to the point where one night after having a fight with the Mrs., I left my wallet and my pocket knife on the kitchen table and walked out into the night. I was thinking about killing myself, but eventually I concluded that suicide was a bad idea, quite aside from being Wrong with a capital W according to Catholic teaching, which I may be terrible at following in some respects, but I do believe it's Right. So after walking all over the west side of St. Paul and parts of Minneapolis, I came home and curled up in the back of the family K-car and went to sleep for about ten minutes before my wife, who was in a complete panic, came out, woke me up, and talked me into going down to the county hospital so they could shrink my head. The doc eventually prescribed desipramine, which turned me into a turnip for a few hours, and then changed that to nortryptiline. That didn't work either. I was still very unhappy, plus I developed a ravenous appetite that did my waistline no good, and was one of the things that got me invited to leave the active reserve. Eventually I quit taking it. The appetite went away, the unhappiness didn't.

Fast forward about ten years. The marriage had started to break down, and in the fall, about a month before I threw down the gauntlet to the soon-to-be-ex, I went to work at Wells Fargo and had to stop at the elevator because I couldn't breathe and my heart felt weird. Made it upstairs to work, but the problem continued, and eventually I wound up in St. John's hospital in St. Paul under observation for angina. My primary care doc came to see me and offered to put me on an antidepressant, and since my whole world was going up in flames, it seemed like a good idea so I could at least remain somewhat functional. It definitely made it easier to turn off the emotions and not care so much about the s2bx's fuckery. The problem was that it turned off *all* the emotions. I vividly remember standing there during my father's interment at the Family Plot and feeling nothing, nothing at all while my brother, my kids, and my nieces were crying their eyes out. That was when I knew I had to get off the drug, because it was killing my ability to feel normal and appropriate emotions along with the bad, negative ones. And over the next couple of years, with support from friends and my girlfriend at the time, I managed to wean myself off, and it would take being a lot worse off than I am now to convince me I need to try it again.

Of course, your mileage may vary. You may indeed have had a serious mental problem that drugs helped you solve. Or you may be going from shrink to shrink, pill to pill, wondering why you're still unhappy. Consider that contrary to society and its advertisements and its popiular preachers and its pundits: you have no right to be happy. You only have the right to pursue happiness. Good luck catching it, and enjoy it while it lasts.

This is being cross-posted to Facebook. Comment there, not here.