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Home arrow Psychology arrow Subjective Darkness: Depression as a Loss of Connection, Narrative, Meaning, and the Capacity for Self-Representation

EXISTENTIAL MEANINGLESSNESS AND FAILURES OF SYMBOLIZATION: "IT'S UNSOLVABLE" AND "THIS IS PROBABLY GOING TO BE MY LIFE."

Some states of depression are accompanied by feelings of alienation and despair. The pain that results from such feelings is often internalized, and in the process it becomes surreptitiously entrenched within the individual’s sense of self. It then becomes much harder to discern between what is the depression and what is one’s identity. Sometimes the next logical step is to fall into reverie in which that faulty self is annihilated in death. As Kristeva says,

The Thing is inscribed within us without memory, the buried accomplice of our unspeakable anguish. One can imagine the delights of reunion that a regressive daydream promises itself through the nuptials of suicide. (1989, p. 14) [1]

of social or romantic relationships. Life itself became meaningless and unbearable, and he did not sense any hope for the future. He said,

I had no clue of how to . . . like how to get a girl, or how to figure out myself just have you know self-esteem to go- or have like the nerve, or whatever you know what I mean? I guess I was just a different person, you know, shy. So I had no- I had no answers. Definitely. And I didn’t see nothing on the horizon.

So . . . when you’re when you’re in that kind of thought, frame, like it’s not good, ‘cause you’re just like, I can’t- I can’t solve this problem. You know what I mean? It’s unsolvable. This is probably going to be my life.

His phrase, “This is probably going to be my life,” echoes Freeman’s (2000) description of narrative foreclosure in which the individual feels that he or she knows with certainty what the future holds and therefore no longer can derive a different, often more positive, meaning. Richard could not envision a future self that was unencumbered by his past and present pain. His current circumstances would remain unchanged because he saw himself as a stagnant, core contributor to the problems he faced. His next logical step was to contemplate suicide; if there were no solution and no hope, the conclusion to his life could be predetermined.

I probably just thought uhm, like uh, life is stupid or like you know you gotta go to work or go to school. And maybe I probably like, probably dug into every little aspect of stuff in a society and probably thought everything was stupid, or, pointless, or you know . . . I just thought life was just maybe was like boring or something. You know. I think that seemed to be a thread in it like I would just I would get to a point where I just thought life is like pointless, and, why keep going through all the stress for . . . very little return or something. You know. That was kind of like how I used to feel. . . . I just gave up, I guess.

Richard’s depression moved beyond having pain that he could not represent. His entire existence was threatened by his inability to express his internal reality. When this failure of narration occurs, one’s sense of being cannot be articulated, and one therefore exists only in a vague, dissipated sort of way. Loss evolves into an incapacity for self-representation and therefore life becomes a form of nonexistence, of being without being. That is why “Narrative activity is crucial to recognizing and integrating repressed and alienated selves” (Ochs & Capps, 1996, p. 30). It is how we re-find our lost selves and resuscitate them back to life.

This sense of narrative foreclosure and meaninglessness contributed greatly to Richard’s suicidality, which was a core issue he battled in his depression. He said,

For me sometimes it was like- like suicidal thoughts can really get into it though, it’s like. . . . But I mean obviously life is, you’re going to have ups and downs,

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you know what I mean it’s just natural, you know what I mean? Life isn’t all like happy and everything. But . . . for me depression is just not feeling like life is worth it, or something. ‘Cause just feeling sad is a normal part of life, you know? I think I can be rational with that, you know? I can feel like if I’m depressed for like- if I feel down for like a week, I just think that’s a natural part of life, I don’t think that’s like depression. But uhm . . . for me though, it it comes real it g- it gets way stronger than that it’s like . . . you just almost don’t even want to think about your future, or you don’t want to live, or whatever you know. Or you really think about maybe I’ll do something (referring to suicide) or . . . that’s what it is for me, I guess I don’t know.

I am reminded here of Freud’s notion of the death instinct (1961) and Eigen’s concept of psychic deadness (1995). Freud describes an instinctive drive toward the tensionless state that precedes life; after all, “inanimate things existed before living ones” and “everything living dies for internal reasons” (Freud, 1961, p. 46). Therefore, Freud concludes that the ultimate goal of all life is death (1961, p. 46). Furthermore, he adds that living organisms seek to pursue their own path toward death rather than having it imposed on them from an outside source (p. 47). This concept was discussed alongside the pleasure principle, wherein all living things exist for the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of displeasure. In this context, threats to pleasure tend to be external.

Psychologically, Freud speaks of mental barriers to external stimuli as protective against becoming overwhelmed. When external stimuli break through these barriers, they can become so disruptive that they constitute a trauma that “is bound to provoke a disturbance on a large scale in the functioning of the organism’s energy and set in motion every possible defensive measure” (Freud, 1961, p. 33). When in a state of depression, negative “stimuli” tend to attack from all positions; circumstances and the environment, including the people in it, are skewed by negative perceptions, as are the self-attacks that constitute the individual’s emotional and mental state. When this occurs and a person can no longer defend against overwhelming pain, the solution may be to promote that return to death, through suicide.

Freud (1961) views the death drive essentially in terms of a dissipation of energy, a striving for the absence of organic existence and all of the impulses, processes, strivings, and sensations that accompany it. Clive (2000) describes the resistance against this, stating that “life involves a daily effort (of which, thankfully, we are generally unaware) to turn ourselves away from the death that we carry in our bodies” (p. 36). Eigen (1995) expands on the concept of the death drive by stating that the pull toward death is more than a mere passive regression, as Freud would have us believe. Rather, “Death is more an active breaking down than a passive falling apart” (Eigen, 1995, p. 282). The pulls toward and away from death, then, are in a constant state of active tension. Eigen illustrates his conceptualization by describing a woman so tortured in her existence that

death had eaten away almost all it could eat away. . . . She could not die before the death inside her devoured every crumb of potential aliveness in every corner of her being. It was as if she had to stay alive until there was nothing more for death to eat. (Eigen, 1995, pp. 281-282)

This is analogous to a depressed person living only to represent his or her pain, with the suffering itself serving as an object of attachment, until the torment becomes overwhelming and pulls the person, like a moth to a promising flame, toward suicide. In Richard’s darkest moments, this became his experience. He could no longer derive any pleasure or meaning from his life, and so his existence came to represent the very condition from which he suffered. His state of subjective darkness became the only recognizable and safe object of attachment, and suicidality became both a way to represent it and a hopeful means of escape.

  • [1] had the sense in speaking with Richard that being bullied as a child wasthe beginning of something unnameable in his experience, that perhaps atthe time he could not recognize or describe the effects it was having on hispsyche and so they became dormant, working their way into his unconscious.According to Charles (2013), bullying “increases the likelihood of laterdepressive and anxiety disorders” as well as suicidality (p. 12). In addition,the feelings of unworthiness that result become “internalized, leading to lowself-esteem, internalized shame, and a sense of being not only alienated butalso essentially alien” (Charles, 2013, p. 12). Because he had such difficultyin symbolizing his experiences in a meaningful way, Richard’s sufferingbecame diffuse. He could not formulate an identity for himself in the context
 
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