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


“Once again, it is not just arriving too late into the world of meaningthat is, the human conditionrather, it is arriving there as one excluded from participation in the creation of meaning, especially the meaning of one’s own body. ”

(Oliver, 2004)

Alexa’s experience with subjective darkness was strongly linked to social ruptures and feelings of interpersonal disconnection that she had felt throughout her life. Alexa’s confusion regarding her subjective experience of selfstates, others, existential questions, and crises of the ability to trust, ultimately culminated in a breakdown of her capacity to make meaning of her life and relationships with people. As a child, Alexa had been extremely shy and fearful that she might somehow inadvertently offend strangers in a foreign country. She was uprooted from a familiar culture, country, and home as a child when her family fled from political persecution and came to the United States. As she grew older, this sense of being an outsider did not diminish; Alexa often felt that she was more invested in relationships and more attached to people than they were invested in her. In her mind, the people toward whom she felt genuinely connected regarded her with feelings of obligation, duty, and resentment instead of affection and love. Eventually, this sense of mistrust became magnified and Alexa felt that she could no longer trust even her family members and those she felt the closest to in life.

A crisis of meaning occurred, and Alexa’s very existence came to resemble a hell on earth. During some moments she felt she had died and gone to hell, and her punishment was to live in a state of utter turmoil and dejection for the rest of her days. At other times she feared that she was in limbo, that the devil would compel her to commit heinous acts, or that the evilness in the world would consume her in a predatory attack. She no longer felt human and feared that aliens had inhabited her body. All of these became metaphors she experienced literally, and each represented a manifestation of her inability to make meaning of her experience.

One of the most essential aspects of human life is the ability to formulate a cohesive narrative, the capacity to experience life in an entirely subjective manner but to be able to convey the nuances of this inner state to others in an attempt to have that existence validated by those who matter. This exchange is an act of affirmation: It is the “yes” that we all seek in order to feel that our perceptions can be acknowledged by others as meaningful. Alexa was no longer able to enter an interpersonal space of communion, and this fact destroyed her ability to bear witness to herself. She experienced horrors she could not convey, and anyone with whom she might share her terrors represented another potential predator.

Although some might be tempted to view Alexa’s experience through the narrow lens of “paranoia” or “psychosis,” she felt that at the core of her struggle was a sense of alienation and depression. If we apply all we have explored in terms of untold losses manifesting themselves through the generations and becoming exacerbated by their inability to be shared, if we understand her experience in terms of a profound sense of alienation that occurs when a person feels completely and irrevocably separate from all other beings, and if instead of dismissing Alexa’s experience as belonging to a person who has lost touch with reality we acknowledge her subjectivity as having a legitimate place in the discourse of humanity, we can foster a space for a person who felt rejected for so long. She deserves at least this: a receptive ear to a story of exquisite suffering, an acknowledgment of the person she is, despite the ghosts that haunted her.

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