I have been taking a low dose of an SSRI for a while against a minor depression, and it has helped, but only recently I really feel like I am fully getting out of the depressed mindset and my head is clearing.
Comparing how I feel now and how I felt a few months ago made me realize like never before how much depression and a feeling of meaningfulness are connected for me.
My feeling of meaningfulness has always been varying widely. If I am on a low, I am deeply fed up with everything. It is like being nauseated with life itself. Then I say that I am “tired”, but I am not really tired, I just notice that everything seems like an effort, and interpret this as tiredness. But what I really mean is my actions or inactions seem meaningless to me, even cooking dinner, and consequently everything seems like a chore. For me, that is the summary of how depression feels like: like pervasive meaninglessness. I usually still function, but it is against a tide of nothingness.
When I am on a high, I get very active without effort. My work seems highly meaningful to me and stopping is like being on withdrawal. Working out also seems meaningful, and cleaning, and cooking, and meeting people, and writing, and I often get overwhelmed because there are too many things I want to do and although things are getting done extremely easily in this mode, at some point I start to be tired and overstimulated, but have the tendency to push on, because I just really do not want to stop doing whatever seems so meaningful.
In both cases, this impression of meaning has no rational thought process behind it. It is just a feeling that my actions have meaning or a feeling that they don’t. I know that my actions are always meaningless in the grand scheme of things and always meaningful for myself and the people around me. I suspect a lot of things that have always puzzled me about other people, and how stable they seem, is that they have a less varying sense of meaningfulness.
Since meaning is so central to my experience of depression, I suspect that one way to help oneself to get out of depressive episodes is to try to increase the feeling of meaningfulness in life. This seems so obvious, but I am not sure I fully understood this until now. The hard part about it is that we really have to ask what feels meaningful to us. And this can be a very threatening and upsetting question, so it can seem more safe to stay depressed.
For me, if I am honest, my current main source of meaningfulness is psychology. Thanks to psychology I can see my life, and that of others, as a journey towards “become who one truly is”, a journey with setbacks and pains and failures, but a journey that is, in a way, heroic and meaningful. When I read how others overcome bad parents, horrible partners, bad life choices and so on, and become more whole and healthier and happier, and wiser about who they are and what they want, I see them as protagnoists in stories that matter in a deep way. And then I feel like I am one of all those people struggling to become themselves too. I am on my way too, and it is always meaningful to work towards this goal, and always meaningful to help others along on this way, no matter by how little. And I start to want to help others on their paths, and learn about how to help them, and that is scary, because it is so far away from what I have done in my life until now.
I start to realize that the depression I felt during my final years in science was a normal reaction to the fact I had grown out of a line of work that did not feel meaningful to me anymore, but since it had felt so meaningful once, it was very hard to admit this. So the depression was a crisis of meaning. And to really overcome it I have to go in the direction where I perceive a sense of meaning for myself, and where this is is something that I have to figure out completely on my own.