Depression and meaning

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.

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6 Responses to Depression and meaning

  1. The Omniopined Psycholar says:

    Meaning is everything! 😀

  2. murfomurf says:

    When you said that everything made you feel tired or nauseated, I really “got” that. I describe it as “meh”-ness now and it signals to me that I need to INJECT meaning into whatever I do. No one and nothing is going to give me meaning. These days I describe my depression to my therapist as feeling there is no HOPE in this next minute or day or year. Just nothing. That’s what drives my suicidal thoughts and I have to switch over to thinking about “doing” rather than thinking. A single item “list” is my starter. If I can accomplish just one tiny thing before the end of the day or during the next day, that is my only goal besides breathing. Sometimes that thing is a shower, at other times potting a plant, because I determine what I can manage. If someone suggests something to me, that’s no good. I need to suggest my own activity from my own meaningful thought. And so I go forward, being urged on by my high-dose SSRI and other nutritional support. Keep on truckin’!

    • zinemin says:

      Yes, exactly. One has to listen to even weak impulses from intuition or emotion to do something and then do that, instead of trying to force oneself to do what one “should” do. Bottom-up instead of top-down, kind of. I think in parts my depression was caused by doing too many things that I had to do instead of doing things that I wanted to do for too long, to a degree that at some point I stopped even noticing what I wanted, and even eating and cooking felt like a chore (that is very bad in my case, since that is usually one of the last things I enjoy). Then life feels totally empty because it is actually empty. But there is indeed a way back to feeling like yourself again. I hope your SSRI and nutritional support keep helping you, and that you find out what is meaningful to you every day!

  3. You just took the words out of my mouth just now with your comment ^^:

    “my depression was caused by doing too many things that I had to do instead of doing things that I wanted to do for too long,”

    In fall when I had that ugly break up with my ex-boyfriend I promised myself I would no longer do anything except what I WANTED to do, not things I had to do. This year has been a wonderful roller coaster of growth and success. I left a job I hated, got to pick some exciting projects. But adult life is much more complicated than that. I need to pay the bills so I’m adjuncting at a community college. I enjoy teaching, but I don’t like working for the college because of how the administration runs things. And I know this is short term (I will start a full-time job as a lecturer at a university in town) but I’ve been feeling really meaningless again. Like I’m just waiting out this phase of my life until the part that I really want starts up again. Like everything is just a distraction from the meaningless of my life. And truthfully, when I allowed myself to follow only those things I wanted, I realized what I truly want is to be a wife and a mom. And I feel like work is just a means to pay the bills and distract myself. Because all these accomplishments and success doesn’t matter if I’m not sharing it with someone and building a life for someone. Everything feels meaningless right now.

    • zinemin says:

      I am sorry you feel like this… I don’t want to sound preachy, but I felt similarly not long ago, and now I feel like things have meaning again, and somehow this did not happen because I reached a goal that was meaningful to me. I am not sure how exactly it happened, but what helped was therapy, and SSRI, and giving myself space, and doing things I liked, even if they seemed like distractions at first, and in general being kinder and more forgiving with myself… I hope you can find a way to get the feeling of meaning back already now, too. Because your life is meaningful already now!

  4. Pingback: Depression and meaning | Een Gefleste Geest

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