Monthly Archives: November 2006

Evolutionary Depression

So why is the rate of depression continuing to grow? I can’t quote statistics, but I’m not really sure I have to; general consensus seems to support the idea.

Is it just that we now make a more proper diagnosis and/or diagnose more frequently (wonder the same thing about hypothyroidism and caner)? Rates increased because the suite of symptoms is so often repeated by media that people associate themselves with it? Or are the rates really climbing?

Do more docs ‘believe’ in the condition now? I once saw a GP in a drenched, rainy Western Washington suburb about some gut pain, real pain, not imaginary, and he could make no determination as to what was bothering me. He left the room as I reclothed myself. He walked back in, and, almost agressively, asked, “Are you a real man, or would you like me to write scrip for some Prozac?” I didn’t understand what he was saying, he stomped out, abandoned me to negotiate my own way out from his office, my own meaning from the incident. I would learn later about the Prozac.

Several years ago, as I was trying to make sense of depression, to make sense of why it happened, and why to me, and why to growing numbers of folks, I began to consider the idea that depression might somehow be evolutionarily adaptative.

Things are so fast today, so diffuse and fractured. With all of the daily decisions made, factors considered, multi-tasking done (which I’ve read in Time, contrary to Web-influenced prognostications, is not a necessarily efficient way for humans to work or an appropriate metaphor for cognition), perhaps depression is adaptive in its relative elimination of external ‘noise.’ The frontal brain is somewhat overcome by portions of the more primitive inner brain. While one may be overcome by emotions, or reduced to a certain ‘dullness,’ linear thought, at least in my experience, seems a more frequent protocol (once one is past, in the case of severe depression, lack of sleep or ruminatory thought). Maybe the human species is somehow selecting for, or protecting itself through, a kind of transfer to or regression from contemporary cognitive function in order to slow down or regain internal control; maybe it’s adefensive  response to external stimuli, a reconstitution so as to regain organismic control, a slower, more sensible offensive approach to our environment (of course this idea fails to account for suicide, unless you considered it an over-compensation yet in the same adaptive ‘direction’).

Maybe the human organism, in some innate connection to environment and ecology, senses somehow that it has nearly destroyed its natural niche; the reduced activity produced by depression, in the sense of both work performed and material consumed, could be an adaptive response to that destruction.


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Not quite sure what that means, but seem to have some sense. And I think it’s one of the benefits of being depressed. So is the development of real gratitude.

I check my kids out. The eight year-old playing basketball, hair slipping out of her pony tail, eyeglass retainers, and a killer attitude. Got a picture of her shooting a free throw last year; imagining it right now I start to tear up. It’s sitting on my desk at home, and her artwork is tacked to the wall above. So is the pink polka dot hippo she hand sewed me during my hospital tenure.

Her older sister watched her trying out for the third grade girls’ league last weekend, said she was stealing balls and frustrating the offense like no one’s business, knocking the ball out of reach if she couldn’t steal it. She’s not like me: a little demure, afraid to get too physical with other players and angry when they bump me. She’s pretty unabashed (does that mean abashed, like a happy post person is ‘gruntled?’). Coach asked my wife where she learned to play so aggressively, and my wife responded, “By learning to play with boys’ teams on an Indian reservation.” She’s a sweet, tough, charismatic daughter who has elected to keep the scars on her temple the accident left her;  a testament to people who ask about the nastiness of drunk driving.

Forget the Native American designation. I tutored kids on the Res for a year, and they screwed up their faces in disgust if you called them Native American. They were Indian; they were proud. Remembering Alex, the little rocket scientist who couldn’t concentrate on one idea long enough to save himself; a monster IQ heading for a school sentence of nonacknowledgment of who he was: Paiute, Christian, (the former two hard enough to make sense of together) Male. I think the distraction he suffered was lack of challenge or sparking neurons; the school diagnosis, of course, was ADHD. Thinking him makes me tear up and pray.

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So, why?

Why does one get stricken with depression? Why does someone faithful to the benevolent God get blown out of commission, Elijah like?

Why the Prozac? Why the Xanax? Why the six weeks less authentic sleep, the perennial weeping  before two bewildered children and a loving wife and Mom now burdened by a third? The lullabyes not so much to comfort the baby but sung and snuggled to comfort me? The womb-like pulse of the rocking chair?

Why the reaction to Welbutrin, the diagnosis hidden from potential employers and friends, the dreams replete with a gun held to one’s head, the horrible idea of daughters dying, Dad’s inability to provide?

Why the transient jobs, the grad school incompletes, the contracts not renewed? My wife’s mounting anxiety, and the move away from my world to the support of her parents?

I used to think it was God’s way of humbling me, of disarming my intellect. I’d always thought I could control or redirect any part of my life. My academic performance suggested I’d always be able to reason my way to the bottom of things, pare onions down to their cores. But I couldn’t do that with Y2K. I’d worked in markup languages, knew too much and read even more about computing and embedded processors, and could see, clearly, the ugly possibilities.

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