Thursday, January 23, 2020

Pseudo-Independence As a Sign of Depression

I've seen the following several times: X ends their marriage and declares to the virtual world "I am now free!" X's cyber twins applaud the announcement of X's Independence Day. X celebrates this for some days, responding to the congratulations.

I saw another one of these rituals recently. Why did I doubt, in this recent case, that X was really "free?" [I counseled X many years ago.]

Brown University medical psychiatrist Peter Kramer writes that, "To act from independence is one thing, from compulsion, another." (Peter Kramer, Against Depression, 91) The difference between the two is the difference between free will and the determinism that mental illness imposes.

What often seems like an act of independence out of one's free will is actually the polar opposite (or a variation thereof); viz., of bondage. That's what I thought about X. Was X really not free, and just responding to an unsatisfied urge to placate their depression?

Thomas Merton once wrote that anyone who smokes a cigarette every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but enslaved. The person who has sexual intercourse every time they feel the urge to do so is not free, but in bondage to their urges. As I write this I am desiring a bowl of ice cream. Should I leave the keyboard, and hustle to the freezer, am I free?

One sign of freedom is the ability to choose against one's urges or feelings. In such cases one is not psychologically, or clinically, compelled. 

Kramer tells the story of a woman named "Mariana" who appears, to her suitor "Harry," to march to the beat of her own drum. Kramer writes: "Often, these traits signal independence. They indicate confidence...  [But] In this instance, I thought, the identical behaviors signal illness."

It's hard to judge between the two. How many times, in ministry, have I been fooled?! Yet I have seen the real thing.

Usually, my clarity about X's freedom comes after months and years of changed behaviors. I don't spend a lot of time trying to judge whether the person is free or not, but over the years a number of misjudgments cause me to be more cautious. The person who on a Sunday morning declares their freedom is, at times, exhibiting a knee-jerk reflex.

People who shout about their "freedom" from sexual promiscuity while being oblivious to their bondage. Conversely, people announce their liberation from sexual fidelity. Their friends misread the social cues as signs of an independent person, which is like looking at water and pronouncing it wine. 

Kramer writes: "The social response to depression gives rise to paradox and oxymoron" (93). The depressed,  psychologically determined person, in their self-proclaimed freedom, appears liberated.

This is pseudo-independent behavior, false freedom. Kramer says it is often a signal of depression.


I write about prayer as God-dependency in my book

 - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.