This is part of a continuing series on autism spectrum disorder and depression.
In Part 1, I provided a broad overview of the topic. It’s worth going into more detail about depression at this point due to it’s uncanny ability to go undetected by the outside world. It can be a dangerous situation, especially for those on the spectrum; as described in Part 2, depression can hide behind autistic traits creating a “masking effect”.
It’s a challenging topic because most people associate depression with a feeling…and nothing more. I think people who have not struggled with it have a hard time understanding the difficulty level involved with digging out of a depressive state. It leads them to simplistic, trite solutions: if you’re sad, think about something different…pull yourself out of it, and so on.
Because people view depression as a species of feeling, the response is often inadequate. What they are failing to see is the entity behind those feelings. The real driving force behind depression.
Depression doesn’t operate by simply generating feelings and thoughts of sadness. Depression is far more cunning and organized than that. Depression operates like a corporation. It sets its sight on a target. It initiates a hostile takeover. It then takes all of the complexity of the human mind and subjugates it to the company brand.
Let’s call it Depression Inc.
It sets up shop and proceeds to function much like a bureaucracy: it builds a compartmentalized system of voices; each with it’s own role, all coordinated within a rigid hierarchy.
For two reasons, this set up can be powerfully effective. It only needs to sell one product: hopelessness. And it’s target demographic consists of a single customer: you. All that complexity…very little opposing it…it’s a dream come true for any company.
Let’s take a closer look at the way Depression Inc. is structured (and click here to see it as an infographic).
The Worker Bees
In the bottom floor of Depression Inc. you’ll find mail rooms and janitor closets. This is where the worker bees do their thing. Their job is to focus on narrow, specific thoughts. “I’ll probably fail today”, “I’m stupid”, “I hate the way i look.”
These are the day-to-day voices of depression; grinding, miserable drones. Their job description: drain meaning out of the particulars of life; anything and everything should be picked over, belittled.
It’s a busy floor. With no shortage of data to sort through, the drones can go on and on, endlessly, with their negative valuations. This floor generates the bulk of the mental exhaustion that goes along with depression.
But again, workers bees only focus on day-to-day concerns. Bigger ideas get kicked up to the next floor.
The Middle Managers
The middle managers in this corporation are assigned the higher level concepts, like hope and optimism. Worker bees carry out orders, but it’s the managers that shape the company message.
They send out a constant stream of memos that direct and guide their employees. And they do this by corrupting ideas that normally inspire us. If it supports and sustains a constructive world view, the managers are out to poison it.
Concepts like hope, personal growth, the future: it is the job of middle management to render these ideas meaningless. Their corrosive memos make hope feel laughable; personal growth like a lost cause; the future non-existent.
They shape the message…but they don’t create it. That job belongs to one person and one person only.
Big office, top of the skyscraper, overseeing everything: the CEO.
He’s in the top spot because he’s a branding genius: he found a way to make his one product, hopelessness, seem like a million different products.
What does this mean? A depressed person spends most of the day finding dozens of specific reasons to believe that life is terrible. But all of the reasons are just hopelessness hiding itself behind different forms. The CEO found a way to make everything…literally everything, life itself…seem hopeless.
Imagine if every product was a Nike product. All shoes, coffee makers, toys, cleaning products, etc. Millions of products. One brand. Well, Depression Inc. actually pulls this off. The CEO puts all of his resources together…all of those managers with their memos and the workers bees with their grinding tasks…and he convinces his lone customer that everything in life is hopeless.
With depression, every idea is one idea. Behind any negative valuation you’ll find the voice of the CEO whispering that life isn’t worth living.
It’s a trick of branding. But it’s effective because the CEO knows how to conceal the real world behind his seemingly ubiquitous product.
Depression Inc.: a bureaucracy vast and well staffed and lethal.
If you’re down? This is what you’re up against. Not sad thoughts, sad feelings, but a hive of organized, brutal forces.
Breaking the Monopoly
These are forces that can crumble when they collide with self-awareness. That’s what made the difference in my life. After years of depression, I sought professional help (where I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome) and was able to realize that depression wasn’t a matter of “pulling yourself out of it.” There was no way to magically “feel better.” I had to talk, listen and painstakingly piece together the mechanisms of depression.
Because of the difficulty level involved with this process, none of the concepts here can function as useful advice. But I can definitely say that self-awareness- learning to untangle depressive thoughts from real perceptions- was a key factor for me. It seemed to erode the strength from Depression Inc.
That looming, virulent building, with all of it’s intensity…it can fall. In the right light, it’s dilapidated bones just give up the fight, topple.
You can walk away from it.