The Mighty Logo

The Deep, Fundamental Roots of Depression's Lies

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“If not today, then tomorrow sickness and death will come (indeed, they were already approaching) to everyone, to me, and nothing will remain except the stench and the worms. My deeds, whatever they may be, will be forgotten sooner or later, and I myself will be no more. Why, then, do anything? How can anyone fail to see this and live? That’s what is amazing! It is possible to live only as long as life intoxicates us; once we are sober we cannot help seeing that it is all a delusion, a stupid delusion! Nor is there anything funny or witty about it; it is only cruel and stupid.” — Leo Tolstoy, “Confessions”

What is the crux of depression? What is the fundamental root of its cause? I have spent many years trying to work this out with the expectation that once I found out, I would be able to start dealing with it and attempt to expel it from my life.

My life has, after all, been totally compromised by this insidious disease that has attached itself to my mind like a vicious parasite gradually taking over every aspect of existence from within. It has killed enjoyment, stifled joy and shadowed every moment of my life for a long time. Whenever I find myself starting to laugh at something, feeling affection or starting to reach out to the good things in life, it’s there, wrapping itself around everything, squeezing the life out of it and convincing me existence is meaningless, especially my existence.

There are many causes of depression and even more manifestations of it, but the more I live with it, the more I’m convinced the deep, fundamental roots of it lie in its message of meaninglessness. We may attempt to convince ourselves that we can attain meaning in our lives such as having a family, religious affiliation, loving people, creating new things, forging a career, helping others and even changing the world. Yet, with depression, there is a caveat to all of this, an underlying feeling that ultimately it all means nothing.

Whatever we may achieve, in a million years it will be totally and utterly expunged. We may fool ourselves into believing our lives have meaning, but it is simply an illusion. This knowledge is the existential crisis that depression feeds off. As soon as I begin to apply myself to something, with the hope that it may have some worth to me or to others, the parasitical depression attaches itself to that ephemeral hope and imposes its own version of cosmic reality to it. This reality is one of ultimate meaninglessness. Once depression convinces us that meaninglessness is the true meaning of life, then how can we possibly escape it?

Whatever the personal causes and triggers of depression may be, once the individual circumstances have been stripped away, I believe that what will be found is the perception of life as a meaningless enterprise. This is a bitter pill for most of us to swallow as our culture is constantly reinforcing the importance of what we do in life: family, friends, work, creativity, charity, politics and religion. However, the depressive parasite is having none of this. It deconstructs all of these apparently meaningful attributes of life and imposes its own nihilistic version of reality, a reality of futility and meaninglessness.

Depression, true, deep-seated depression is powerful. It will overcome any materialistic argument against meaninglessness with ease, and it will convince us religious and spiritual explanations for our existence are simply delusions. Once it has done that… well, there’s nothing left to life is there? As Tolstoy says, “It is only cruel.”

So what hope can be found here? If meaninglessness is the ultimate tool used by the depression parasite and that tool is able to control our lives, how do we escape this existential nightmare and claim back our lives from this cruel messenger? I’m afraid I don’t know. If I’d been able to crack the code, then I wouldn’t have the horrors inside my head, and I would be flushing the parasite out of my system and telling others how to do it as well.

However, perhaps filtering out all of the confused (and perhaps ephemeral) symptoms of depression from our life and accepting and recognizing that we need to confront the deepest existential issue of meaninglessness, is the first step to true healing. If there’s one thing I have learned about depression, it’s that it doesn’t like being confronted. After all, meaninglessness is nothing more than a concept, simply another idea that we have conjured up from our consciousness.

Confront it head on, and there might be a way out. This isn’t easy and is likely to be dangerous, but the cancerous parasite of depression cannot be dealt with through soft words and medication alone. They may soothe the pain and help us through the days, but if we want to kill it off, then we need to come to terms with meaninglessness, to understand it as a concept and attempt to rise above it.

This might be best left explained by a wiser person than me:

“Human beings, whoever they may be, consciously or unconsciously look for a meaning to their lives. They need a reason to live and, each day, try to find it through all that their domestic, social and professional life give them. But in reality no success, no material possession can give them the meaning of life, precisely because it is a matter of ‘meaning,’ and meaning is not a material reality. It can only be found up above on the subtle planes. In the lower regions, we can find only forms. Of course, we can fill up the form with content, which is in the feeling, the sensation we experience when we truly love an object, a person or an activity. But feeling is often temporary, and when we lose it, we are left with a sense of emptiness and pain. So we must look beyond the content for the meaning. When we reach the meaning, we are fulfilled.” — Mikhaël Omraam Aïvanhov

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 12, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home