Monday, September 23, 2013

We are Not Autonomous

While the idea of Individualism is not unique to Western culture, the degree to which it is embraced is culturally unique. The roots are embedded in Greek aesthetics and philosophy. This tree sprouted from the fertile seed of "Humanism". An idea that ((wo)man) is the apex of value and that great things could be accomplished on earth without the help of the gods. This idea contrasted sharply with the previous notions of muses and meddling gods who, in some myths, would literally manifest themselves upon earth to influence human beings. As centuries passed and Christianity spread across the continent, the human side of Jesus was emphasized. Even though Christian belief considered him divine, he was never called God. He was considered the son of God, the divine embodied in flesh. His life was worshiped. The human side of him shone through. Then the renaissance brought humanism back in full swing. Greek classics were studied. The age of reason helped bring about exploration, scientific achievement, democracy, industry and capitalism.

What we have now is world blanketed by a multifarious network of beliefs. This western idea of individuality has melded with eastern ideas of spirituality, aboriginal beliefs of nature worship and so on. This sometimes leads to beautiful new ideas or ways of thinking, just as much as it results in existential vacillation or clashes of culture. Moreover, a new world appears to be emerging from the old. While I have theories, I cannot say what this new world will ultimately be. No one can.

Returning to this emphasis on individualism, one of the things that makes America and similar societies great, is the concept that a person can rise up from humble beginnings and make something out of nothing. This of course is a shinning ideal and not easily realized, but it does happen. Additionally, it is empowering, in the true sense of the word, to take command of one’s own life. "Trust in your capabilities, there by manifesting your own future." What a beautiful thought! The grittier side of a life lived with too much focus on individualism is a certain brand of despair. I'll call it "despair-isolation", or the despair of isolation. This thought that there is nothing of value beyond ourselves plagues people at all ages, but becomes most apparent at the end of a life, even a powerful life as in the case of Howard Hughes. This brings me to my ultimate point, the difference between individualism and autonomy.

Autonomy, in the most basic sense, simply means "self rule". It is an idea that is relatively easy to understand when applying it to concepts of government. As Americans, we embrace this concept going back to the founding of our government, during which time people did just that, basically saying, "You will no longer rule us! We will rule ourselves!"

The concept of autonomy gets decidedly trickier when you apply to the individual. It is delusional to say that individuals are autonomous, or capable of autonomy, although certain thinkers have done so, Ayn Rand being one of the more outspoken in recent history. It is delusional simply because it takes individualism to the absolute degree. It disregards everything else that makes up a person, everything except the person itself. It disregards the others who have come before you and influenced you- your parents, your friends, your teachers, your favorite authors or philosophers and even your very culture. It tosses out the slightest consideration for those who may have helped you get an edge up or a start. Interestingly, it also ignores many internal aspects of the person, by emphasizing that rational, decisive side and ignoring the influential aspect of our moods and emotions, which by their very nature, we have little to no control over.

Individualism is fine. I'm all for the empowerment of the person, or the strengthening of person-hood. However, the world and the person both suffer when this idea is perverted to the extent of autonomy. We should be just as responsible for others as we are for ourselves. We should feel comfortable making our own decisions, but only after recognizing that any decision is the product of so much more than ourselves. To believe that you rule yourself in complete entirety is to start on that long, lonely road, which ends in the desolate lands of despair and isolation.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Passing

I fell passionately into writing my blog at the beginning of the year. Thoughts and images would suddenly light up my mind and to keep the fire burning I bled the words out onto the web. This would be for my own benefit and, as I came to feel, the benefit of others. No pride... OK, that is a lie. I felt swells of gratification knowing others enjoyed my posts. Why else would I write something for others to read? We all seem to be doing that these days with social media and digital-inter-connected-ness. Then, something happened. I stopped writing. I didn't become lazy or apathetic. I didn't move onto other passions, neglecting my desire to share my thoughts with others in the process. I know what happened. This post is about that. This post is about its passing.

Try to describe the severity of a true depression. Only those who have been crushed under its weight, or emptied out by its alien darkness can identify with it. Even then, everyone's experience is different and if one could relate it would be difficult. For you see, inside a depression, you don't feel like yourself. You don't even feel like someone else. You feel like nothing. In this sense, the word depression doesn't depict it properly. That implies that you have been 'pressed down' by something. In truth, it becomes almost impossible to engage in beneficial activities (both external and internal), and while 'pressed down' describes that, it doesn't even scratch the surface of the vacuuming effect, the flatness or the numbness.

Which emotion is the darkest it gets? Grief? Despair? Anger? As bad as those feelings are, you can still remain intact while writhing through their unsettling grips. Often, you can come out stronger if they can be reconciled. The darkest it gets is when you don't feel anything anymore. 

The two most alarming experiences I had during the height of my depression were these.

4 a.m. I wake up suddenly. I don't recall a dream. I am scared without feeling scared. I feel like a shell. I feel absolutely nothing and it came out of nowhere. In fact, just 6 hours before I was meeting with ex coworkers, having drinks and lively conversations. I fell asleep as one person and woke up as a non-person. That is the only way to say it. The emptiness was the only thing I could feel. It is weird to say and ever weirder to recollect. The only thing I felt was no feeling.

Mid-afternoon, several months later. It's spring. Having drinks with family and friends, I am trying my best to ignore the specter of depression. I joke. I laugh (but I don't quite feel it). Things seem to be going well. No trigger. No reason. Suddenly, what little feeling I was building up on the inside is suddenly ripped out. I called it a 'vacuuming effect'. I stand there emptied out. Again, I am a non-person and it is the most unsettling thing I have experienced. I felt so disconnected I thought I may suddenly emerge in a alternative world. This, I've come to learn is disassociation.

I won't dive into suicidal ideation. Not here. Now now. The only thing I will say is that in other circumstances, suicidal thoughts might seem like morbid fantasies inspired by selfish motives. The way a teenager might think, "I wonder just how sad people would be if I wasn't around". However, suicidal thoughts, framed inside a severe depression, take on a perverse brand of pragmatism. Simply, make the outer become like the inner. Make the flesh die just as the inside has died.

Redemption comes from love. This is true and will always be true. I don't mean to say this as some silly fortune cookie would read. Rather, I mean to say, I only sought help after being convinced by those who love me that what I was going through was as dark as it gets and that I needed to seek professional help. Pride aside, I went. I learned and I began to heal. I am not touting the benefits of therapy. It is simply a tool that worked for me this time. Long ago I healed myself from a severe depression in my youth, not with therapy, but rather by breaking through to inner realms, uncharted territory. It can be done both ways or maybe even one hundred different ways.

When I say "It is passing", I mean exactly that. I didn't expect to wake up one day cured. The thing is a process and it takes time to move on. I learned tools along way. Gradually, I learned to feel again. My God! How good the first real emotion feels after not feeling for so long, even if that emotion is sadness. I never would have imagined how good sadness could feel. The biggest lesson I came to learn is that our minds can take us to so many different planes of existence. There is no teeth, no hair, no flesh to any given thought that enters our heads. It is just that, a thought. Our minds don't define us and we should be very careful about putting too much stock in them. There is so much more to us than our thoughts.