“What made me this way?”
This is a question that I have asked myself more than once, and I am not alone. It’s an expression of curiosity, which may be universal in the human species. It can take on a more painful mien when it is lifted up during a period of depression, when it can also be expressed as, “what’s wrong with me?” The question I lift up in turn is this: does the cause matter? For that question, the answer is a resounding “yes,” and also a strident “no.”
Nothing about the origins of depression in an individual is going to alter the balance of chemicals that are released into the brain, one might argue. Having an answer to that question does not alter one’s personal circumstances one whit. The living arrangements, the employment situation, the physical appearance, the other health challenges will remain the same. On a grander scale, understanding the source of depression will not alter the course of politics, social justice, or climate change. Pursuing the elusive answer to this question, trying to pin down a moment, an incident, a reason for experiencing depression can become an obsessive quest, one that leads one again into the black gyre of depression. At best asking the question accomplishes nothing; at worst it leaves one feeling more miserable than ever.
Stories are essential to the human experience, it can also be reasoned. The stories we tell ourselves shape our experience, settling into the non-conscious parts of the mind that are more closely connected to spirit. Through the intentional use of story, we are able to reshape self-image, and in turn renegotiate all our other relationships. To unravel the mystery of how and when and why depression became a factor is to unlock a personal origin story and, in that, anchor an identity. Whether this beginning was in a life-altering traumatic childhood event, or passed on through generations of ancestors, or in an accumulation of tiny disappointments that grew slowly over time, knowing the beginning of this experience opens the door to imagining a different outcome.
I say again that both are true. We ask the question because we each hold a desire to order our experience, but we can obsess over seeking the “truth,” or we can choose to hunt for someone to blame. Those are not paths to healing. On the other hand, we can shape stories from available facts and feelings that are empowering. My story may be about how depression is an alarm that was sounded generations ago, and has me on high alert until I learn to turn it off. Once I am able to find that switch, I will bring healing not only to myself, but the many ancestors who were also paralyzed by this warning system. I am now the hero of my own story, faced with a seemingly impossible task that I am destined to accomplish.
Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, and don’t let a lack of information get in the way, either. Be the hero of your own story.