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November 14th, 2018
At the heart of motivation is motion.
What is more motivating. . . Or rather, what gets you to move faster and more efficiently:
The chocolate donut on the other side of the room?
The thumb tack you just sat on?
One quick game of neuronal ping-pong yields the observation that one situation is positive and one is negative. But strangely enough, the negative situation - i.e. sitting on a thumb tack - is more motivating.
What would happen if we reframe depression as that thumbtack?
The difference and difficulty is that a thumbtack has a clear and unambiguous message, i.e. you sat in the wrong place. And depression has a hazy, ambiguous message that contains no clear solution and even worse: no clear problem.
But what is the message?
Things need to change.
In essence the thumbtack is saying the same thing: you’ve sat in the wrong place, and you should probably change that. The sooner the better.
Depression provides no such clarity.
Think of the exasperated and scared parent who has tried everything to comfort and care for a baby that simply will-not-stop-screaming. If only that tiny kid could talk, perhaps our parent could get some . . relief. Such relief is a function of clarity. The exhausted and scared parent has no clarity about what is wrong. The ability to communicate would suddenly give rise to a channel for clarity, and whatever information the child could give the parent could then prompt actions on the part of the parent that would in turn make both happy.
If only depression could talk, and specifically detail what in the hell is wrong, perhaps then there might be an opportunity to iterate towards some kind of relief.
The message depression carries is about as meaningful as a baton in a relay race. Depression holds that baton - that message - that things must change. And it will continue to run towards the depressed and desperate to pass on the message, mute to the meaning, unending in it’s efforts to get closer and closer and closer in order to hand off the message.
What if that enemy running faster and faster to catch us is doing so in order to try and help?
But each time depression overwhelms the depressed, the baton is not passed, the message is usually not received. And after enough time, the race is on again. But a look over the shoulder, and suddenly, the race seems to be something different.
What if at the heart of depression there isn’t simply a deeply powerful notion that something is wrong, but also a hope – an assurance - that things could be better and that things should be better? If only we have the courage and resources to recognize and root out exactly what is wrong.
If only we can get the message, instead of constantly looking in the rear-view mirror, if only we could grab the baton, that simple message of depression that something needs to change and look forward and charge with all our might towards a better future.
We might think of a coin with two sides. Such sides are so close together, and yet they could not be more diametrically opposed, facing in opposite directions. Perhaps this is the case with depression. It broadcasts the fear of what might happen if things continue, but also contains an implicit hope about how much better things could be if the appropriate actions were taken.
We might do well to remind ourselves of the strange and useful etymology of the word ‘fear’, how knowing it can paradoxically give us courage, to take worthwhile risks with the aim of potentially fulfilling the hope that may be at the core of depression.