Thanks to Zoom, I’m staying in touch with a lot of people these days. Five or six Zoom engagements a week, sometimes just a couple of people, other times with eight or ten at once. And guess what? Virtually everyone I talk with seems to be kinda depressed.
I don’t mean deep clinical depression where you can’t get out bed, or might actually end your life. More like a smothering of normal ebullience, joy, delight, optimism. Dialing all that down to a quasi-moribund baseline state of yeah-whatever. Sluggish. Meandering. Unmotivated. Tons of time to read, don’t feel like reading. Rattled by national calamities, but feel impotent, helpless to fix anything. And, remind me, what day is this again?
Whoa! What’s going on here? These are dynamic people who have been living lives of enviable accomplishment and productivity, sprouting new ideas and organizations and businesses and movements and realms of spiritual expression. But now, suddenly everyone’s waist-deep in quicksand…and sinking.
The key symptoms of depression are pretty well known. Read them over to see which might apply to you right now:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Any of those sound familiar—or feel familiar—to you right now? “…irritability even over small matters…” “…even small tasks take extra effort…” “…trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions…”
Thought so. And, as I said, why not? There are two very distinct variations of depression. One is caused by organic chemical complications in the brain that are not reactions to real-world events outside the brain. The other kind of depression is rooted in what our brains detect in those real-world events happening around us and to us. It’d be a miracle if we weren’t all suffering the second kind, given the real-world situation we are all stewing in right now. Here’s a list of possible depression-related symptoms generated by life in the United States of America today. As before, check to see if there are any that apply to your daily life right now:
- Sheltering/masking to avoid being infected by a deadly virus right outside
- Pondering the probability of your dying from that virus
- Feeling more irritable, short-tempered with housemates…”cabin fever”
- Losing your work identity, income, advancement opportunities
- Yearning for casual affection from friends and other loved ones—need a hug
- Forgoing weddings, memorial services, graduations, newborns, reunions
- Gaining unwanted extra pounds that you can’t deny any more
- Calculating the risks of inching toward resumption of your preferred life
- Wondering why Americans’ COVID risk is the worst in the entire world
- Decrying that tens of millions are being stripped of their medical insurance
- Withering under the tidal wave of lies and divisiveness toxifying national life
- Realizing that the “balance of power” in U.S. government is actually optional
- Feeling helpless to stop the blatant sabotage of our fair-election goals
- Learning from BLM how ignorant we whites are of living within black skin
- Discovering the intentional dishonesty of American “history” as we learned it
- Agonizing over environmental destruction and protective regulations
- Lamenting that millions of families are about to lose eviction protection
- Worrying that students and school staff will be infecting each other
- Knowing that parents are unable to work due to child-care issues
- Watching favorite enterprises and organizations go out of operation forever
- Missing the thrill of favorite sports and athletes playing before cheering fans
- Shuddering at the specter of anonymous troops assaulting peaceful citizens
- Realizing that our lifeline USPS is actually being destroyed in broad daylight
The list could go on and on, but that’s plenty for now. If you’re not feeling any of these as destabilizing factors in your life right now, you’re either in a coma or good to go. Meanwhile, the rest of us will figure out how to deal with this calamity.
So let’s sum up here. We’re feeling rather depressed. Our depression is not genetic or chemical but circumstantial. Now, what do we do about it?
Job #1 is to correctly diagnose our problem. We think that we’re depressed because we’re suffering this mind-bending tsunami of horrible events and realizations. But guess what? Those are the circumstances of our depression, but they are not the cause of it.
The esteemed psychiatrist, author, and pioneer thinker in adult psychological development Roger Gould, M.D., teaches that the key to dissolving everyday depression is getting un-stuck. What depresses us today is not the combination of lethal threats from COVID-19, and shameful realizations about our racism, and the unprecedented corruptions of our presidency and democracy. What depresses us that we feel paralyzed in the face of it all. We don’t see what we can do to make it better. It’s too massive to handle. We’re overwhelmed. We feel impotent. We slouch toward hopelessness. In a word, we feel “stuck”. It is feeling stuck that depresses us.
But surely there is something we can do. Finding that something is Job #2. We need not settle for cowering in impotence. We may not be able to wave a magic wand to rid America of the wracking disruptions thrust upon us, but taking just one step to cope with just one of the dismaying factors can do two things at once: improve the situation, and lighten our depression.
There is a catch to our agreeing to this premise. You see, now that we understand our depression comes from being stuck in inaction, we have a choice. We can choose to stay stuck, or we can choose to take action. Put bluntly, we can choose to stay depressed—or not.
To facilitate your decision to take action, let me offer some leads to prime the pump. I’ll link you to organizations working to heal what ails us. You can’t fix everything, so listen for what area of healing speaks to you.
You may want to begin by improving personal relationships. Being mired in a deteriorating situation is a widespread situation these days. The good news is that you can take steps from home to re-energize things. That might also unlock your stifled energy for working with the organizations below that are tackling the larger social and political issues. Here is a link to a well-proven online program called “Mastering Stress” developed by Dr. Roger Gould. He’s offering it for free during this pandemic crisis, helping you within minutes to identify a specific speed-bump in your life you’d love to flatten, and then taking you step-by-step through the process of dealing with it: https://masteringstress.com
We white folks newly aware of how deeply and painfully our biases and privilege toxify our communal life can continue our remedial education in racism and take redemptive action by engaging with Black Lives Matter, so the true authorities on our condition—people of color who suffer from it daily—can keep us moving: https://blacklivesmatter.com/
Several high-powered organizations challenge the corruption of our democracy through sophisticated legal challenges. One well-known defender of our Constitution, our rights, and our cherished traditions is the American Civil Liberties Union: https://www.aclu.org/. You will find a dozen or more areas where they could use your active support and involvement.
The same is true for The Brennan Center for Justice: https://www.brennancenter.org/. It was founded by legendary civil rights attorney Burt Neuborne who previously served as chief counsel for ACLU. A few minutes on the Brennan Center website will stir your soul and bolster your confidence that help is on the way…if you help them do it.
You’re not likely to come up with a miracle vaccine, but there are things you can do to help “bend the curve” of America’s outrageously incompetent and disgustingly politicized malfeasance in this pandemic. They include:
- telling your representatives at all levels of government what your own priorities are (e.g., health and safety, or economic rebound, or school opening, or honest transparency about C-19 data);
- joining in any localized campaigns that encourage doing smart things (e.g., wearing masks, banning mass gatherings, resisting premature re-openings);
- setting a good example for family and other friends by practicing tough love (e.g., rejecting invitations for encounters without viral protection, continuing to tolerate Zoom as a safe but slightly annoying alternative).
Changing political leadership
For many, replacing the current President and Republican-controlled Senate is their highest priority. The time-tested recipe for ordinary citizens is to support the candidates they prefer—Joe Biden for President and Kamala Harris for Vice-President, and whoever is challenging any of the 26 Republican Senators standing for re-election. Here’s the place to sign on to support the Biden-Harris candidacy: https://joebiden.com/#
And this link will show you all the Republican Senators who might be replaced in November. If your own Senator is not one of them, of course you can and should get behind any or all of the Democrats challenging those up for reelection in other states: https://www.270towin.com/2020-senate-election/ And here is the site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that offers specific ways for you to get involved: https://www.dscc.org/about-us/
And don’t take for granted a continuing Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. In addition to working to reelect your own local Member of Congress, get behind the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s nationwide effort here: https://dccc.org/about/
Ensuring fair elections
Without fair elections, democracy is dead. It seems clear that President Trump is working non-stop to delay, discredit, disrupt, or diminish an open and accessible election. There are several initiatives that would welcome your support; the two listed above under “Defending democracy” (ACLU, Brennan Center) both have election-integrity work going on, but here are two others that are exclusively devoted to that work.
Michelle Obama is a founder and leading light of “When We All Vote” which is doing powerful work to enroll voters and ensure that they have a fair chance to cast a ballot. People say that working with this organization is very rewarding: https://www.whenweallvote.org/
A seasoned champion of election-integrity, Marc Elias, demonstrates ways for you, too, to help protect this most vital of all the pillars of “democracy”. His work is immediate, vital, crucial to rebut Trump’s demolition of voting. Join up with him here: https://www.democracydocket.com
That’s enough for starters. Now that you’re into it, help is on the way!