Author Archives: cuculus canorus

About cuculus canorus

Jeg er gjøken. Koko!

Depression, existential depression and unwanted gifts


I am a guest blogger here at Free Psychology. Unlike the blog owner, who is a psychologist, I am a patient; a mental case, if you wish. I have a blog in Norwegian called Gjøkeredet (The cuckoos nest). Some of my posts here will be translations of things I have already posted there. What I write here is entirely my own view and reflections, it is not necessarily the view of the blog owner.

There is a large difference between depression and existential depression, and it is an important one. I have been through the mental health system as in-patient for months and months, and have found little of the tools they try to give me as particularly useful, and in some cases counterproductive. I have found little help exploring this: I am pretty sure – after almost a year of well-meaning therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses – that my depression is existential. There have been little research done on this, and it seems the best reflections around this is written by artists, philosophers and poets.

They say existential depression is “un-caused”. This means there is no trigger event, there is no dark secrets of childhood abuse or neglect. It seems to arise from “nowhere”. True, in that sense I have no reason to be depressed. What they call a psychological depression stems from disappointments and failure (real or imaginary). existential depression is “irrational.” I strongly disagree with this and will come back to this.

The various – and there has been many! – therapists have hammered relentlessly in their search for childhood trauma, dramatic events and emotions stunted. There is none, I said so from the start. I had a very interesting, fulfilling and extremely exciting life before I realised I was in such a black hole I needed help to get out.

Some people would argue that people can get an existential depression when – for example – a loved one dies or somesuch. The way I see it, is that this is a healthy and normal reaction: it is a memento mori for us: remember that you shall die. You would probably be a little of a psychopath if you did not question life after such an event. But in most cases, it passes. It is not as such, an existential depression. It is an existential episode, a crisis, certainly. But one that has cause and an end.

James Park, of the University of Minnesota have described the differences thus:

Psychological depression Existential depression
1. Specific, understandable feelingof disappointment or failure. 1. Generalized feeling of lowspirits;
undefinable, unintelligible, free-floating.
2. Caused by recognizableproblems and difficulties;specific channels of approach;we know why we are depressed. 2. Uncaused, no recognizable source;arises from within our selves;no channel of approach;we don’t know why we are depressed.
3. Temporary—comes and goeswith our changing life-situations. 3. Permanent—always presentin our selves, altho often repressed.
4. Focused on a specific aspect ofour lives; localized, isolatable. 4. Pervades every corner of our being;cannot be isolated.
5. We can overcome it by correctingthe cause or simply letting it pass. 5. We cannot eliminate it;but we can conceal it or embrace it.

..and he goes on to say:

Existential depression seeps into consciousness not as an invading fluid; we recognize it as our own juice.

In this, I can find part of myself. There is a reason for my existential depression. But it is so ingrained, so saturated in my being, it is me, it has always been. There is no separating the two. Yes, surely, it has crystallised over the last few years; it has taken over and is blown out of proportions; but you cannot take it away without taking away my identity.

Many philosophers, poets and artists will say it stems from looking (too) deeply at/into the depths of life.

What makes me cry every time in this process, what drives me into despair is not the therapy, the therapists (though that can be frustrating too). It is to see the cause, to see that there is a cause. It is just that it is not event-related, it is an identity problem. Existential. And the realisation of this have been the most potent, the hardest: painful beyond belief. I have resisted this insight with tooth and claw: I have struggled, refused to believe it, tried to ignore it as a desperate muddled mind going down a cul-de-sac. I have tried to rationalise it away. But there is, as psychologists will tell you: no escaping your own mind.

So what is the cause of my particular existential depression? What is it that hurts so much? I am gifted. And I can assure you: that is not a gift. I have to rethink my entire life; from feeling that I am average, insisting that I am, a bit of an idiot, to live with being objectively, not solely subjectively different. An explosive creativity, an out of the ordinary view of life. How to live with that is still an open question which does not have a clear-cut answer. That is what makes it existential.

Related articles
(You can find a list of related articles here. Below a select few.).

Deirdre V. Lovecky: Singing flowers, divergent thinkers
Existential depression in gifted individuals
Sensitive and stressed: existential depression,
Intellectual giftedness, Wikipedia