Depression is not an illness – it is a wake-up call

Let us be frank – knowledge of the human brain is in its infancy. Don’t take my word for it – ask any psychologist or neurologist and they will admit as much. Chemical imbalances don’t show up in brain scans – or at least mine didn’t. In fact, Golders Green gave me a clean rap sheet after putting me under the machine. No abnormalities there – despite my having been suicidal six months previously and a heavy drinker for twenty years.

So am I depressed because I have a chemical imbalance? Hmm, sounds like theorising to me. And theories are just that until proven – theories and nothing more.

Another diagnosis I was given was OCD, this from the Central Middlesex psychiatric ward in north-west London. Only OCD doesn’t show up on brain scans either. So it’s hard to say for sure whether that’s due to any kind of naturally occurring brain abnormality too.

Then there is alcoholism – according to some sources, 13% of drinkers have a naturally occurring allergy that makes them automatically crave one drink after another. Only that didn’t happen to me until I’d been drinking for quite a few years, suggesting nurture rather than nature in my case.

So while the jury is still out on whether my various disorders are naturally occurring or not, let’s explore a few other theories. I’ll be frank again – I’ve come to the conclusion that my problems are caused by societal issues: deeply rooted, chronic ones that are adversely affecting huge swathes of the human population in varying degrees of intensity, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Last year I did pretty much everything I was advised to do by the medical profession and other recovering alcoholics: I gave up the demon drink, went to meetings, started meditating, took up rigorous physical exercise, went to a therapist, took medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, read up on anxiety and depression, kept busy with hobbies, and after a much-needed break, got myself back into the workplace.

In other words, I was the model student of recovery. The result? After a few short months I slipped back into depression, prompting an eventual relapse back into drinking. I’ve kicked the drinking again thank God but the depression is still kicking the sh*t out of me.

What went wrong? The answer, I believe, is this: I did it society’s way. And in the messed-up world we live in, I’m afraid society doesn’t always have the individual’s best interests at heart, especially not if that individual happens to be a freethinker. I’ve noticed that many of us alcoholics and depressives fall into just that category: we are highly intelligent and fiercely independent people who naturally resent being spoonfed a one-size-fits all paradigm of how one should behave.

And we resent it with good reason. Because we are not stupid – or at least we weren’t until we started pouring gallons of commercialised poison into ourselves. We do not like to be told how to think, how to behave, whom we should socialise with and why, whom we should sleep with and how, what we should believe, what we should be eating and drinking… in short how to conduct our lives from the minute we get up to the moment we lay our heads down at night.

At any rate, this highly intelligent depressive alcoholic doesn’t. So let’s get right to the heart of the matter: I’m not depressed because I have a ‘chemical imbalance’ (whatever the f*ck that is supposed to mean); I am depressed because through no fault of my own I was born and raised in a society that has relentlessly tried to shape me into something I do not want to be – a consumerised, taxable unit of GDP whose sole purpose in life is to be a productive cog in a machine that ultimately serves the interests of a tiny elite of wealthy individuals whom I will never have the dubious pleasure of meeting.

I’ll come back to this in a bit. For now let’s review all those things I did in recovery. I’m not saying they don’t carry individual merit but what do they all share? An absence or negation of thinking independently for oneself. Therapists shape the way you think, they try to influence your thoughts; you pay money to a vested ‘authority’ figure who is supposed to ‘tell ‘ you where you have been going ‘wrong’ in your thinking. AA works on a very similar format, as anyone who has read the Big Book closely can attest to. Exercise and meditation are not of course bad things in themselves, but they both undeniably steer one towards a disavowal of thought – the former promotes the supremacy of physical action over reflection and contemplation, the latter trains the mind to nullify thought processes by not following individual thoughts, especially painful or difficult ones, through – ‘just let them pass by like watching cars on the road’, said one meditation guide I used.

Sometimes this is welcome – we all need to get out of our heads once in a while, preferably without using drugs or alcohol. But is this always the right course of action? For instance, would the Suffragette movement have happened if Emmeline Pankhurst and co had simply let all those pesky, troubling thoughts about women being treated as infantilised adults at the ballot box just pass them by?

Sometimes we need to think – to follow thoughts through for ourselves, without outside interference from any vested authority figures, and see where those thoughts lead us. That is how human societies progress and I believe most of the innovations that have helped advance the cause of humankind have resulted from this often complex, laborious and at times downright excruciating process. To put it another way – in living in this highly complex and sophisticated world of ours there is no avoiding the complex and sophisticated thought processes that must inevitably go with it. That cat is long out of the bag. But as I will suggest, it is by using those thought processes that you can light a path back to a way of life that, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, better suits the person you were naturally meant to be.

As for medication, this is another potential minefield for the beleaguered mind. Doctors are now routinely on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies to promote their products, which (you guessed it) have no hard science backing up their beneficial effects because as discussed above we do not know the human brain well enough to map accurately what antidepressants actually do to it. One study I read suggested that meds only work on about a third of patients, and even then the effects are likely to wear off over time, necessitating a change to another form of medication – this of course is great news for Big Pharma’s profit margins, but what benefit is an already troubled individual getting from being hauled over from one drug to the next time and again? I myself have been on about half a dozen different forms of meds in the past five years, and the result was always the same – a slight improvement during the first few months (which may or may not have been the placebo effect – remember we still lack the technology to prove that meds actually do anything) followed by comedown and return to depression. I won’t harp on this particular subject because it is already well covered – there is thankfully a growing concern being expressed at the increased uptake of antidepressants throughout the West, and to my mind the right questions are being asked about their efficacy.

So taking all of the above into account, what kind of picture begins to emerge? That of a troubled group of often highly intelligent people with a degree of sensitivity being prescribed a way of life by the NHS and other institutions designed to turn them into gym-going, shrink-dependent, pill-munching Buddhist monks who have come to believe that abandoning not only concerted thought but also one’s own autonomy of thinking is the only way to save them from, at worst, suicidal depression and terminal alcoholism.

Since going to the rooms I have been depressed (yes depressed!) by how readily otherwise intelligent people seem willing to succumb to their emotional fragility and allow the framework of their thinking to be reshaped by people who were following a right-wing Christian agenda in the 1930s. I’ll speak for myself, but this kind of agenda certainly sits at odds with a lot of the things I have come to believe through my own independent thinking and interpretation of information absorbed throughout my lifetime.

In visiting therapists I have been astounded at some of things I have been told – apparently my very real doubts about whether monogamy works for me, having struggled with relationships for many years, simply boiled down to my wanting to ‘get my end away’; my not being killed by my suicide attempts was God sparing me for a higher purpose (why would He care about me more than all the other millions of unfortunates who have successfully killed themselves?); my obsessive and unreal thoughts about a girl I barely liked and knew constituted true love; I have put something in my mind that stops me from enjoying life, and I have hidden this so well I will never be able to find it (statement subsequently retracted by said ‘authority figure’ when I brought it up at the next session: ‘Oh, never mind about that, just forget I said that.’ Thanks mate.)

Is this the path to curing depression? Being told how to interpret my own thoughts by (frequently personally paid) strangers who barely know me or have not even met me? Distracting myself from the difficulty of the human condition and my part in it rather than cultivating the mental courage to grapple with my internal demons and the external ones that spawned them?

I think not – as the abject failure of the programme I have followed for the past year to ‘cure’ me bears out all too clearly.

Now let’s take a look at some of those external demons I just mentioned. I was raised by two highly intelligent and sensitive people, who encouraged me to embrace learning for its own sake and express myself artistically. I was near hopeless at every sport: do not be discouraged, my parents told me, play to your strengths and don’t get hung up on your weaknesses. Sadly, I was schooled in a system that did just the opposite: punishing the physically weak with bullying, psychological intimidation and routine public humiliation (I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers being picked last for the football team every time! Really made me feel great about myself that, and I don’t recall being publicly praised for the things I was actually any good at. Balanced criticism would have been nice). State school is like a prison system in miniature; all backgrounds are mixed in a melting pot where only the physically strong or the disingenuous and manipulative can expect to survive unscathed.

As for creativity and learning for its own sake, this has long been a sick joke of the Western education system: the powers that be didn’t set up the school system to produce artists and freethinkers; they set it up to produce doctors, lawyers, accountants, financiers, businessmen, scientists, engineers, factory workers, salesmen, menials and every other kind of occupation you can think of that will serve as functionaries in a state machinery designed for and by a ruling wealthy elite. The defects of the modern education system are explored in detail elsewhere and are thankfully being increasingly highlighted, so suffice to say here that the aim of the education system in the UK is no longer to produced well-balanced, cultured individuals capable of sifting information and thinking for themselves, if indeed it ever was: the erstwhile education secretary Michael Gove’s attempts to ‘streamline’ schooling to focus on money-oriented disciplines such as business and economics at the expense of arts subjects bears this out, and in my own school days back in the 80s and early 90s there was already a perceptible shift away from funding arts subjects to sciences, because the latter of course are ultimately more profitable to the corporate masters who own the West and keep politicians and media on the payroll (more on this later).

Virtually no musician, actor, director, artist, writer or other creative I have met in the past ten years has been able to scratch even a modest living out of their talent, however great it may be or hard they may try. I include myself in this list. Part of this is due to lack of government funding (France is an honourable exception in some cases, and has long funded aspiring filmmakers and screenplay writers), part of it a diminishing interest in the arts (owing at least in part, surely, to the education system I have just outlined).

But there is another factor that is often overlooked: the cost of living is simply too high. The driving factor behind this is, of course, greed. London, my home city, is a classic example of this: a metropolis owned by and run for a global wealthy elite who are sinking their money into the property market, unchecked by a supine government whose members turn a blind eye to the damage this is doing to ordinary citizens in return for various corporate kickbacks they can expect to receive after they leave office, ensuring no corruption charges can be legitimately brought (Tony Blair, who holds two lucrative posts on the board of directors of multinational companies and regularly cleans up on the corporate after-dinner speaking circuit in the US, is a classic example of this).

This unchecked rush by the worldwide rich to buy up London property – itself a clever confidence trick made all too easy by unregulated markets wherein the wealthy collude with one another to buy assets in the knowledge that doing so in concert will automatically push up the future value of their purchases – has the effect of driving up prices in both the buy and rental markets, which of course has the knock-on effect of pushing up the price of everything else: higher rents mean higher business costs, which means every good and service you buy will be affected. I remember commiserating with a promoter during my days playing in a penniless rock band; musicians rarely got paid, if ever, I lamented. ‘But it’s the high rents that force the venues to be so ungenerous,’ he told me sagely. ‘They can’t afford to pay you.’ If that isn’t an example of free-market avarice making it impossible for artists to scratch even a bare living from their art, I don’t know what is.

Not that this will bother the average citizen, because by the time they leave school with fifteen years of advertising and educational brainwashing pumped into them they mostly don’t give a flying f*ck about the arts, especially not any kind of art that opens up a debate: by then they have been conditioned to go out and join the rat race, earning enough money – and nowadays it is barely enough – to pay the rent and become consumers in their own right, grinding away at jobs they may or may not enjoy so they can spend a meagre disposable income on all the things they have been told that they simply must have.

That, in short, is the world I have been struggling with for too many years, and the experience of it has bent me out of shape. I am quite sure I am not alone.

So let me tell you this, my fellow depressives: your depression and the addictive soma-seeking behaviour it spawned is not your fault. Another unsettling trend I have noticed in AA, and through my own personal experiences with therapy, is how this idea is constantly pushed on recovering alcoholics and those suffering from so-called mental illness – that in taking personal responsibility we must tacitly acknowledge that we are fundamentally to blame for our condition.

Allow me to draw an important distinction: responsibility and blame are not the same things. If someone comes along and clubs me with a baseball bat, I have a responsibility to my own health to seek help to recover and get well – but the blame does not lie with me; the blame lies with the psychopath who just hit me. And, my fellow depressives, the reason you are depressed in the first place is because since school age you have been clubbed repeatedly by a repressive and authoritarian system of capitalist exploitation that masquerades as a benign democracy (an illusion that manifests itself once every five years only to be dispelled by lies and broken promises, as every election and its aftermath will readily demonstrate). We live under a media-driven system owned and operated by corporate interests and the banks that profit from backing them that tells you what to think, how to behave, how you should conduct relationships, what you should be buying, in other words everything you must do to be happy.

Look around and ask yourself whose interests this system really serves. Yours? Think back to your childhood. What were your dreams, your aspirations? How far does the reality of your adult life sit from those early ideas you had? Does your job weigh easily on your conscience? Do those of your close friends? How many of your waking hours are spent doing things you find fulfilling? When you’ve got the things you think you wanted – a promotion, a holiday, a consumer purchase, a relationship that will probably be influenced by ideas you’ve unconsciously imbibed from Hollywood movies or magazine culture since your early teens – for how long does it make you happy? In fact, does it make you happy at all?

One of the few therapists who gets my vote is Elizabeth Wilde McCormick, who wrote a book called Surviving Nervous Breakdown that I read last year. In it she posits that neurosis arises when we are pushed by life’s course from our seed self – the type of person we are naturally wired up to be. The Enlightenment philosopher Rousseau waxed lyrical three centuries ago about man’s natural state – preceding any kind of organised, hierarchical society – as being his happiest.

Ah Utopianism, you will cry. But is it really so Utopian to want to earn a humble living doing something that you are most naturally equipped and inclined to do, to love a partner (or partners) in a way that most naturally suits you, a way that may not necessarily involve marriage, prolonged cohabitation, economic codependency or even strict monogamy? This is not asking for the world – unlike the corporate psychopaths and the corrupt, vainglorious political and media classes they have bought off, who have appropriated it for themselves.

In the US, just six firms – Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, CBS Corporation and NBC Universal – own the vast majority of media across all platforms: radio,  television, print and digital. In the UK a similar high concentration of media control exists – for example more than 80% of the entire country’s local newspapers are owned by just half a dozen firms and 60% of national newspapers are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp and Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail Group. Columnists are not called ‘opinion-formers’ for nothing: they control the way you think and are in turn influenced by their employers and the media barons who pay them in how they go about this.

How long have we seen the internecine mudslinging between the left and right in the UK media, a continual war of words that intelligent, well-informed people such as ourselves are tacitly expected to pick a side in? A clever ploy designed to blind us to what has by now become glaringly obvious: it doesn’t much matter which party is in power; we are still controlled and manipulated by a nexus of big banks (those who lend money), multinational corporations (those who use money to acquire assets, most notably for the purposes of this article the media) and the political class who control the military directly and the police indirectly through legislation. The political class is itself in hock to the multinationals who fund its campaigns and use their media assets to pressure governments into doing their bidding. Atop this nexus sits a tiny clique of extremely wealthy international elites, majority shareholders in many of these corporations who have vast sums of money stored in the banks that lend to private and public sector alike, along with those who sit at the top of these banks and businesses in return for exorbitant salaries. And of course, many senior politicians join or rejoin the ranks of these senior executives upon leaving office, thus completing the nefarious circle.

As such, is it any coincidence that across the West highly intelligent and sensitive people who quite possibly have an inkling as to this parlous state of affairs and have fallen into excessive drink and drug use to obviate the inevitable feelings of powerlessness that come with such painful realisation are being prescribed more drugs (oh but they’re quite legal! and thoroughly tested!) and told to go and work off their pangs in the gym or quietly meditate the pain away? Anything to keep us from following those painful thoughts through, soberly, and reaching the conclusion that we are NOT in fact ill – but that our psychological malaise is a legitimate and logical response to living in a world that is being ruined for the vast majority by a ruthless and self-serving clique of power-hungry and pathologically greedy individuals.

My fellow alcoholics and depressives, I have news for you: you are not ill; you are injured. You have been attacked all your lives – by a hierarchical and cleverly disguised authoritarian corporatocracy that wants to mould you into a spoke in a wheel, so you can make money and shore up power for the wealthy elite whose interests it ultimately benefits.

Don’t get me wrong – if you enjoy meditation and exercise, or have found a therapist or recovery group that you genuinely believe after sober and independent reflection is helping you to get better, by all means continue. But don’t be fooled into thinking that your depression will be cured by evading thought – for God did not make you that way. Chances are, if you are a recovering addict or person diagnosed with ‘mental health problems’ who has been told they ‘think too much’ or better still ‘think in the wrong way’, it means you are a highly intelligent, sensitive and rational person who cares: don’t let a culture swamped in media manipulation, materialism, doublethink and dumbing down fool you into believing that the only way to get well is to abandon your God-given gifts of analysis and insight. Don’t sell your intellect down the river in the false belief that this is the only way to heal yourself. Remember: you are NOT at fault, but you do have a responsibility to yourself and those who love you to get well and to do so without spurning the gifts of intelligence, sensitivity and compassion you have been given.

When you rediscover these gifts and you feel them informing a capacity to feel a justified sense of outrage at how far the world and its duplicitous masters are from reflecting these values, do not flinch from it. For you are absolutely right to feel outraged, at a globalised society based on deliberately confused values that has pushed you and others like you so far from your happiest seed self; that has plunged millions of unfortunates in the developed and developing worlds into poverty, famine, war, economic exploitation, slavery, preventable disease and endemic crime.

Speaking for myself, I may well continue to dabble in meditation and exercise – I do not see any harm in doing either in moderation. I will certainly fight to stay off the booze and other recreational drugs forever – and as for prescription medication, the sooner I can safely wean myself off this alternative legal poison the better. Recovery groups I will gladly attend, as the need takes me; I like meeting people. But I don’t have to agree with everything they say, or say things that they will always agree with. I did not educate myself to perjure my freedom of expression or blunt my intellect trying to recover from a man-made disease that has been inflicted on me and millions of others by human greed, mendacity and selfishness. And I won’t be seeing any more therapists – paying a complete stranger to shape my thinking just doesn’t seem like a healthy or sound idea any more, and besides, I can’t afford it!

As for work and relationships, the fundamental stuff of life, from now on I will engage in these on my own terms as far as possible. And if that means being an unemployed singleton for the foreseeable future playing the state benefits system or living off family and friends, then so be it – a situation far from ideal but by far the lesser of two evils in my opinion; rather that than try to force my psyche through a mould that was not meant for it, tap dancing around the brainwashed egos and manufactured foibles of those who are too weak-minded, stupid or plain scared to think for themselves. I don’t claim to be better or smarter than anyone else, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be told that anyone other than me knows better than I do what is best for me. I tried that path this past year, and it led me in a circle.

Or to put it another way, if I’m going to fuck up my life, I’m going to do it my way.

And if people don’t like that, then fuck ’em 🙂