The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

What Depression Is, and Isn’t

Posted on | January 12, 2013 | 29 Comments

Thursday evening my wife came home and said, “Hey, I bought coffee!”

I just stared at her, in kind of a fog.

“No more drinking decaf,” my wife said.

“What? We’ve been drinking decaf? Since when?”

“All week. We ran out of regular coffee Monday, but  I just made decaf and didn’t tell you, because I figured it would only depress you.”

Damn. So that’s it. Here I’d been feeling bummed out, listless and unmotivated for three days, and was worried I was slipping into depression. Instead, I was just suffering from caffeine withdrawal.

Depression is a mental illness, a mood disorder, which psychiatrists say is caused by an organic malfunction of neurochemistry. Depression isn’t just about feeling bad because something bad happened to you.

Kids don’t understand this. You made a “C” in algebra, your boyfriend broke up with you and you’ve got a pimple on your nose — no, sweetheart, that’s not “depression.” Your life just sucks.

Over the course of time, everybody goes through phases where their life sucks. And feeling bad about that is just normal. No pills are necessary to treat a normal reaction to the objective reality that your life sucks.

This is something that should cheer you up: Your life sucks? Good news! You’re not suffering from clinical depression!

On the other hand, if you’re actually suffering from clinical depression — good news! Your life doesn’t suck as bad as you think it does.

This is something that came to mind when I saw the news via Memeorandum about a computer whiz kid who committed suicide:

Computer activist Aaron H. Swartz committed suicide in New York City yesterday, Jan. 11, according to his uncle, Michael Wolf, in a comment to The Tech. Swartz was 26.
“The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” confirmed Swartz’ attorney, Elliot R. Peters of Kecker and Van Nest, in an email to The Tech.

According to various sites, Swartz was a teenager when he wrote the software that basically made Reddit possible. He was a good-looking kid and a genius and probably would have been a gazillionaire, except he decided to kill himself. Via Mashable, a clue:

A blog post from 2007 on Swartz’s website reveals a possible cause for taking his own life: depression. In the post, Swartz describes his experiences with severe depression, as well as several other health issues, including migraines.

Also, Swartz was being hassled by the feds because he illegally downloaded some stuff that should have been free to begin with. Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection discusses that.

Did Swartz actually suffer from depression? I don’t know. Despite his legal hassles, it would be hard to say his life objectively sucked, and his future was one of great potential — until he decided to kill himself, that is. Killing yourself pretty much guarantees it won’t get better.

Try drinking more coffee. And not the decaf kind. Just sayin’ . . .



29 Responses to “What Depression Is, and Isn’t”

  1. Quartermaster
    January 12th, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

    Full blown caffeine withdrawal doesn’t just result in feeling bummer out. You will also get some pretty bad headaches.

    Having said that, you could probably use decaffeination. You sometimes remind me of my Aussie Cattle Dog and her love affair with rubber balls. You could probably stand to slow down a bit.

    The suicide of Swartz is depressing. Our FedGov has come to be run, and manned, by scum.

  2. Dianna Deeley
    January 12th, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

    The real hell of depression is that – on the rare occasions it lifts enough that you can actually take a deep breath without it hurting – is that suicide seems preferable to going back into that. Talking yourself out of it is the hard part; there are days when it just seems the most reasonable thing.

    I’m sorry he couldn’t find the reason or duty to keep him hanging in.

  3. Kathy Kattenburg
    January 12th, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Clinical depression is such a poorly understood disease, even in this day and age, and there is still so much misinformation about it, that anyone who takes it seriously and talks about it intelligently deserves credit. So, again thank you.

  4. Charlie
    January 12th, 2013 @ 7:25 pm

    With me it was nicotine. I was off it for 3 years. Almost lost my job and family because I could not get it together. Was so – – mellow? that I just could not function. I suspect that some percentage of drug users (probably not all that many) are unknowingly self-medicating.

  5. AnonymousDrivel
    January 12th, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    “This is something that should cheer you up: Your life sucks? Good news! You’re not suffering from clinical depression!”


    But a really sad story otherwise. First time I’ve heard of Swartz. I wish it wasn’t because he seems like an earnest, honest, sincere fellow – not to mention brilliant (as seen in an anti-SOPA video on AoSHQ). And, yes, it concerns me that he allegedly downloaded material with intent to distribute even if “honorable.”

    But he was indeed a smart cookie who did a great service for liberty. A real shame to lose him this early and in such a manner.

  6. Damian DeWitt
    January 12th, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

    Same thing happened to me when I went cold turkey off cigarettes. I will never do that again.

  7. Stephen
    January 12th, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

    You draw an important distinction between “being depressed” (when bad things in life happen) and depression (a potentially serious illness).

    I get that you’re mostly joking, but as an aside, for many depressed people coffee can be a little like crack (minus the illegality, bad teeth, and descent into whoring, obviously). It’ll give you a kick in the pants, but it really won’t address the underlying problem(s), and overall can make things worse. YMMV, but after I stopped drinking coffee (regularly), I have seen my moodiness stabilize quite a bit.

    For anyone interesting in quitting coffee, a product called Teeccino worked pretty well for me. You can use it in a drip coffee maker just like coffee. You start with about 80% coffee/20%Teeccino in the basket for a couple of days, and then over a coupla’ three weeks, use a bit more Teeccino and bit less coffee every few days. Eventually, you’re down to no coffee, and by weaning yourself off, you don’t get those ghastly headaches. [UNPAID ENDORSEMENT — NON-CELEBRITY SPOKESMAN]

  8. 1389AD
    January 12th, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

    To prevent this from happening again, you could always forbid decaf coffee from being kept in the house any more. It’s like giving a starving dog a rubber bone. If your guests want something to drink that doesn’t have caffeine, hand ’em a beer or pour ’em a glass of water.

  9. Adjoran
    January 12th, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

    A government which prosecutes a man for “liberating” academic papers but refuses to prosecute a man who illegally misuses and loses over $1 billion of investors’ money entrusted to him has lost its legitimacy.

  10. sharon
    January 12th, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

    My nephew took his life in August.. 22 fking years old..No note, no reason, no answers, ever. I feel for this family. I wish I could say my nephew suffered depression, but he didn’t, at least we would have a reason…My brother and sister in law will never have peace. Suicide is just horrible for the surviving, it’s like living in hell every single day.

  11. sharon
    January 12th, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

    Quitting smoking was the worse thing ever for me. Eight years and counting, and I still want one. I think it is because I enjoyed every single solitary one, and I felt I should quit but never wanted to. I think it is entirely different when you want to quit.

  12. sharon
    January 12th, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

    I hear you….I always thanked the good lord I didn’t have a drinking problem. God love them, I could not even imagine that one.

  13. Finrod Felagund
    January 13th, 2013 @ 2:05 am

    I’m in a good place with my caffeine addiction, which I mostly consume in the form of Mountain Dew, preferably the throwback stuff when I can find it (which is most of the time thanks to the local Publix).

  14. Yap
    January 13th, 2013 @ 3:29 am

    Just more liberal garbage. Good riddance.

  15. Patrick Carroll
    January 13th, 2013 @ 4:25 am

    Oh, come on. A man is dead. For the love of God, have a bit of pity.

  16. Steve Skubinna
    January 13th, 2013 @ 4:57 am

    I suspect that many people claiming depression are only seeking attention – today, at least in a certain self absorbed and self aggrandizing segment of the population, it’s a cachet to have some obstacle to struggle with in your daily life. Nobody with real clinical depression gets smug about it. How many people do you encounter casually who make a point of telling you their “condition” upfront? Walk into the nearest coffee shop and see. They’re the otherwise balanced dramatists who treat themselves with herbal remedies because “Doctors just don’t understand my problem.” However, by the time somebody kills himself it’s too late to figure out whether it’s real or an act.

    Plus, we have become conditioned to expect a pill to fix everything we don’t like about our life. As you point out, having a sucky experience is not depression, and a pill will not fix anything that really needs time and perspective to get over.

  17. Archonix
    January 13th, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    He paid for access to PACER and distributed the material he bought for free, because it should be free. He was giving the American people unrestricted access to the laws that govern them. Paying for access to the law that governs you is immoral, so he attempted to overcome that barrier. Simple as that.

  18. barb
    January 13th, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    It’s been almost five years since I came close to taking my own life. Being there is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  19. McGehee
    January 13th, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    When I’m feeling down because of some disappointment or other, the one imperative I feel about the feeling down is to get on with it and get it over with. If it’s bad enough I may even wallow in it for a while simply because it’s how I want to feel at the moment.

    I gather that clinical depression just sets in and the sufferer isn’t even aware of it until someone points it out or something makes it impossible to miss. The lack of a causative event probably has something to do with that.

  20. Yap
    January 13th, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    uh yeah, and the world is better for it. One. Less. Democrat.

  21. Dianna Deeley
    January 13th, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

    I admire you. I’m two years into having quit, and I always want a smoke.

  22. Wombat_socho
    January 13th, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    That’s enough out of you, Chumley.

  23. Bob Belvedere
    January 13th, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    “All week. We ran out of regular coffee Monday, but I just made decaf and didn’t tell you, because I figured it would only depress you.”

    Wives….this is what they do.

  24. Bob Belvedere
    January 13th, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

    As someone who has gone through some pretty rough cases of Black Dog, it seems to me that you have to possess a deep down, rooted belief in your soul in hope. I do and it is the direct result of my belief in God, although I am not a member of any religion.

    So many young people today grow up never knowing of His presence. My household was not very religious, but I was exposed enough that He has never left me.

  25. Bob Belvedere
    January 13th, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

    Charlie, sharon, Dianna: I quit a four-pack-a-day habit on 21 July 2001 and for the first two weeks I was a mess like Charlie describes. That is, until I discovered Nicorette Gum. I realized that I had an addictive personality and that nicotene was a help to my creativity. I’m still chewing the gum and my lungs have actually repaired themselves a bit. The key is: recognize the underlying problem and treat that.

  26. Bob Belvedere
    January 13th, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

    Well put.
    Extra smart young people seem to suffer from the real thing because, I think, they feel isolated from the people around them who don’t operate, as it were, on their level. It can be quite lonely.

  27. Rich Vail
    January 13th, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    I quit smoking on October 11, 1995 @ 7:10 pm.

  28. Donald Sensing
    January 14th, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    I deal with disfunctional issues in people’s lives a lot in my ministry. One thing I have learned about people with legitimately-diagnosed depression is that they simply do not process life events the way the rest of us do. They literally do not understand reality like we do. Extensive, numerous interviews of failed suicide attempters shows this. (We studied this in seminary and the suicide attempts concerned were real ones, not gestures. Had the attempters been more competent, they would have died. Sometimes they were competent but still lived. I remember one case of a man who threw himself off a 100-foot-high bridge and lived, though badly injured.)

    So when you write, “Killing yourself pretty much guarantees it won’t get better,” that sentence actually does not have the same meaning to a depressed person as it does to you or me, objectively true though it is.

    Something like 80 percent of suicides are by depressed persons. Depression does not guarantee suicide but it sure raises the odds a lot.

    That is why almost all suicides are at the same time so baffling to family and friends even as they are usually unsurprising. We wonder, “What was he thinking?” at the same time we realize we can never know.

  29. daisy
    January 15th, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    He’s dead because he couldn’t face jail time. That aint heroic. And the court documents from your brother in law’s lawsuit against his lawn guy really isn’t any of your business. Pacer is ten cents a page. For less than a case of beer you can be nosey for hours.