A Brighter Perspective on Depression

Last night I was chatting to a friend about depression.  As someone who is still recovering from depression she kept referring to it as “her weakness” which bothered me a little.  This lead to her sharing with me a perspective on depression she had encountered recently: that depression was a method by which nature would rid a tribe of weaker members.  Presumably it worked something like this: a person who couldn’t meet the expectations placed on them by their tribe would develop depression and end their own life so that only the strong members would survive.  Thus it is a form of eugenics programmed into our psyche to effectively off ourselves for the benefit of the rest of the tribe.  Now, I am trained as a biologist and such a genetic trait is unlikely to be passed on via natural selection because it actually lowers the probability of an individual passing on their genetics.  Such genes usually die out quickly.  However, this got me thinking about something: if so many people have the potential to get depression – why would such a trait be preserved by natural selection?  What survival advantage does a propensity for depression actually have?  Here is my case on why depression is helpful rather than harmful.

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Happy New Year’s Resolutions

The Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named, had two faces.  One looking towards the past, and the other towards the future.  Each new year the typical god fearing Roman would make a selection of promises to Janus.  Promises to do his duty, to be honest, to do better work, to make a better sacrifice, to be a better person.  Thousands of years have passed since this Roman tradition started and Europeans across the world to this day carry on the tradition of making special promises to themselves to do better in the new year.  Surprisingly this tradition is not going away, but actually getting stronger.  A century ago only one in four people made resolutions each year, but today half the population of Western countries make new year’s resolutions.  I take this as a hopeful sign that we are living in an age of a new awakening in terms of self-awareness and self-responsibility.

A resolution is an act of rebellion against mediocrity within oneself.  It shouldn’t be about recognising that one isn’t perfect, of course one isn’t, but instead about recognising that one can do better.  I am a poor cook for instance, off the top of my head I know about ten recipes that I can make with confidence.  I do find myself making the same things over and over again and I would like to learn how to make more interesting dishes.  So one of my new year’s resolutions this year is to learn one new recipe each month.  That’s merely a total of 12 new recipes for the year.  It’s not particularly hard resolution on the face of it, but it would improve the quality of my life in many ways.  Firstly, it would more than double the number of dishes I currently feel confident making.  This would bring more variety into my meals, pleasing me, and increasing my quality of life, but it would also increase my value to other people as an entertainer or guest to a pot luck dinner party.  Having new recipes I can make for my friends means that I can give more to them and enjoy the giving experience as well as the increased respect that comes from my increased value as a friend. Continue reading

Tantrums and Those Who Enable Them

For many years now I have worked with children.  Most of them have had autism, speech problems, cognitive delays, or some kind of behavioural problem.  It has been an immense privilege to work so closely with so many children and their families over the years.  No two families are the same in how their household is run in my experience, every family is its own unique culture.  However, I have never encountered a family without the most classic and pervasive power struggle dynamic of them all: the tantrum thrower and the enabler.  In every family I have encountered there has always been two people taking on these roles in some way.  Child to child, child to adult, and adult to adult: the methods of throwing a tantrum may vary in age groups, but tantrums are ubiquitous.  Understanding the nature of tantrums is a good strategy for unravelling the origins of dysfunction in any unhealthy relationship.

First, since we’re all about philosophy here, we need to make sure that we define our terms.  A tantrum is a display of hyper emotionality usually resulting from being informed of some bad news.  They can be overt through the use of shouting, crying and other verbal cues.  They can be violent with the throwing and breaking of things.  They can be subtle with silent treatment, passive aggressive words and deeds.  They can be sophisticated with rationales, lies, excuses, and guilt trips.  A tantrum never involves negotiation or an honest account of one’s situation.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Apparently, I’m not a sociopath.5106v842oal-_sx321_bo1204203200_

See, this morning I was placed in a situation of moral hazard.  I was at the hospital having a blood test taken.  This was for a clinical trial that I am participating in.  The nurse just assumed that I had come at the correct time, but I was half an hour early.  The study guidelines stated that the blood had to be taken no earlier than 9.30am, not the current time of 9am.  However, it would convenience me to finish up at the hospital at 9am instead of 9.30am.  I was almost elated; the nurse hadn’t noticed the guidelines.  All I had to do was keep quiet and I would get my way and be happy.  Except, I’ve worked in research in the past, I know how serious following protocols are: this nurse would certainly get in trouble with his supervisor.  *sigh* I really, really wanted to leave the hospital earlier.  But I didn’t want this guy to be in trouble for this.  So I told him.  He checked the guidelines and realised the mistake he was about to make, and told me I had to wait for 30 minutes longer before I could leave. Continue reading

Anger Inside and Outside

Hello readers,

In the interests of keeping my site fresh with new content, I’ve decided to start blogging about the various therapy related ideas that come into my head.  These are generally just my thoughts about a particular topic, article, or book that I have read recently.

Have you ever seen that animation of the ballerina silhouette pirouetting?  Where one cannot tell if she is turning clockwise or counter clockwise?  If you observe her long enough you can actually control which direction you would like her to spin. It’s a fascinating example of how our minds can shape our perception with the prejudices we bring to them subconsciously.  Especially when one considers that one can decide whether or not to see the ballerina turning towards oneself, or away.

Anger is an emotion that works just like this animation.  One can decide if the anger is directed away from you or towards you.  For example, Bert has a habit of leaving his car lights on and one morning he attempts to start his car only to find it won’t start.  Bert initially thinks about how he only just recently had his car serviced.  He flares up in anger at the mechanic, cursing his supposed incompetence.  Then just as he was about to call the mechanic to give him a piece of his mind; Bert notices that his car lights were left on.
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Hope for Agoraphobics

living-in-fearMood dependent behaviour refers to the state of mind when a person can only take action if they feel capable of it, even though they are otherwise completely capable of acting. It might be putting off doing an assignment, it might be procrastinating about preparing a healthy meal, it might be as simple as waiting until the house is empty before emerging from one’s room. It can be hard for a person to understand this if they have never felt so small and miserable before to find such ordinary daily activities so overwhelming. Ridicule or condescension are common reactions when opening up to someone about facing such struggles. Failing to find a compassionate ear results in an unwillingness to attempt to open up again in the future, adding an extra layer of loneliness and despair to the experience. When one is this powerfully affected by one’s mood, it can feel preferable to hide alone or to starve rather than to ever face the terrifying world that lies beyond the front door. Continue reading

The Philosophical Case Against Anti-Depressants

Anti-depressantsWhile one often comes across articulate and well-argued articles criticising anti-depressants from a medical or efficacy point of view, one seldom comes across the philosophical argument against anti-depressants. It was, in fact, the philosophical case against anti-depressants that convinced me as a teenager that I would never, ever take them for myself, a decision that has been beneficial to me ever since.

I am against their usage both on medical grounds and on philosophical grounds, but I accept that anti-depressants are likely here to stay. Indeed, I would argue we have always had anti-depressants, for what else should we call caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and opium but traditional remedies for our emotional ailments? People who are feeling low in motivation often indulge in coffee for the caffeine hit. People who lack courage often indulge in alcohol to shore up their nerves. People who are miserable will often indulge in excessive amounts of sugar to give themselves a rush. Everywhere, we have people self-medicating on different substances in attempts to battle their moods and unwanted feelings.   Anti-depressants are not anything new, they’ve been with us all along.

In this piece, I am going to ignore all the medical and efficacy arguments, not because I do not think these discussions are not important, but because I believe the philosophical argument is the strongest of the three. For the sake of argument, I will assume that anti-depressants actually work precisely as intended: that they alleviate sadness, depression, grief, and malaise effectively and without significant side effects. I make this assumption not just for the sake of simplicity, but to better illustrate why we should be wary of them. I believe the better anti-depressants work, the stronger the philosophical case against them. Continue reading

The Good in Feeling Bad

The good in bad feelingsOne of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate.  While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.

The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival.  There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain.  The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years.  They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them.  Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life.  Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions.  There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt.  However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading

The Philosophical Therapeutic Process

Hubble_Telescope_PhilotherapyNever been to therapy before? Wondering how it can help? Curious about the therapeutic process? Each year, tens of millions of people seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Not all therapists are the same, though; there are many different schools of thought. Even within the same school, each therapist is unique in their approach to the therapeutic process. Philosophical therapists were arguably the first therapists in history, but are relatively few in numbers of practitioners today compared to the mainstream schools like behaviourism, psychoanalysis, and gestalt, just to name a few. Because philosophical therapy is different to most of the other schools, I have written this article to cover the most basic process of the philosophical therapeutic process.

Questions, Questions, so many Questions

The role of the philosophical therapist is to ask you questions about yourself. They might sometimes provide you with some terminology and jargon and this is merely to help improve your ability to understand yourself and to communicate better in the sessions. These questions will often appear obvious. Sometimes the therapist might ask you if you feel angry, to which you might respond with, “Well, of course, I am feeling angry!” You might be thinking at the time that this is a silly question, but for the therapist, this is a very important question to ask. On the topic of anger: some people do not know if they are experiencing anger. I have come across people who have been red in the face and shouting, but later on, when questioned about this, said they did not feel angry at all. So sometimes obvious questions like this will be asked just so the therapist can get an idea of how self-aware the client is. Continue reading