Losing our job. Flunking a critical test. The complete breakdown of a close relationship. It’s normal for our feelings to drop to the floor when life punches us hard in the gut. As we try to understand and slowly adjust to these difficult life changes, we might experience a bitter and potent mix of disbelief, anger, sadness, loneliness and disappointment. But this kind of “depression” could in fact be seen as a normal, even healthy, reaction since it happened for a reason: the various feelings, unpleasant as they might be, encourage us to reevaluate our lives, our relationships, our expectations, and our plans for the future. And when these painful feelings fade away, they for the most part stay away, unless we are unfortunate enough to encounter a new major life setback.
However, the kind of depression I really want to talk about is the unhealthy kind, the kind that strikes many of us for no apparent reason. Nobody died, no relationships fell apart, no new financial hardships have come about. So you wonder, “Why do I feel so horrible?” You may struggle to climb out of bed, and begin to feel like most activities are pointless, exhausting, painful. You paint on a smile and drag yourself through seemingly endless days, wishing for the pain to end. Eventually, it does go away—only to come back again and again when you least expect it.
Not all episodes of depression are the same. Some might be low-grade but prolonged, others intense yet last only hours or days. Or it could be anywhere in between. It isn’t the length, intensity, or frequency that distinguish unhealthy depression from the healthy kind, it’s rather the meaninglessness of it: it happens for no apparent reason, or is way out of proportion with any difficult challenges you may be facing.
The experts still aren’t quite sure what causes unhealthy depression. Sure, lots of doctors used to believe (and some still do) that it’s all due to a neurochemical imbalance in the brain—not enough serotonin, or perhaps too little norepinephrine or dopamine. But according to Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, “In every instance where such an imbalance was thought to have been found, it was later proven false.”—not just for depression but for all psychiatric disorders. 1
Some lay the blame on genetic factors, but this fails to explain why unhealthy depression has ballooned to epidemic proportions in the past 50 or so years even though the human gene pool has remained relatively unchanged.
Some even think vitamin deficiencies, like low levels of B-12, are the culprit. However, the evidence that taking B-12 supplements can treat depression is “mixed and questionable,” according to psychiatrist Daniel Hall-Flavin of the Mayo Clinic. 2
Finally, some believe that exercise, diet, drugs, and other lifestyle choices have an impact on depression. Though these do have a powerful impact on how we feel, none of these truly explain the root cause of unhealthy depression—the key that will help us understand what is causing it in the first place.
So what is the true, root cause of unhealthy depression, whether it’s classified as “chronic,” “persistent,” “dysthymia,” “minor,” or “major?” Based on an understanding of the fundamentals of sudism, we come to see that the root cause of unhealthy depression is two-fold: we consume more pleasure than we naturally should, and we erase or avoid too much of the pain we are naturally supposed to experience. This leads us to become affectively imbalanced—we’ve experienced too much “pleasant” and not enough “unpleasant” in our lives. In order to restore the natural 50-50 equilibrium between our positive and negative feelings, we must eventually pay up, whether we like it or not. This is when depression, anxiety, chronic headaches, or any number of other unhealthy pains rear their ugly heads, seemingly out of nowhere. All of these aches in our bodies and souls arise for one simple reason: to rectify the imbalance between our pleasures and our pains and bring these two sides to equivalence.
So how can we prevent depression? To bring ourselves back into affective balance and therefore prevent depression from recurring in the future, we need to examine our lives and identify those places that could benefit from affective realignement: cutting back on excessive pleasures and increasing our levels of healthy pain. If you have struggled with depression, I encourage you to take a close look at your day-to-day life and see if you can make changes that better align your affect with your health. Every small change counts. Every journey begins with a single step. I encourage you to read about the fundamentals of sudism and to start applying these principles to your life today. You may discover that you have much more control than you have ever realized over any chronic depression, anxiety, and any other unhealthy aches and pains you may have suffered from. Take care and may you be blessed with good health!
- Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, “The difference between a medical diagnosis and a psychiatric diagnosis,” accessed February 8, 2019, http://www.cchrint.org/psychiatric-disorders/psychiatristsphysicians-on-lack-of-any-medicalscientific-tests/
- Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., “Vitamin B-12 and depression: Are they related?,” June 1, 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077
Fast-forward 2 yrs to 2022
I would like to say to Pièrre:
By all means people should try all the things you say, which is basically living in a more wholistic way. However, if they don’t work, and they don’t as I tried that myself, then don’t beat yourself for taking antidepressants. They saved my life. Now I have a quality that is ok to good, and yes sometimes I still feel life’s a shit, but that’s me. Everyone has to work out what works & what doesn’t.
My idea why we have chronic depression is this:
A lot of people say that misery and depression would be counterproductive towards our grand goal (spreading our genetics), but I believe that we simply view the effects of such feelings through the lens of our modern society, rather than through the circumstances in which our ancestors found themselves. Misery is something we all feel. To cast it aside as an evolutionary mishap — which some people have argued — is not only unfounded speculation, but also highly unlikely. We all get depressed at times, so why should I not assume this feeling to be as much a part of our evolved human condition as anger? Rather, why would I assume that it is a mental illness or genetic mutation when there is no physical diagnosis for it and so many people experience it. As we know it now, depression and misery cause us to stay in our dwellings for far too long, recount negative experiences with no end, constantly think about the problems which cause the misery, and chip away at our bank accounts by ordering pizza online. Like people during major wars or economic depressions, our ancestors probably did not have a lot of time to be emotionally depressed. They could not order pizza online. I think that misery was a feeling that led to us to think deeply about our problems and how to solve them, in solitude, but also relatively temporarily. Our ancestors probably did not have to develop an emotion to get themselves out of their misery, as hunger (and other necessities of survival) served that purpose well enough. If they did develop such an emotion or drive, it was probably very weak, as it does not seem to work very well.
Makes a lot of sense, does it not?
Hi Philip. Sorry for the late reply as the notifications weren’t working on my site. Yes I’ve heard of this theory that depression may have provided some evolutionary advantage. However, how would this explain the recent, growing worldwide epidemic of depression? And how would this theory explain cases like mine, where I used to suffer from chronic clinical depression for many years, but by exercising regularly and cutting out added sugar from my diet, my chronic depression disappeared completely and never returned (for ten years and counting)?
I wholly agree that it’s normal to feel “depressed” (in the sense of sadness, grief, shock and other emotions) when we encounter major life setbacks (like being fired, experiencing a relationship breakdown or financial collapse). But when people feel depressed for no good reason, there is a problem. And that is where I recommend people try sudism as a way to lift themselves out of this kind of depression in hopefully a permanent manner. Take care and stay healthy!
I can’t believe I’m reading this twaddle about depression:
“the root cause of unhealthy depression is two-fold: we consume more pleasure than we naturally should, and we erase or avoid too much of the pain we are naturally supposed to experience.”
Clearly whoever wrote this never experienced severe depression!
This is very unhelpful and could vere a depressed person over the edge.
Apologies for the late reply as I was not receiving notifications for comments. I am the author of this article. I used to suffer from chronic major (clinical) depression from around age 12 to 22. It was unfortunately bad enough to lead me to two suicide attempts. Luckily for me, I’m not very good at suicide. 😉 I tried different medications for a year and they didn’t help me much. So I went to plan B, which was to make some important lifestyle changes like exercising regularly (which is an example of embracing more natural pain) and cutting out foods with added sugar (which is an example of letting go of excessive, unnecessary pleasure). The result? No more depression since I made these changes back in 1998. I cannot recommend these kinds of lifestyle changes enough for anyone who is struggling with chronic depression, anxiety or chronic pain. They really do work. Take care and I hope you are doing well.
Ohh! You mean living a healthy life. I get what you’re meaning