REPRINTED BY PERMISSION from FLorida Jewish News
We take medicine to feel better, right? If we, God forbid, are diabetic and diet can’t get it under control, we can take medicine for it. For a headache, have an acetaminophen. For a tricky ticker, there’s an array of cardio meds your doctor will prescribe. For depression, just pop that happiness pill. Hold on. Not so fast, there, partner. You don’t want to pop that happiness pill unless you want to be married to it for the rest of your life.
Here’s a biological rule: When your body notices the presence of a substance in it, it says to itself, “Oh, here’s some endorphin (or thyroid stimulating hormone, or whatever), so I don’t have to produce any of it.”
In other words, the more you put in from the outside, the less your body will produce.
Chicken and Egg Problem
Now you’re going to be quick to tell me that I’ve got it backwards, that your body wasn’t producing the substance in the first place and that’s why your doctor prescribed it for you. Well, yes, and no. You’re right that your body wasn’t producing it at the moment. Remember, you came in to get some help with depression (or anxiety or whatever), so of course your body wasn’t—at that point in time—producing the chemicals that would be flowing freely if you were happy. But which came first? Were you unhappy because the chemicals for happiness just weren’t there in your body—as the pharmaceutical companies have spent billions trying to convince medical doctors and psychologists so that they can convince their patients—or were the chemicals not there because you were unhappy?
And to be even more confusing, if the chemicals aren’t there in the first place, how can your body produce them all by itself, anyway?
The human body being the miracle that it is, the answer to this question is actually quite simple and quite amazing: It does. It does this every day for most people. We go from one state to another all the time. And when we’re in one state, we have the chemicals of that state in our brains; when we move to another state, circumstances trigger that move and then the chemicals of that state appear. So the bottom line is that we dictate the state we will be in and our body produces the right chemicals accordingly. But the thought, the idea, the state, originates from somewhere in our being first.
“So,” you’re asking, “DrDeb, what about the chronically depressed person? Doesn’t that person have a ‘chemical imbalance’?”
No such thing.
No Chemical Imbalance Has Been Proven
I’ll ask any psychologist or psychiatrist to prove to me that there is something called a “chemical imbalance.” I know people just love to use that word, but like the word, “id” or “ego,” it’s just a convenient fiction, created to give flesh to an idea. People do not draw blood to find out serotonin levels. Even if they wanted to, they could not prove a chemical imbalance. All they could prove is what they already know—that the person standing there in front of them is chronically depressed. Well, what’s new about that? We still don’t know why. We’re still left with this chicken-egg dispute.
Ah, now you’re going to tell me you can easily solve the dispute: Your parents were depressed, so it must be genetic.
Lazy thinking. Sorry. Very unscientific.
It’s Not Genetic Either
The fact is that parents teach their children how to feel. Parents react in characteristic ways that their children learn well before they’re five years old. My kids had their father and me pegged a long, long time ago and they get great delight teasing us about it. That’s as it should be. We are all predictable. The important point here is that those kids think that their parents’ characteristic ways of coping with life are the only ways. It’s years before they recognize that other people don’t fall apart as they do, or take things so hard as they do, or get anxious over things as they do. But by then, they’ve done a good job—too good a job—learning how to react as their parents did, and it’s awfully hard to change.
Hard, but not impossible.
The Solution to Depression: What Meaning Do You Get From Your Situation?
And in the case of depression, putting up a good fight is necessary. When we’re depressed, we’re too low to do the thing we need to do most: pull ourselves out of it. We’re too low to remember that God runs the Universe and maybe He had a good reason for what He did to us. In fact, maybe what He did was for our own good and if we would only see things differently, we’d be glad instead of depressed.
The absolute best story of this kind was one I heard many years ago at a Bar Mitzvah. The grandfather stood up and told the assembled guests that he had been in the Russian Army. Being Jewish, he really did not want to participate in the army and he tried to escape. He was caught. As it happens, this took place at the beginning of World War II. They sent him to Siberia. Was he depressed? Well, I don’t know, but I do know that had they not sent him there, there would not have been a Bar Mitzvah that day.
You see, while he was imprisoned, his family in Russia was wiped out. He was released after the war and made his way to the United States where he started his family over again. He mourned for those he lost, but God privileged him to get another chance. Through him, children, grandchildren, and, eventually, many great grandchildren were given life.
But we rarely get to see the end of the story and often, when we’re drowning in depression, it seems our reasons are excellent. Perhaps they are. But if we could stretch ourselves a bit to remind ourselves that the things that depress us may not be as awful as they look at the moment, and, in fact, may be blessings in disguise, we would secrete the very chemicals in our brains that the pharmaceutical companies are trying so hard to get us to buy. And, best of all, we would be happy.