Friday, February 7, 2014

Space between the curve

I once counseled a seventeen-year-old who had, since around age eleven, been traveling the depressive curve.  That is not a term I intend to coin, but it has meaning in my understanding of depression.  Picture a vertical line rising from a ground.  This is the progression of one’s life when it is fueled, from childhood on, by the powers of Self: self as the central actor, feelings free to be owned and expressed, and therefore interests owned and followed.  Now picture a second vertical line, superimposed on the first at its base, but curving away from it more and more as it ascends, making a wayward ‘ V ’.  This is the deviate life path of the child lost to power, all unempathic power shutting down the feeling self to a greater or lesser degree.  Beyond the curve is where the young man was: Alone, empty – because loss of self over time equals “emptiness” – and feeling his distance from where he was meant to be: the true, real, ascending arrow.

Working with him, I learned more about depression than the books, the years, the clients, and introspection had taught me.  He was pleasant, nervously affable, effete but glib, enjoyed school singing, liked a girl (unrequited), did the teenage things.  He could not do his school work.  With the same inertial stationary force of a car empty of fuel, this boy could not motivate to prepare, begin, prosecute or complete any assignment.  He could not ignite the fuel of reason to, because there was nothing inside to feel.  He also lacked the fraudulent motives – fear, guilt, narcissism – that will push or pull many a lost self to do.

His parents were divorced, and when younger he lived with his mother.  Over the course of a year she was brutally abusive.  It was too much for him, but like the victims of Stockholm syndrome or those vicious parent-child relationships that fuse choking with embracing, ruthless power with safety, he felt a mutated, abject lifeline of hope. But then one day she apologized, and the hammer fell.  All of his pain and humanity, always needing help, the justice of loving containment, was now to be left behind because of an apology that meant nothing but: It is over.  From that moment on, the body continued, the meaning remained behind.

Depressions obviously have different shades, intensities, qualities, but likely a same bedrock.  I saw an analogy recently, where a woman’s and man’s different hallucinations were rooted in the ground of chronic dissociation.  As a girl, she could not remain emotionally present as her mother was crazy without insight.  As a boy, he walked home from an abusive house to a silent and condemning one, where fantasy replaced feeling.  Possibly the ground of all depression is emptiness, loss of essential meaning, of self, over time.  Maybe it takes only a small amount of time to grow a sense of this loss, which would feel irrevocable.  My “conscious repression” of disappointments in my youth would qualify as mini-depressions, accumulating and joining other losses over years to become a seamless dysthymia.  My client’s repeated failures to make his family one and happy would qualify, too, growing a bigger and bigger gap between the axes of his depressive curve, until the hammer fell.

For him I offered, over time, a variety of thoughts, the closeness of interest, and – as goes my paradigm – the possibility of regression, recapture, reparenting.  One intervention was a simple suggestion: Find shards of hope, “future anchors” within you.  People are complicated enough that within emptiness there can be stuff as bright as that.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.