We said the night of the election that we thought we were looking at a nation that had “turned the corner” – that we were no longer a fundamentally center-right nation. I think it is clear we are closer to the corner than ever, but on reflection I wonder if we have truly turned it? The election was stunning because things are so bad. Obama’s unfavorables were in the toilet and everybody knows the nation is headed in the wrong direction. Obama offered nothing on the campaign trail to indicate he would change, so it just seemed obvious the nation would change things for him. Why in the world would we continue in this muck and mire? Why would we not take the first step to get out of the mess? Pondering these questions, I had one of those AHA! moments.
That’s a pretty good description of clinical depression. I am not talking about the melancholy that affects us all from time to time – I am talking about the pathological emotional/mental disorder depression. When one is suffering from clinical depression it is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. You know things are awful and you do nothing to change then and often make things worse just to confirm your perceptions. It’s an ugly cycle.
Often in depression the fix looks worse than the disease. You see, the fix involves risk and you are so pessimistic that you would rather cling to the suffering you have (because at least you have something) rather than risk it in pursuit of the better. Depressives lack any confidence that any risk, even small ones, will pay off. When one is in the throes of such a depression, often the last thing you want is the whole “happy warrior” schtick – because you seek to reinforce you negativism, you shun such people as phonies. Obama has certainly played to this sort of mindset. Like the well-meaning enabler, he pats you on the back and tells you, “Yes indeed, ‘Life sucks, then you die,’ but I will try and make sure you don’t die before your time.”
Furthermore, the incredibly negative campaign he ran seems purpose built to suppress the vote of those that would try to improve things – such people go where there is positive energy, not the sort of negative energy that radiated from the campaign. This is in fact part of the depressive cycle. Depressives find themselves increasingly isolated because people just don’t want to be around them.
OK, so, I’ve established a metaphorical understanding of what happened last Tuesday, what do we do about it? Well, I am not entirely sure about the total picture just yet, but some things seem to pop out.
For one, don’t buy into the depressive cycle. If indeed we are dealing with a pathology reinforced rather than an actually turning of the corner – the pathology can be cured. Now to some extent the cure is the same for the pathology that it is for the cultural shift – we still have to work harder to inculcate our value structure for that value structure is absolutely necessary to overcome this sort of depression. But it is important to understand that throwing our hands up in despair and deciding the problem is too big just feeds the depressive cycle – we cannot do that.
Which brings me to the second point. We cannot allow the depressives their isolation. Engage and engage now – just be careful. The right message to the depressed is not “Get over it.” The right message is “We care about you, even love you,” and then when the time is right and you see that little twinkle of suppressed hope in their eye you let them know that you will stand with them as they fix their problem, but you cannot fix the problem for them.
Engagement also means we cannot let the negativism deter us from action – and that does not mean just vote when the ads make us want to stay away. I am not well represented in my congressional district. Not going to name names here, but the guy is definitively not after my vote. That is a two way street by the way – I’d just as soon not pick up the phone and deal with his office. The attitude that comes from that place is just something I would rather do without. It is much easier for me to get things done in Washington, the few times I have had to, using other contacts than the ones that are my natural representatives. I doubt I will ever get anything done through his office, but I should quit ignoring it. Squeaky wheels and all that.
Many depressives in our nation function in this day and age because of pharmaceutical miracles. I am not a fan of these medications – they are like a coat of paint on a dilapidated house – they make things look good, even livable, but they do not address the real problems. If they are used to provide sufficient functionality to deal with the problems (as a coat of paint can attract a buyer, or lender, with sufficient capital to fix the house) then they are of use, but most people just keep taking them and never fix the real issues. Even worse, in this age, we never bear the cost of these medications – our insurance does. Those costs are enormous and if we had to actually bear them, I bet we’d work a lot harder to overcome the roots of depression so we could quit spending the money on the drugs. Obama’s governing program reflects this same cycle of dependance and lack of cost for that dependance – and the depression prevents us from seeing that cost will eventually have to be paid.
It’s this cycle within the cycle where I am unsure how to proceed. If we sound too hopeful, and simply proclaim the better way, the depressives will reject us as phony – I think they in fact just did. The only way I can think of is to live our lives better and hope they are attractive enough to break the haze. Which means we cannot succumb to the grief and fear that we feel in the wake of the loss we just suffered. More than not succumbing, we need to succeed in spite of it. It may not always be easy to make a living in Obama’s second term, but we have to find a way. If things get so bad that there is no alternative but to take some form of public assistance – make it your stated goal to use the assistance as a loan – a very high interest loan.
And finally be of good, but not obnoxious, cheer. We cannot expect nor demand such cheer of the depressives around us – that just irritates them, but if we are cheerful and bright we will be a light in their lives that they can aspire to. It’s no fun living with depression, but love (in this case of our nation) demands that we stay and that we do not succumb.