How depression is not the opposite of happiness, but the absence of it, and why that's an important step towards getting better again.
2-3 minute read
Human emotion is like a pendulum.
It swings from positive to negative, then back to positive emotions. An eternal back-and-forth. If the pendulum swings only a little, the emotions experienced are subtle, like contentment and melancholy. If the swing is a little stronger, the emotions experienced also increase in intensity, for example joy and sadness. Once the pendulum achieves its maximum swing, the emotions are almost overwhelming, such as ecstasy and desperation.1
In the absence of friction, e.g. in a vacuum, a pendulum will continue to swing forever. However, in reality, our circumstances weigh us down. Reality can often be overwhelming, and so the human mind has evolved a tendency to retract into a nigh foetal state if given the opportunity. This urge is comparable to the air friction sapping away the kinetic energy of the pendulum. Once the pendulum stops moving, it is stuck, not unlike the mind that is trapped in a prison of its own making. This is the essence of depression.
A depressed person is neither happy nor unhappy, they are just empty, a mere shell of their former selves. In an isolated environment, a depressed person may exist in this state forever.
Fortunately, there is a cure—our fellow humans. A strong enough external influence will eventually be enough to set the pendulum in motion again. It doesn't much matter in what direction it initially swings, as long as it does swing. The initial gift of potential energy will convert into kinetic energy for the pendulum of human emotion to continue its course for the time to come.2
Parting Note: This essay reflects my personal experience with depression, and may not necessarily be generalisable. That being said, I hope this analogy will help at least one person out there that has gone through the bleak experience that is depression as well.
I have found that negative emotions are easier to generate artificially, and are therefore more effective in producing motion for the pendulum of human emotion. An easy example of such a stimulus would be going on a hike. Hiking is initially an intensely unpleasant experience. It is strenuous and requires persistence. However, this intensity has an equally intense payoff. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of absolute elation felt after summiting a particularly arduous ascent. It is a near surefire way to get out of a tough rut. ↩