existential blues cont …

Well, January is usually a time to feel a bit low … The lack of light, bit of hangover, family holidays, money pressures or those new year’s resolutions? Sometimes such experiences can trigger depression. Here’s a bit more on feeling depressed from an existential angle.

Binswanger describes depression as an experience where one’s present is suffocated between a toxic clinging to a guilt-ridden past and a fearful sense towards a threatening future, and he understands depression to be more meaningful to just a reactive mood to a negative life event, suggesting that depressed people have a particular worldview (Cohn, 1997). He saw depression as a ‘break-up of the experience of time’s continuous flow’ (ibid: 111), when everything that might be possible in life feels as if it has already passed and life is dominated by a sense of a desperate and dreaded loss which paradoxically feels as if it has already occurred (ibid). It is evident here that depression appears to be an experience which is at odds with the person’s experience of passing time.

On the issue of lived time, Eugene Minkowski (1994) investigates experiences of schizophrenic depression as an experience in which his client’s future was controlled and overwhelmed by fear that something destructive will occur in light of a failed past. He observed that for his clients ‘each day life began anew, like a solitary island in a grey sea of passing time’ (Minkowski, 1994: 133). In keeping with the above, Boss (1994) suggests that depression is an impairment of being and relating to the world through space and time: ‘Of the three temporal existential extensions of past, present, and future, the first and third are nearly totally covered up in such patients, so much so that their existence in practically to the present’ (ibid: 231). Jaspers (1959) also described depression as a standstill of personal becoming, a disturbance of one’s own inner timing and a ‘loss of reality in the time-experience’ (p. 84). In light of the above, an existential approach to depression looks at the person’s experience of living in time and facing the end of time, one’s future death. Being in time is an elusive process; as Emmy van Deurzen-Smith highlights in light of Heidegger’s ideas: …this is about grasping that things are not given once and for all but that we are in process, and are always ‘no longer’ or ‘not yet’ (van Deurzen-Smith, 1995: 10).

Martin Heidegger (1927) wrote about our existential sense of temporal being and our living through passing time in the ways that we are attuned to the world through our specific moods. The following section presents understandings of depression in light of Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, which is seen in this review as a gathering of diverse ideas and critiques, from Ancient Greece to Descartes and Kierkegaard, investigating closely the tensions between objective scientific knowledge on one hand, and personal experience on the other. I also present Kemal’s descriptions of his unique experience of depression as part of our work together in therapy, in order to bring some experiential weight and validity amongst theory that inevitably becomes abstract. Kemal has read and agreed with my descriptions of his experiences and the use of them as part of this chapter.

Leo Dolias