Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The New York Times Magazine has an article this week titled "There's Nothing Deep About Depression."

We idealize depression, associating it with perceptiveness, interpersonal sensitivity and other virtues.... But the aspect of the romanticization of depression that seems to me to call for special attention is the notion that depression spawns creativity.

Objective evidence for that effect is weak.... [S]tudies suggest that bipolar disorder may be overrepresented in the arts.... But the benefits of major depression, taken as a single disease, have been hard to demonstrate. If anything, traits eroded by depression -- like energy and mental flexibility -- show up in contemporary studies of creativity....
Basically, the author is saying that depression is a disease like any other disease, and so we should treat it. Which he says makes sense to people except that there's this feeling people have that depression is special and people who are depressed are creatively special and by treating depression we would stop people like Van Gogh from painting neat stuff because he needed to be sad to paint it.

I think I'm probably guilty of having some of the thoughts the author says are bad. There's something compelling about sadness, something that seems deeper about frustration and angst and melancholy, and the stuff on the sad end of the emotional spectrum, than about happiness, which sometimes seems somehow superficial. People who can tap into the darker feelings and who can talk about their frustrations and their angst -- I feel like I find them more interesting sometimes. It's hard to find the words to describe why.

But the author of this piece -- which is a really interesting piece -- hits it on the head, I think, in the very last sentence of the article.

"We should have no trouble admiring what we do admire -- depth, complexity, aesthetic brilliance -- and standing foursquare against depression."

And, yeah, that makes sense. It makes sense that depression isn't the same thing as being able to tap into that side of the emotional continuum, as being perceptive or sarcastic or deep or thoughtful. And it really isn't depression that's interesting and compelling, but those other things.

I mean, depression sounds pretty awful. I get the point the author of the piece is making, because I feel like it's easy to think that there's something noble about sadness, something "heroic," as he writes. But I guess what he's saying, and what the article made me realize, is that it's naive -- and just wrong -- to confuse the two. I mean, I'm pretty happy most of the time, I'm sure I've never been depressed. Depression would suck. Article is interesting. Creativity is a magical phenomenon. Okay, that's it.