Question from Sam:
I have been very, very depressed lately. Many factors attribute to this: My dad’s cancer, difficulty in finding a job, Trump, racial tension, global warming, plight of migrants etc. The world seems very bleak, and as a result, it’s getting harder and harder for me to resist religion as a means of comfort. I try so much to rely on science and logic for my troubles, but none of it makes me happy. I love movies but I’m scared that if I turn to that, I might hurt somebody in some way (b/c of the whole plight of child actors). Everything in me seems broken and hopeless. Is there anyway I can still be happy again?
Answer by SmartLX:
My wife is going through something similar. Assorted life challenges coupled with large-scale global tragedies and threats completely out of her control (Trump is a major focus, and we’re not even in America) lead to frequent bouts of depression in someone already prone to them. Honestly I wish I could do more to help her, because you never want to see the people you love suffer.
The difference between her and you is that she’s Catholic. She doesn’t seriously doubt God to my knowledge and never has. That’s why I can tell you that religion can be no help at all at times like this. Her thinking is not that God has a mysterious plan that somehow requires all this suffering for some greater good, but rather that God is punishing her specifically for past unidentified wrongs while allowing all this awfulness to happen. Faith is no comfort whatsoever in the day to day.
Perhaps if you gave in to religion you’d bring a different attitude. You’d tell yourself that God loves all of us and has a grand plan, or will come down and fix all this mess eventually, or at the very least everyone will get their just deserts after death. But as you know there’s no evidence for any of this, you would need to live with the fact that anything positive you claimed about God was your own naked assertion, either ignoring it as you prayed or trying to brainwash yourself into forgetting it. And frankly, if you have the kind of mind that generates depression from such disparate sources, God would probably become part of the misery in some way, just like he is for my wife.
Meanwhile, science and logic can be comforting (e.g. by telling you that there is no supernatural force driving the world to ruin, and each misfortune big and small has tangible causes which can potentially be addressed) but they can’t make real problems suddenly unreal, and their power to reverse depression has a natural limit as a result. You’re going through some awful things and so is the world, and the normal, expected reaction to these is sadness. Unemployment especially can feel worse and worse over time, I know.
First thing I can tell you is to go and see a damn movie. If it’s an old movie, it won’t affect the “plight” of any now-grown child actors who were in it. If it’s new, at least you’re helping everyone involved get more work, and it’s a lot better than reality television where child subjects lack even the meagre protections child actors have won over the years. Getting to know about particular child actors and their work can in a small way raise their profile and increase the chances that people will notice if they’re mistreated. Most importantly, if you need to feel some joy and you know one thing that’ll do it for you, and you can only imagine it hurting people in the abstract, don’t go looking for reasons to deny yourself. By all means choose your films carefully, but there are so many.
Next thing is to focus, as the famous Serenity Prayer says (in a sentiment dating back to Greek philosopher Epictetus), on the things you can control and not the things you can’t. There’s probably very little you can do about your father’s cancer, but you can greatly affect his comfort and state of mind, so be a good son. Potential employers make up their own minds about who to hire, but you can get out there and present the best possible version of yourself, taking pride in this regardless of their decision. Politicians have the power to affect national policy on immigration, the environment and so on, but you as a citizen can contact any politician you like, draw their attention in other ways, and even have a hand in their removal. Look into local or online activist groups and see if any are doing good work you’d like to join in. The point here is to give yourself a purpose, however short-term or arbitrary, other than mere survival. Purpose leaves a hole in the mind when it’s not there.
Speaking of joining, we are social creatures and none of us are meant to shoulder the burdens of the whole world alone. You can find groups specifically for your own issues (cancer support, job hunting, human rights, etc.) but joining any group, official or informal, will potentially put you in touch with people you can truly connect with on at least one level. A burden shared is a burden halved, and just knowing there are people you can talk to if you need to can be a very nice thought. If you’re an introvert like me then you may wish to control the amount of time you spend in company, but it’s still important to have that option.
Finally, I realise you’re un- or under-employed but some form of therapy or counselling may be what you ultimately need to get a handle on your runaway thoughts. I have no idea what’s available where you are but some form of pro bono, bulk-billed or volunteer program may exist that will put you in a room with someone who can give better mental health advice than I can. Doesn’t hurt to research it.
For now, just know that I truly hope you can find ways to feel better. There are people who don’t know you at all but feel for people like you and are working to improve the world for your sake. Good luck.
Question from Sam: