Experiences of Depression

(Adapted from a tweetstorm)

1/ One of my favorite authors has been making the rounds, being quoted by both @s_r_constantin and @vgr on the same week, so I’m gonna do a dive on his best book. The author? Matthew Rattclife – philosopher of psychology and phenomenologist. His best book? Experiences of depression.

2/ The book is an edited collection of papers of his. This means there’s sometimes too much fodder and repetition. He’s also an analytic philosopher, so he says *both* what he means and what 400 adjacent things he doesn’t mean. Kinda annoying.

3/ Other than that, the book is truly excellent: it analyses the various ways in which human experience changes in depression and is peppered throughout with quotes from depressed people on what their experience is or was like. I’ll use a similar format here.

4/ Why do I care to share this? To paraphrase Matthew quoting Nietzsche: a tweetstorm is an implicit ‘confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’.

5/ It’s excruciating to feel beyond the range of normal experience: to feel bad in a way that cannot be communicated and hence cannot be supported. It breaks my heart to know other people are going through that right now. In sharing this I want …

6/ …people to grok the phenomenological categories of variation, to feel empathized with, in having others describe what they thought was their forever utterly private experience, and for others to learn how to empathize with them.

7/ Ok, enough of a preambe, let’s dive in:

8/ The book is a philosophical exploration of what it is *like* to be depressed. “Like being engulfed by a toxic and unnameable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world”

9/ The hope in writing it is that in reflecting on the difference between depression and ‘healthy’ forms of experience, we can refine our understanding of both.

10/ And that, in that refined understanding, we can find ways to empathize with people suffering from it – who consistently complaint it falls outside the normal range of human experiences and is therefore difficult of even impossible to describe.

11/ “I could not reach other human beings. There was an unfathomable distance between me and any other human being and I was it was desperately important to be able to bridge that gap.”

11/ Why is depression so hard to describe? Because it involves a change in an aspect of experience that is seldom an object of explicit reflection of discussion and consequently hard to articulate. That aspect?

12/ The *pre-reflective* sense of belonging to a *shared* world.

13/ “I awoke into a different world. It was as though all had changed whilst I slept: that I awoke not into normal consciousness but into a nightmare”

14/ This change is caused by a change in one’s ‘existential feelings’.

15/ “You know you have lost life itself. You’ve lost a habitable earth. You’ve lost the invitation to live that the universe extends to us at every moment.”

16/ Existential feelings reflect a variable sense of the possibilities that the world offers. Depression involves a change in *both* the kinds of possibility that are experienced *and* the structure of one’s overall relation to the world. This is the main thesis which is explored.

17/ This change comes in many forms: altered bodily experience, loss of ability to hope, guilt, diminished agency and sense of self, altered experience of time, and isolation. They are all part of the same thing, of this ‘existential change’ – of a transformation in one’s ‘world’.

17/ “I was terribly alone, lost, in a harsh and far-away place, a horrible terrain reserved for me alone. There was nowhere to go, nothing to see, no panorama.”

18/ The book starts with a framework for understanding that change to the overall structure of experience. ‘World’ as referred to by Husserl – not an object of experience or thought, but something we already ‘find ourselves in’, something all experiences take for granted.

19/ This is what depression disturbs. Because it’s so fundamental to experience it is seldom reflected upon and poorly understood.

20/ After an intro to the method – Chapter 1 – and framework – Chapter 2 – the book goes into the various ways that this change is experienced.

21/ Depression and the body – Chapter 3

22/ Loss of ability to Hope – Chapter 4

23/ Existential Guilt – Chapter 5

24/ Loss of agency – Chapter 6

25/ Changes to the structure of temporal experience – Chapter 7

26/ The contraction of relations to others – Chapter 8

27/ It ends with thoughts on how to empathize with it – Chapter 9 – and with consideration on the categories of ‘depression’ and ‘major depression’ – Chapter 10.

28/ Ok that’s enough typing for now. If y’all are into this I’ll start with chapter by chapter summaries.

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