Excerpts, Psychology

Existential depression – Margaret Atwood* Moral Disorder excerpt

I got stuck reading Margaret Atwood again. And there is a passage in Moral Disorder which seems to talk clearly about existential depression.

Story is called The Other Place and this woman is analysing her life so far in comparison with her parent’s. No mate, no solid place to live in, always on the move.

I couldn’t keep up my transient existence forever. I would have to end up with someone, sometime, someplace. Wouldn’t I?

But what if I missed a turn somewhere- missed my own future? That would be frighteningly easy to do. I’d make one hesitation or one departure too many and then I’d have run out of choices. I’d be standing all alone.

Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or “ultimate concerns”)–death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. Death is an inevitable occurrence. Freedom, in an existential sense, refers to the absence of external structure. That is, humans do not enter a world which is inherently structured. We must give the world a structure which we ourselves create. Isolation recognizes that no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains, and we are nonetheless alone. Meaninglessness stems from the first three. If we must die, if we construct our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?

Source Depression in gifted individuals

Why should being alone be such a matter for derision? But it was. The alone, the loners – were not to be trusted. They were strange and twisted. most likely they were psychopaths. They might have a few murdered corpses stowed away in their freezers.

Unfortunately, these existential issues can also prompt periods of depression, often mixed with desperate, thrashing attempts to “belong.” and when belonging is out of the question, there is a strong desire to belittle the relationships that others have and in an attempt to mark the unreachable grapes as being sour, to make alone-ness a virtue.

Why should I care about being shut out of Noah’s ark of coupledom- in effect a glorified zoo, with locks on the bars and fodder dished out at set intervals. I wouldn’t allow myself to be tempted; I’d keep my distance; I’d stay lean and wolf like, and skirt the edges. I would be a creature of night, in a trench coat with the collar turned up, pacing between streetlights, my heels making an impressively hollow and echoing sound, casting long shadows before me, having serious thoughts about topics of importance.

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