of ruts and scrabble tiles

October 11, 2010

Depression digs deep ruts.

lllness repeats and repeats, ad nauseum, a mad vocabulary of negative thoughts. The mind’s wheels dig ruts a little deeper with each pass over (poorly formed) topics. The depth of a rut, of course, is exactly proportional to the improbabilty of any other path.

In other words, each time my internal dialogue repeated a thought – especially a belief – the more likely the thought is to repeat itself again. These recurring thoughts became increasingly convincing, and any alternatives less and less likely to even enter my mind for consideration.

What I am describing, if taken only so far, is a perfectly normal way of making our ways through the world. But what if the original thought, beginning to repeat itself, is poorly constructed, incorrect, unhealthy or delusional?  Even thoughts which are sound do damage… over emphasized (to put it mildly) by a mind which illness steers towards incessant, obsessive mulling.  For example:

Q: is it good, in any way, that I exist?

A: I wish that I did not exist.

(a) Notice that the response does not really answer the question. From a distance, the question can seem like route (I’m tempted to say excuse) to (re)stating the “answer”.  In fact, I quite sure that my mind eventually stopped asking questions at all… instead just repeating the regret over and over.

I still wish that I did not exist. This may be gloomy, but I don’t think it causes any problem one takes to repeating it over and over, day after day. I do fairly often hear people asserting that “life is a gift” or “precious”, “I’m so glad to still be alive”… but they also seem able to move on to thinking about other things. Nobody (else) seems lost, endlessly mulling over their existence.  Perhaps the majority are correct in acting as if existential questions are not the most important things in their daily lives.


The very next morning after writing this articles very first draft, I happened to listen to an interview with David Rakoff (NPR Fresh Air, 9/21’10). Talking about his renewed bout with cancer, he said something which startled me in its coincidental relevance.

He begins (citing writer Melissa Bank), “…the only proper answer to why me? is why not you?…” Then he continues, “…and since there is no actual answer as to why me?, it’s not a question that I feel really entitled to ask…”

Only very slightly differently, I figure that its probably normal to feel little interest in asking futile questions. People have plenty of things to think about – plenty of it is trivial, but no matter.

Depressed, I repeated my questions – and my answers – over and over ad nauseum.

Once this pattern is established, I struggle(d) not just to come up with innovative answers, but to think about anything else.  Three reasons:

ONE      A wheel tends to stay in its ruts.
These ruts, I believe, are more than “just” habits. They form themselves like scar tissue within the brain. To be clear, I do mean brain (as opposed to mind)… depression alters the celluar circiutry of that odd machine.

TWO                  My depressed self, by retreating from life, virtually gutted my life of all that was worth thinking about. (I still find life to be distastefully mundane, but at least it is not longer a vacuum).

THREE    Most people avoid the problem by an honest disinterest in the issues. But if it does begin, the argument to stop treads closely to an “argument from despair”. This category of error is not just a logical fallacy, but the local fallacy which I carry around like bee in my bonnet.  A classic argument from despair holds up the hope that the opposite of something is not the case as if it were solid proof that it must be the case. An example; Worried that a world without x would be terribly sad, one decides that x must be part of the world.

If I know that thinking about a particular subject is harmful, should I stop?
Should a subject, which seems so important, be avoided for the sake of comfort?


Ruts are a good metaphor.

But a lone metaphor never captures an entirety. Further, its singular emphasis can worsen the temptation to take it too far. (With credit to Wittgenstein’s warning: The world may be like a basketball, but do not think that it will bounce. Dreaming may seem like watching a movie, but do not expect to be able turn your sleeping head to see the projector.)

Ruts are a good metaphor.
So is Scrabble.

I am a terrible Scrabble player.

Looking at their set of tiles, a good player is able to rearrange them to see multiple possiblities, many which will remain only hypothetical for several moves. Confronted with my own set, my mind stubbornly refuses to conjure anything beyond the very first possibility it sees. No other words seem possible. If the tiles are rearranged, all I see is the original word misspelled.

Depressed, life was like a scrabble game.
Perhaps the mind is stubborn… perhaps pathetically unimaginative.


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