“Depressive Realism”, the syndrome of the people that want to change the world

January 1st ; “This year is gonna be your year”, you ruminate the same endless and a bit naive sentence again and again. And then, you start your routine again, live, make mistakes. Months go by and one day you wake up to December.

You look back on your year, swearing time has never flown by so quickly and “Damn, where did November go? And what about March?”. However, for the first time since the 16th of June 1997; this time I am looking forward to starting again and to the symbolic countdown on New Year’s Eve. Because we will never say it enough, 2016 fucking sucked. And more than that, it depressed me.

Indeed, I have always been a quite positive, optimistic, always smiling, always defined by her “joie de vivre” person. And believe me, sometimes I wished I could just give up and just bury myself under my sheets. But I had this thing you know, “it’s not a big deal”, “you live, you’re in good health, you have a family that loves you, it’s not important just move on”; and to be completely honest, it worked very well. For 19 years. And then, 2016 happened.

And do not get me wrong, I hate as much as you do, those random people that complain about everything or are really pessimistic. And I never could fully comprehend how people could feel depressed, or sad without reason, or even what they call “anxious”. Not that I rejected the idea, I just could not picture it. I did not catch the depth of these illnesses. And again, 2016 happened.

Being lucid and happy has always been quite a challenge when you are a student of political science and international affairs. Dealing with daily atrocities and being constantly reminded the darkness of the world call into question a lot of things. I, somehow, did it for two years without questioning it “more than that”. I never thought I would end up one day on my balcony, smoking a cigarette in my year abroad and suddenly bursting into tears of despair.

“Luckily” and thank to my enormous pride, as I’ve always considered sadness the worst emotion you could ever feel and the most vulnerable it could make you, I decided to research and understand. So I read a lot of articles about this feeling of hopelessness, doubt and self-consciousness and I came across this article that explained to me “depressive realism”.

I am not depressed and I do not think I have ever been. My mom used to repeat to me all the time, as a child “Emma, if one day YOU are depressed, the whole world will become suicidal.” What I am talking about is a state of mind, an underlying feeling, a concept.

Ever since this proposition was put forward in the 1970s by psychologists Lyn Abramson and Lauren Alloy, psychologists have struggled to reconcile how depressive realism (also called the sadder-but-wiser effect) can co-exist alongside the inaccurate and distorted thoughts associated with depression. This concept may, at least in some cases, be turned onto its head and positively redefined as something like ‘the healthy suspicion that modern life has no meaning and that modern society is absurd and alienating’. If people look at the world and see bad things everywhere, it’s because the world is an ugly place. In other words, those people are not depressed, they are realists.

Reality bites. That is the disagreeable truth. And when you are surrounded by disasters and catastrophes; when you are constantly fed with the news of the world falling apart, it is hard to hold on. I will not list you the horrors I had to face this year, because that’s not the point. A dominant theme in our society is that you should be happy, and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. Life can be difficult at times. It is in the labelling of people as depressed that the greatest injustice is done.

So then, the questions arose :
Do we need to view the world through rose tinted glasses?
Do we have more to be happy about than we do to be depressed about?

How do you balance having to deal with earthquakes and emotional roller coasters while keeping sane relations and changing the world?
Are you supposed to give up your mental sanity if you want to see the reality of the world?
Are we damned to crippling depressions? 

We are part of those that don’t want to watch and see. Neither do we want to view the world in an overly negative way. We simply want to know the reality so we can deal with life head on.

So we take small steps, we all want to change the world, but we have to be careful not to quickly run up against despair, and worse, come to harbour the idea we can’t make any difference whatsoever.

When it comes to ourselves, I see this as this: if we care enough about something, we take action. If we don’t take action, that means we don’t care enough, for whatever reason. Perhaps we’re just busy with other things. In which case: stop worrying and pretending. Also, stop finding excuses, because you can do things. You can donate money to refugees in Aleppo, you can educate masses or people not to make the wrong choices, you can demonstrate to express your views, you can use social medias to make your voice matter, you can use some of your time to help people that need to be helped, you can donate clothes, energy, blood; and the list is long.

You change the world by living it.

You change the world by facing your fears.

You change the world by applying to internships you consider “out of your league”.

You change the world by seeing it as it is, by being lucid, by taking baby steps and having the strength to make a move.

You change the world by overcoming sadness and doubt because you have an ultimate goal.

That is how you try to change the world without completely going insane.
That’s what 2016 taught me the hard way.


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