Sunday, March 25, 2007

Depression...and Shoes

Lori and I were talking about depression this morning.

She recently heard from an old friend who's battling a bout of depression. It's the usual stuff with young mothers...exhaustion, isolation, a dearth of down time and an excess of responsibility. We could totally relate; we were mommies too.

But in addition to that specific case, depression is rampant in America in the 21st century. It seems to me that it's partially related to the amount of time we spend running around like chickens with their heads cut off versus the amount of satisfaction we get from all that effort. It's the treadmill effect: we run like crazy and sweat hard, but in the end we're in exactly the same place...just more tired.

My favorite work story is about shoemakers. Once upon a time, shoemakers made shoes. They cut out the sole, cut out uppers, sewed them together and hammered on a heel. From nothing, a pair of shoes were born.

Now shoes are made in a factory. One guy runs the saw that cuts out the sole. One guy runs the machine that cuts out the uppers. One guy operates the machine that sews them together, and one guy glues on the heel. They all have carpal tunnel, and hate their jobs. None of them actually know how to make a pair of shoes, they just know how to operate their machine and send their work down the line. They never get the satisfaction of seeing a customer thrilled with her new shoes. Their work seems meaningless and lacking any context.

I don't know the actual numbers on depression, but my anecdotal observation is that at least a quarter of adults are on antidepressants. Our worklives are largely unsatisfying, which wouldn't be so bad if our personal lives were emotionally enriching. But they're mostly not. We spend a significant amount of our off-work time driving...taking kids to practice, acquiring food for the upcoming meal, or picking up the things that make it possible to continue to work...and very little time doing the things that recharge our personal batteries.

And we generally don't spend nearly enough time doing quiet, comtemplative, hiking in the woods, reading, connecting with people who value us.

When we moved back to Southern Illinois, people were incredulous. "Why in the world do you want to live there?"

It's easy. We want to be here because it has let us reconnect with our lives. It's helped us realize how stressful our urbal life was, and how much more relaxed we are now. We've been able to learn to appreciate a starry night and a sunny afternoon, a day sitting together on the porch talking about nothing much, an evening at the lake watching for signs of fish and looking for tadpoles, sitting on the tailgate of the truck and enjoying the night air.

Sometimes the circumstances of life sneak up on you. You don't feel the crushing weight because it's added one brick at a time. And then one day, you realize that it's more than you can carry. You have to set it down before it breaks you.

I was lucky; When it became more than I could carry, I had Lori to encouraging me to put it down and change my life. I suspect that a lot of people don't have that kind of support.

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