de la Bédoyère’s Maxims No 9

We cannot judge a man’s virtues since we do not know his starting point. And the best we can do with our own is to make a crude judgment about whether we are progressing or regressing.

Optimism is a survival strategy for the human race.

It is only the deeply depressed who can see the world as it really is. Recovery is a process of reconstructing the fictions which make life bearable.

The depressed do not kill themselves at the deepest point of despair; the time of greatest danger is when they have recovered enough confidence to know that their terrors were justified..

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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9 Responses to de la Bédoyère’s Maxims No 9

  1. kouin says:

    The association of homoerotica to the underbellyof the celibate life-style

    and for the likes of me to avoid the ‘natural leaders’

    when entering ascetic periods of consciousness e.g Ramadan ,

    is a modern parable totally dependant on weltanschaung

    such as the likes of the radio play Portia or Porche for their entertaining values.

    Quentin’s ‘quips’ however lend themselves in the above to a rather usettling narrative as opposed to the previous seperate jolly ups.

    Me ? I’m going to the gym to work on my thighs.

  2. tim says:

    It would be handy to have these maxims numbered for ease of reference.

    9.1 Yes. We are of course obliged to judge our own actions (and sometimes other people’s).
    9.2 Possibly.
    9.3.1 No! Absolutely not! God made us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him for ever in the next. We are not to assign blame to the depressed person (see 9.1) but nor are we to collude in his false judgement.

    Where does this come from? I assume you mean it – or could it be your version of the Milgram experiment – to see what you can say without any challenge from your readers?

    9.3.2 ‘Getting things in proportion’ may be truer, though it doesn’t sound as good.
    9.4.1 Yes.
    9.4.2 Not ‘to know their terrors were justified’ necessarily, but ‘to rouse themselves to action’?

  3. Tim, thanks for your comments. I will try to remember your numbering idea for next time.
    9.1 I spoke in the maxim of “virtue” not actions. Let’s suppose that I am an irascible man and you are mild mannered. And on similar occasions I lose my temper and lash out with my tongue, whereas you restrain yourself and say something constructive. We can judge that your action is objectively better than mine, but we cannot judge the respective merit since we can’t know the elements which created each of our temperaments.
    9.3.1 I don’t know whether you have tried persuading a clinically and deeply depressed person that “all manner of things will be well”. I think you will find that they are simply unable to take in such a message as you suggest. What they see are the miseries of the world, the ventures which go wrong, the corruption of human nature. We know all these things to be true but, to get by, we thrust them into the back of our minds most of the time.
    This was by no means a “Milgram” test (though Milgram, incidentally highlights the awfulness of human nature. And, as I remember, tests with Catholics showed up particularly badly). No, my maxims are expressed starkly, and often nuance each other. Their function is to provoke people to think.
    Which is why your ripostes are so valuable.
    9.4.2 Deepest depression tends to be passive: the cloud that falls is so thick that it feels nothing can be done. A stage up from this does not take away the perception of melancholy but a realisation that something can be done. Ironically the one element of control which is graspable is to take reponsibility for escaping from it all.
    Of course I speak in general terms, but I have seen this happen too often to ignore it. One person, quite close to me, told me what a relief it was to realise that one could escape from it all.

  4. Frank says:

    ‘It is only the deeply depressed who see the world as it really is…’

    Surely it is the saints who see the world as it really is? i.e. the horror of sin and what it does to the human soul, and at the same time the glory of a world redeemed by God?
    Deeply depressed people only see the horror (though they would not perhaps use the word ‘sin’ to describe it). To experience this, especially one’s own failures and weaknesses, and at the same time to be without hope of change, is to be suicidal. Jaques and Raissa Maritain planned to kill themselves if they could not discover the Truth. Fortunately they found it, in the Church. If I had no religious belief I might well kill myself at a low moment.
    What makes life bearable is love – whether human or divine (usually concealed behind the human).
    There is also bi-polar mental illness, which if untreated, can often lead to suicide; but I take it, by ‘deep depression’ you do not mean ‘clinical depression’? Mental illness distorts one’s judgement.

  5. It is interesting that depression is classed as an illness without science being able to explain its biochemical origins. Although it is usual treated with serotonin remedies no one seems really to know how these work or ultimately whether they work. (How much is placebo, for instance?). But if they work it doesn’t follow that depression is caused by serotonin deficiency – any more than headaches are caused by aspirin deficiency. But many depressed people are able to bear the misery better when it is diagnosed by authority as a recognisable condition. It means that they are entitled to have it, and so are relieved of some guilt. (I am just summarising a piece from New Scientist here.)
    I would just question Frank’s implication that depression results from lack of love, in the depressed or in their companions. I imagine that Mother Teresa’s long “night of the soul” was not caused by lack of love. But perhaps I haven’t understood his comment correctly.

  6. Frank says:

    Well, if God is Love, and we are made for and by God, then not to experience His love, either directly or indirectly, is to forego vital spiritual nourishment – ergo, to be ‘depressed’?

    I differentiate between two kinds of depression: the first is low serotonin levels (for whatever reason), which can be helped by SSRI’s (I have seen this happen, almost miraculously, in friends). This is mental illness.

    The second is a cynical disillusionment about life so deep as to be also (perhaps) described as deep depression. This is to live without religious hope – or the illusions that most people turn to; Camus describes it well. It is very rare, and quite different from the ‘dark night of the soul’ experienced by Christians, especially the saints. I would not call St Therese or Mother Teresa ‘depressed’; they did not cease to believe in God; they simply ceased to experience His presence.

    When cynics commit suicide it might properly be called ‘despair’.

  7. tim says:

    Quentin, I’m entirely with you on 9.1.

    As to 9.3.1, I fully accept that it may be at best futile and at worst dangerous to try to persuade a depressed person that things are not as bad as they feel. This is a truth they may not be ready for. But it is a truth. What I do not accept is that they are seeing the world as it really is. This was what I understood you to be saying – and what I found so difficult that I suggested you might be emulating Milgram. The best interpretation that I can now put on what you said is that depressed people are seeing certain elements of the world as they really are (but are unable to see the full picture). I’m not sure that I would accept that, either, but it might be right. Surely you weren’t just saying that the depressed person believes that he sees the world as it really is?

  8. Iona says:

    Frank said “If God is love, and we are made by and for him, then not to experience his love is to forgo vital spiritual nourishment” – But we may still be getting the nourishment even without experiencing it (like being tube-fed, when we taste nothing).

    With regard to the serotonin levels, I think it is not established whether low serotonin levels cause depression or are caused by it, – there’s an association, that’s all that can be said. Aerobic exercise is said to raise serotonin levels and be as effective in lifting depression as medication is.

    I wonder where reactive depression would fit into Frank’s categories, – the sort of depression which follows on a bereavement, loss of job, breakdown of relationship, long-term illness?

  9. Frank says:

    I should have said ‘reject love’ rather than ‘not experience it’. Iona’s point is quite right.

    I would rather call ‘reactive depression’ ‘low spirits’ i.e. an entirely normal state when experiencing the normal vicissitudes of life. This can turn into clinical depression if not addressed, obviously.

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