In Part I of Take a Hike, Not a Pill, Mary Rose began exploring the root causes of depression. In Part II, she looks at how the reptilian part of the human brain is at odds with the way we think life should be.
Human beings are animals, or mammals to be more precise. But we are also something more than that. A very old part of our brain is reptilian in nature.
Lacking language and responsible for autonomic life functions such as breathing, heart rate, sex drive and the fight or flight mechanism, the reptilian brain’s impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. It is this part of our brain — concerned with fundamental needs such as survival, physical maintenance, hoarding, dominance, preening and mating — which has allowed our continued survival.
Now, imagine if you will a group of animals which has been around for a while — say hippos — and who found themselves in a world where they no longer needed to hunt, fight for survival, preen, mate or dominate. Without their primal urges to automatically guide their behaviour, might they not go mad? I imagine they would eventually become hostile for no reason other than the innate need to trigger something that more closely resembles their ancient natural tendencies (much like a child with ADD will if cooped up in an environment which dictates behaviour that is counter to the child’s nature).
In the case of hippos and people alike, without the freedom to follow natural courses of action — when they are felt, as opposed to when non-animalistic society tells us it’s appropriate — our natural and appropriate urges become deviated. The urge to preen might turn into obsessive compulsive disorder. The urge to fight for turf might turn into obsessive hoarding. The urge to dominate might result in massive genocide. The urge to maintain physical beauty might turn into a multi-billion dollar profit-based industry. The urge to mate, if unmet, might result in anything from watching too much porn, to obsessing about sex, to feeling the urge to rape. And finally, the urge to sleep might turn into depression.
The consequences of caging animalistic frustrations, to make them more appropriate or “politically correct” as it were, are obvious.
We, in the Western world, live in a relatively stagnant and meaningless environment. Everything is readily available in large quantities, all the time. We no longer have to hunt and gather food, or hone a keen mind in preparation for a turf war, nor do we need to be patient and skilled in the ways of survival.
The primal parts of the human mind have become flaccid from lack of use. The very intelligence that gave birth to our magnificent ability to survive and thrive is ironically what has created our indolence, which in turn has made us relatively impotent in the natural world.
The irony is not lost on me. Depression is a direct result of our attempts to “be happy” all the time for half the price with no exercise, no commitment and no money down. It is a natural side effect of withdrawal from the animal inside. The human mind, by virtue of its animal roots, is not designed to withstand what we have imposed on it, and the disconnection from what elementally makes us who we are is what is making us sad.
Simply put, depression is the natural consequence of a mind ill-equipped to deal with unnatural circumstances.
So what do we do about it? Well, I for one am going to plunk away at my keyboard, continue to do research, train for a fight I’ll never get to fight, look after my offspring, hunt for some food in my fridge and look forward to a massive cage fighting Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event at Bear Mountain Arena.