Can depression and optimism co-exist? Apparently, it is a contradiction, but if you dig deeper into what these two emotional states entail, it may actually be possible. Both are quite blanket terms, and tend to carry their own connotations that are constructs of what society has come to see them, instead of what they actually denote. What is even more interesting than this difference, is the complex relationship the two have. Exploring the effects of these two states in their essential, non-specific sense, may throw up ideas and notions these two may not independently indicate.
By optimism, I am not talking about mania which, like so many mental health terms, is misunderstood in popular culture. Optimism is the belief that anything, whether it is in a difficult position at the present moment or not, will ultimately have a positive outcome. Popular culture literalizes it to a great extent, and the nature of optimism isn’t quite so simple or direct. It is a complex phenomenon, and requires multiple exercises in imagination, information and assessment to form itself. It is not a permanent tendency, a generalized outlook on things. It is not something that can simply be piled on top of something, or be an inexplicable or unjustifiable notion about something. If I am stuck in a tunnel and the water pipes have just burst, I can’t say that the manhole will magically open and I will be saved from drowning. If I have reason to believe that someone will open that manhole for me, however faint the chances of that may be (maybe they are on the other side of the building above), I still have enough cause to be optimistic. Now, in case I am saved, it is up to my own choice of reasoning that I attribute my rescue to luck, religious belief or rationality. But, the point is, optimism is reasonable, even if its sources may seem not.
This hints at another practice, the belief in apparently illogical phenomena that are nevertheless, widespread in society. I will never discuss my personal thoughts on them, but I like to observe the psychological effects they have on people. Whether they can be rationalized is a different issue. But, having faith in anything, whatever that is, often helps you in dealing better with uncomfortable situations, instead of being half-sceptical about everything. Even complete scepticism is a belief, whereas it is mainly doubt that, though it is the truest sign of our humanity, also makes our chances of dealing with and surviving emotionally tough situations more difficult.
I have consistent depressive tendencies, sometimes strong and sometimes faint, and yet I am optimistic most of the time. I derive this mainly from my love of art, which reassures me about things. Not in the cliched, “everything is going to be alright” kind of way, which is what optimism is commonly misunderstood as. But, art tells me that humanity has the capability of doing better, even if there is so much wrong in what we do. And that, even in my darkest moments, makes me think that I can do better.
More and more people are recognising symptoms of depression in themselves, whether mild or severe, and are looking for help. This is good, because it shows that depression isn’t an especial thing that only affects some of us, but is something that can occur in all. I always stress on doubt being something good, because it is truer and more human to contain it. Most people who think or consider themselves to be well out of the realms of depression, are basically content or complacent. Which isn’t something constant or unchangeable. The very nature of life and well, nature, is the inevitability of change, of growth. And that brings doubt, an inability to cope, a feeling that things will not be the way you imagine them to be.
That feeling, when amplified, is depression. It isn’t only a feeling of nothingness, it is thinking what is right for you is not what is possible for you. It is also a complacent state. But, with doubt, you can consider the possibility of things turning out well after all. And optimism is that possibility. Depression, in its darker forms, may not always allow you to entertain that possibility, but, for the rest of the time, if you can keep that possibility alive through your human ability to doubt, you may come out on the other side. These two can and do co-exist, because we have the innate ability to doubt, to fight for our existence, to have the ability to do better, which is what makes us human.