The Autoimmune Empire: Depression

Example from my wayward youth

Depression is the mind attacking itself. It’s been called a “psychic autoimmune disease.

This morning, part of me woke up asking, what can I fix?  What problem can I attack?
I know — ME!

My motives are good: what can I purify and improve? But the target is wrong.

My impulses — to fix, to cure, to control — may be overactive and delusional, just as my immune system is overactive and confused. My Crohn’s disease is treated with immunosuppressants, designed to calm down the immune system.

My mind, over time, has learned to calm down itself. I have come to accept that I can control very little, so I have learned to give up more, to surrender. This has required me to endure some grief.

I have also simply run out of steam as I’ve aged. No wonder depression was such a problem of my youth: all that energy! All those good intentions run amok! Age itself acts like an immunosuppressant of the mind. As an older friend once told me of the remission of his own depression: “my angst circuits just burned out.”

I have recovered a lot since my severely depressed youth. But a big stress can trigger depression again, just as a big virus can trigger a body’s immune system to attack itself. In fact, having an autoimmune disease seems to be triggering some depression in me now. I can’t fix my Crohn’s disease. But my mind still responds to the stress by saying, FIX IT! Failing to fix it, my mind turns on itself, because what else does it have at hand?

Only surrender, and grief. I wish my immune system could grieve whatever it needs to grieve and leave my tissues alone. Meanwhile, I hope my mind learns to accept it, because however unpleasant Crohn’s disease is, depression is worse.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

5 thoughts on “The Autoimmune Empire: Depression”

  1. I consider that depression is – as most sickness -a multicausal disease, and, in a serious approach, every possible cause should be investigated and treated accordingly. However, it seems to me that the one of the biggest cause for depression is our lack of actual understanding of what life really is. Of course, I do not have an universal reply to that question; everyone of us has to find the answer to her/his particular situation. Though I am not qualified to pontify on this complex subject, I’m pretty sure that there is a very widespread reason for depression: the values, purposes and meaning that are accepted as standard in our somewhat deranged present stage of our civilization…

  2. Thanks for sharing Nina. I hope you can find ways to improve your situation. I’ve also been feeling down lately and I’ve noticed that this time of year – in the Northern hemisphere – can be depressing. We’ve been in the cold and dark for months and it continues to be cold and dark and stormy – and hard to get out and exercise and be in nature. It feels like the spring and summer are far off – and it’s still so dark. We got a SAD lamp that we use sometimes to brighten things up – and I do think that helps. And each day gets a little longer and brighter.

  3. Hello Nina, What a blessing to find you! I’ve studied with The Moon Woman for a few years now.

    I am a walking history map of familial trauma, found myself in a toxic relationship and… living in invisible toxic mold. My GUT is my ground zero. Autoimmune atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia and too much more (12 ttl labels, I believe). My body imbalances are my “learning experiences”. I am healing. It is possible!

    It is my dream to attend Tanishka’s festival in Edinburgh! I clicked in to your link with excitement and upon reading your article I am fascinated to the point of goosebumps.

    I am excited to learn more about your journey as mine unfolds. Thank you for your beautiful writing.

    All my best, Marcie

  4. You’re in good company, Nina- I’m sending you this link because after I read this entry, I had you in mind for hours. And then reading this of course there it was- the way of the creative depressive.

    As an ordinary creative depressive type, I could blather on and on but unlike you and William Blake, I did not single-handedly create a new medium for expression, and do it all myself. Hardly. Yet there is a common thread of course. Illness is discouraging- but it sounds like poverty is not hounding you. May your depression continue to drive you to drink deeper from the well of never-ending discovery.

  5. Control is an illusion. We control nothing of reality, but we can strongly influence it. That’s why your instinct to purify and improve and fix and cure is good. Keep it up, make good what you can, never surrender, and don’t go gently into that dark etc.

    Depression is familiar. Take the time, indulge and enjoy it. Remember how you got yourself out of depression before, and focus on healing. It’s not age and energy taking your angst and steam, it’s wisdom and responsibility. You’re a beloved artist, an achiever striving to improve, and a wonderful person. We’re here, thinking of you, cheering you on.

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