Is It You or Is It The Systems?

Are you depressed or are our systems exploiting you? Are you depressed or are our systems draining every ounce of capital-production from you? Are you depressed or are our systems extracting the life from your bones? Is it you or is it that an extremely small number of capital-holders, the actual capitalist class within the top 1%, are exploiting and destroying you just the same as they are exploiting and destroying our planet?

Now it is entirely possible that your depression is legitimately caused by a ‘chemical imbalance.’ But I find it to be more than coincidental that this idea of a chemical imbalance simultaneously naturalizes psychotropic medication as a legitimate therapy and plays on and perpetuates the notions of the individual prevalent in our country. It’s the individual, we’re told, not their social and physical environment, where one ought to search for the root of their despair. It’s within oneself, we have been taught, where one must turn to find the roots of what ails them. [Update: the ‘chemical imbalance’ theory has been firmly refuted. You do not have a ‘chemical imbalance’]

But to my mind it is that inward turn itself that ails us. We are each of us struck down by our own dissatisfaction with our conditions by this narrative of a chemical imbalance: we are not actually upset with what amounts to wage-slavery (and I do not use slavery as a lazy motif; it is literally meant), the ‘chemical imbalance’ narrative tells us; we just have a chemical imbalance that requires extremely expensive medications for an unspecified period of months that will stretch into years, switching from one to the next because nothing seems to work. It is a horrible fate that has befallen so many of us, myself included.

I stopped experimenting with psychotropics many years back. I felt like a zombie all the time, and like there was a layer of invisible fluff between me and everyone and everything around me. Since then I’ve determined that I didn’t have a chemical imbalance: I had a life imbalance. It was the systems in which I was caught up that had me troubled. And while my past was certainly tumultuous and required a great deal of learning to live with what I’d experienced, it did not require pharmaceutical treatment, which in my experience made memories as remote as the world around me. I realized I didn’t need to change myself; rather we must all work to change the systems around us.

Do you have panic attacks? Me too. I learned breathing techniques and forceful re-embodiment techniques related these days to ‘mindfulness’. These are actually useful.

Do you feel sudden waves of intense grief? Yes, me too. Let yourself experience your grief. Let out your tears when they come for whatever reason.

The question that has not been asked yet but must be asked, is first of all whether these emotions are actually legitimate: what makes you anxious, what makes you mourn? Is it you or is it the world around you? Are our socioeconomic realities at fault? Is it consumerism? Is it capitalism? Is it both? Is it your life organized around earning profits for others? Is it watching the planet die while you feel powerless to stop it?

We do not have to live like this. Changing the systems within which we live is the therapy.

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