I’ve been thinking a lot about human freedom over the past few years. Originally, it was in the context of living freely in restrictive surroundings, and the experience of escaping those; but over the last little while, I’ve been teasing out the question of whether depression does or does not deprive a person of freedom.
First up, let’s think about two situations in which a person’s freedom is obviously curtailed. Prisoners are deprived of the freedoms of movement, association (with those outside the prison walls) and, in places, the freedom to vote. The limits placed on their freedom are defined, at least in just societies, and in most cases finite. Of course, they retain the freedom to think, and the freedom to choose how to react to their circumstances (Viktor Frankl being the classic example of both of these).
A paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, on the other hand, retains the freedom to go where they want to and associate with whom they please, but may be constrained by physical barriers: for example, if a restaurant can only be accessed by stairs. Obviously, there are ways around this, but in a sense one can say that the paraplegic is less free than a person who is unencumbered by a wheelchair. The paraplegic is unable to enjoy the freedom to run, walk or simply dance in the rain.
An able-bodied, unimprisoned person who is depressed has, in theory, all the freedoms the prisoner and the paraplegic are deprived of; yet, do they have them fully? A depressed person may find it difficult to leave the house, be around others, exercise, or enjoy the sensual delights of exercising the body. Their cognitive function may be impaired. They may lack the will to perform constructive acts, to do those things which they would usually find pleasing.
“Yes,” you might argue, “but although they do not feel like doing some of those things, they are still capable of doing them. They retain those freedoms.”
I think those of us who have experienced severe depression might concede this point on an intellectual level, but argue against it from an experiential one. We know that, in theory, we could go see that exhibition at the art gallery, or get our 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, or challenge our negative thoughts to reduce the severity of our depression. We know we could do these things, but we do not feel able to do so.
Therefore it is probably most accurate to say that depression reduces one’s freedom, or perhaps even more accurately, depression reduces one’s capacity to express the freedoms possessed. (Is a freedom possessed if it remains unexpressed?)
Well, right now, I am feeling quite hot and uncomfortable – it’s the last day of our heatwave: predicted temperature 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) – so I am going to exercise my freedom to go take another cool shower!
May you enjoy expressing your various freedoms today – and please do challenge my thoughts on freedom and depression – you are free to do so 🙂