Depression and Freedom

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 🙂


Filed under Out, Up

11 responses to “Depression and Freedom

  1. I think those very freedoms, and the inability to use them, is one of the most difficult parts of depression. It’s like being a prisoner in your home, in your head. You simply cannot act or enjoy the things you normally love. And the fact that the barrier is in your mind… It’s something that has made me feel so guilty and ashamed. There is something very real closing you in… But neither you nor anyone else can see it, so it’s so often discounted.
    Actually, at the lowest times of depression, I don’t think I’ve even had the freedom to think. My mind alternated between simply stopping, or incessantly revolving around anxieties.
    So yes, I think depression greatly impacts one’s freedoms.


    • Yes, I am inclined to agree. I come from a family that’s big on self-sufficiency, so it’s difficult to accept the fact, but I think you’re right – when you’re very depressed, you can’t think straight, etc.


  2. I just wanted to share something that really helped me.. it isn’t a prescription everywhere, and while I’ve only read a few of your posts I’m sure you are under the professional guidance of medical professionals who can help you should you choose to consider this, but I just wanted to share. After trying everything on the market and nothing working, Sam-E has been my miracle drug. If you Google it you’ll find out the science behind it and also that it has had no real negative effects in any studies so far, other than some upset stomachs if taken on a full stomach of food. I don’t know if it interacts with SSRIs or any other drugs so definitely talk to your doctor, but I just wanted to share because at least for me, and what I’ve read in the many reviews I read before trying it, it can be a life saver. Best of luck, and never give up.


  3. Well said. We are chemically restrained due to an imbalance in our brains…


    • Our brains in chains, our minds undermined … but where does that leave our basic human capacity to choose? I keep butting up against this question. Too much damned existentialist philosophy in my upbringing!!! 🙂 As you say, our freedom is restrained. The restraint is biological in nature. No need for guilt. End of story.


      • I have the added restraint of a previous moderate brain injury… My memory has gone from Swiss cheese to that more resembling a spider Web… And I HATE Spiders!


      • Argh!!! Yuck! (Spiders, not your memory.) Actually that was one of the scariest things about the major depression I experienced in 2013 and am only just beginning to recover from: the cognitive impairment and memory loss. I didn’t have ECT, but there are three months of last year which I can barely remember (sadly, including the birth of a niece) and I keep finding things which have slipped my mind as late as early December. It is a truly terrible thing, for someone whose self-worth and livelihood is based on her brain.
        Of course, I didn’t have a pre-existing brain injury. I am sorry for your pain. You must take great hope from the recent research in neuroplasticity. And, don’t forget, spider webs work REALLY WELL for spiders – they function wonderfully – couldn’t survive without them! 😉


  4. I agree with your assessment. Depression and/or anxiety can, and often do, prevent a person from meaningfully experiencing much of life.
    Those who have experienced depression or anxiety I think would understand this because it is as easy as considering their own memories of depression/anxiety.
    For those who have not however, this may seem like more of a leap. For them, an extra example might be needed.

    Picture if you will that you can watch a movie/show, and you know that it’s just the sort of movie you like. It should be at a convenient time because it’s during the mid afternoon, good for both morning people and night owls, and let’s be nice and say that you are either watching it at your house or a friend has kindly offered to do all the driving. You couldn’t have an easier time getting there.
    But you haven’t slept in 2 days, except perhaps an hours nap. So you only have a tiny bit of energy from that nap, and you’re still exhausted, you still desperately need sleep, and you know you’re going run out of energy very quickly.
    Your brain feels like it’s wrapped in gauze, maybe you are even nodding off every few minutes into microsleeps where you can’t quite pay attention.
    You could go home and sleep, but you know it won’t change anything because you always feel this way, every time you try to enjoy any movie.
    Somehow you just keep not being able to sleep right before, and you’re exhausted and possibly cranky, and it’s hard to keep your emotions in check.
    You still have to live your life, even with perpetually too little sleep and you want to enjoy a damned movie, and you know too that you should be able to enjoy this movie, but because of how tired you are, you’re not even sure you want to watch it. Maybe later you think.
    Knowing that later you’ll still feel this way.
    Even when tired you think you should be able to enjoy it at least a little bit, but you’re so tired that you just can’t.

    This is what a personal experience of severe depression is like.
    Always having been awake for two days, always wanting to enjoy things, and not being able to because everything is too exhausting and you have so little energy left.
    There are a few people who can function at that point of exhaustion, just like there are depressed people who can function, but it’s hard for them.
    How could it not be?

    Now ask yourself, is that person I just described really *free* to enjoy that movie? Or are they constrained in their experience by their lack of sleep, or emotional tumult as the case truly is.

    As to the rest of this discussion I would like to add that in the case of other freedoms lost this can lead to depression itself.
    For prisoners, or paraplegics, the loss of one type of freedom may mean they also become constrained within their emotional experiences.
    In the same way that dwelling on lack of enjoyment can be devastating, and incite a vicious cycle for those who are depressed, thinking on lack of freedoms can be depressing for the other two groups.

    There is overlap, and there is a certain type of synchronicity which mixes lack of freedom with depression, and depression with lack of freedom.

    Depression is like a +1 trouble, it can be added to almost any other trouble, and make it just a little worse.


    • Thank you so much fore this meaningful contribution to the conversation and also for the excellent example which highlights so precisely the way that severely depressed people are “less free” than others.
      And I agree that depression is a +1 trouble: so true!


  5. Pingback: D: Disinclined | In & Out, Up & Down: Dysthymia Bree's Musings On Mental Health and Psychiatric Wards

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