Depression – How it Works

Upon the news of comedian/actor Robin Williams’ death today, I was deeply saddened. For Robin made me laugh on many occasions; there are not too many people who can do that.

As a long-time student of Holocaust Literature I have read 100s of stories of death camp survivors and their harrowing tales of unspeakable anguish.  One survivor who emerged from the rubble, and who’s writing’s I have devoured, would go on to develop a branch of psychotherapy known as “Logotherapy.”  The man, Victor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, discovered a fascinating “gift” within the human makeup, while himself experiencing unspeakable anguish in Nazi death camps.

The gift that Frankl discovered is best described in my recounting of his statement regarding the same. As I do not have the book in front of me (it’s at least 30 feet from me, on one of my bookshelves at the moment), I will paraphrase.  I believe my paraphrase to be pretty close to what he actually said.  I will say that what I recall of the excerpt it is nearly verbatim what he has stated verbally in taped interviews.  It goes like this:

“When a human being has faced the limits of anguish and suffering, and feels that all hope, reason, will and sanity has finally left them, and they begin to teeter upon such grief that they can actually will to die at any moment; they can and often have tapped a gift built-into the human construct, which gives them the renewed will to continue living. This gift?  Humor.  For humor, if for nothing more than but a momentary relief from our suffering, will, if allowed its course, fuel just enough hope to carry us into yet another day.”

Frankl experienced this dynamic himself–the life-saving elements of humor.  He would later develop a facet of Logotherapy which challenges a given client to do the absurd–to laugh at their worst fears, traumas and pain, in essence meeting the absurd with the absurd.  In so doing, the fear/trauma/pain monster is belittled–belittled just long enough for the client to gain enlarged perspective. This concept, of Frankl’s creation, is called “Paradoxical Intention.”

Barring an expanded and formal essay on “How Depression Works,” I’ve penned this post to in turn post a video of Glenn Beck, as he honored the life of Robin Williams earlier today on his daily show.  Having formally studied clinical depression, I tend to favor at this stage sharing very personal glimpses of those who’ve been there, for these kinds of glimpses teach me more than anything I’ve read in formal study.

Glenn happens to underscore the gift of humor in this video.  Though I doubt he is aware of Frankl’s Logotherapy modality, he has yet affirmed the epicenter of Paradoxical Intention:

Glenn Beck Tribute to Robin Williams

Your trench-mate,