A Word About Heroes

      Currently, the prevalent explanation for the development of psychological disturbances  is a kind of answer but no real solution. For example, if it is true that chemistry is to blame for mood disorders, what can we do to escape it?  Nothing. This explanation basically says that we are broken machines. If we accept this, it renders us powerless to act for our own benefit. We learn helplessness  and this worsens our condition. Another word for the phrase, “not responsible” is “powerless”. 

     There are other ways to talk about depression than as solely a side-effect of low neurotransmitter levels. Sometimes, very helpful ways. For instance, below is a perspective on depression I found to be useful when working with high school students. 

Thousands of years ago, when people first started to write things down with triangular pointed sticks pushed into clay, or pictograms chiseled onto stone and words painted on papyrus, they first wrote down stories that were already ancient in those days so long ago.  These were myths of origin and most often told of the exploits of their founding heroes. Myths of Origin are stories that peoples tell about themselves, how their society was formed and to what ends it exists. The stories in the Book of Genesis, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Krishna driving his chariot before battle, Brahma reborn in a lotus flower floating on an infinite sea, and George Washington chopping down a cherry tree are all examples of myths of origin. What happens in the myth is important to people in their time because it teaches them about their life, explaining why things are the way they are while passing down social values. 

       These stories were handed down around countless evening fires, generation after generation. And remarkably, there is an amazing degree of similarity in their description of the hero's progress, a metamorphosis of the hero becoming heroic. Almost always, the heroes are unable to act until they undergo a transformation. And surprisingly, there is a high degree of similarity in the way this transformation takes place in the stories from around the world.
       A metamorphosis of the hero becoming heroic ...
Before the hero can fulfill their role by correcting the wrongs confronting them, they must first overcome trials. One of the most common is a descent into hell. For example, Odysseus travels into Hades to talk with fallen companions, Beowulf swims to depths of the inland sea to confront Grendel's mother, Jesus descends into hell for three days before he resurrects, Hercules must travel to the River Styx in order to kidnap Cerberus, even Hamlet jumps into the grave of his childhood jester before he is able to avenge his father’s murder and set Denmark right.
         The stories say that these folks could not become heroes unless they took these painful journeys into darkness and despair, gathering wisdom along the way. The point here is that the pre-heroic hero sounds a lot like a depressed person. Could it be that late adolescent mood disorder is more a preparation than a break-down? Could it be like Nietzsche so famously said,  “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Certainly, our trials can give us depth of character, better insight into others, and greater compassion. And that sounds like the making of a hero. It is clear that healing progresses better when the depressed think of themselves as a 'hero in training' rather than as a 'broken machine'. It empowers them and gives them hope.