One of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone was the one where a woman who possesses the gift of time-travel uses her powers to go back to when Adolf Hitler was born and kill him to avert World War II. Through a strange twist of events only possible in The Twilight Zone, her efforts end up being the reason Hitler happened.
Depression can feel like The Twilight Zone sometimes. No matter how hard one tries to attain a different outcome, your efforts end up working against you.
This is why I sometimes like to refer to depression as a prophet.
Depression is a prophet, but a false prophet. But the reason depression I refer to depression as a false prophet is not because his prophesies don’t come true. In fact, they always do. The reason depression is a false prophet is because:
- His prophecies are always self-fulfilling.
- His prophecies are always destructive.
Let me explain.
A self-fulfilling prophecy, like the Twilight Zone episode, is where someone believes something is going to happen and then it ends up happening because they changed their behaviors and decisions and started doing things that ensured it happens.
The prophesies of depression are self-fulfilling because they set you up. Depression says: “I prophesy that you will not pass that job interview.” So what do you do? You believe the prophet. You decide there is no point preparing well, no point showing up, and sometimes no point even applying for that job. Prophecy fulfilled.
Depression says: “You are good for nothing and you will never amount to anything.” You believe the prophet. You stop trying. You hold back. You resign. You give up. Why put the effort and waste all that energy when it won’t amount to anything anyway? You make sure the prophecy comes true.
The second aspect of depression’s prophecies flows naturally from the examples I have already given. Depression is like a reverse Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret. Yes, he believes in the law of attraction, that we attract the things we think of and set our minds to. The only difference is that all the things that depression believes are negative. Destructive.
Depression never prophecies that you will amount to something positive, or you will pass that test, or you will land that job. No, depression finds the worst possible outcome among all the available options and latches onto that. Not only will you not pass that test, you will fail in the worst possible way… and deserve it.
Reality distortion field
Perhaps the most destructive aspect of depression is not the fact that it distorts your perception of the future, or even that it sets you on a path of destructive present habits. I think the most powerful aspect of depression’s assault on reality is that it also distorts your past.
You don’t just doubt your ability to attain anything good in the future, you also begin to doubt any good thing you may have done or experienced in the past. Those friends that claimed to care for you but are no longer in touch; they never really cared. It was all a show. They simply tolerated you and they are probably relieved to no longer have to interact with you.
Those lovers who shared beautiful moments and memories with you but are now your exes; they never really loved you. It was all pity love. They were just afraid to hurt your feelings, so they simply tolerated you and indulged you until they couldn’t stand you anymore. Any good thing you ever had was never really good to begin with.
Standing up to the false prophet
So what do you when you encounter the false prophet that is depression? I wish it was as simple as saying “call him out” or “reject his claims”. You see, the prophecies of depression are not always ridiculous. They are often very reasonable, backed up by lots of evidence. And since you are the only one who can hear them, it makes little difference if other people don’t see the sense in what you are seeing.
The prophecies of depression are like conspiracy theories. The reason conspiracy theories are so powerful is the same reason why they are so destructive; conspiracy theories are based on facts. They are based on evidence. Most of the time, the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth is not in the facts cited, but in how they are connected and how motives are assigned to the people involved.
The evidence is not proof
In the same way, depression bombards you with facts, and evidence, and tries to pass them for proof. So it helps to remember that evidence is not proof. In fact, this truth should be the first weapon you use when confronting the false prophet: let him know that you acknowledge the set of facts and evidences that he is presenting, but you disagree with how those facts fit together.
Depression bombards you with facts, and evidence, and tries to pass them for proof. So it helps to remember that evidence is not proof.Tweet
For instance, depression may tell you: “No one has ever genuinely loved you. Everyone you have ever known has only ever pretended to care for you. Clearly, you are the problem.”
That’s when you reply with: “You could be right. There is no way for me to prove the truth of your claim, even though you provide a lot of evidence to support it. Yet your argument hides behind an impossible truth: I can’t see into the minds and motives of other people. But on the off chance that what you say is true, it doesn’t mean I am the problem. It only means I have a problem.
“That’s why the problem with me cannot be what you think it is (me). My problem is that my perception of reality has been distorted. The only way for me to see every single human being I have ever encountered through the same negative lens is if the lens is broken. So yes, I accept my broken lens, but no, I do not accept what you want me to see through it.”
Sadly, when you are in the middle of the darkness, clarity of mind and cogency of argument will not always be your strongest suit. It will be tempting to just give in and believe the prophet.
Which is exactly what the prophet wants. He has no other hidden agenda, no next weapon in his arsenal. His main objective is to cause you to give up and give in.
Don’t give him the satisfaction.
From the vantage point of depression, your past may not look like it looked when you lived through it. And that’s okay. It is the curse of human memory to doubt our perception of past lived reality. But as some people have said, not even God can change the past. Surely, this prophet is not bigger than God.
Or is he?