Friday, May 25, 2007

The Lecture on Depression was Uplifting

Seven months after submitting my proposal, I gave my lecture yesterday at the Cambridge Center. I had a terrific time speaking on the cultural, historical and ethical aspects of depression.

It was pretty interesting to finally be up on the stage after months of thinking about it and weeks of preparing for it. If I'd known the end of the school semester and internship was going to be so hard, I'd have put it off by a week or two, but I managed to get prepared in time, and felt I moved through the topics well. There was, of course, a lot to say, but that's OK, because I love to talk, as everyone knows. I was a little nervous getting started, but after two minutes, there was so much to get done, there was no time for nerves. Plus, I think my experience as singer-songwriter kicked in. Emily was there, and it was wonderfully supportive to see her smile in the crowd. Friends from the Cambridge Center also showed up. We had about 50 people overall.

I posed a thought-provoking question-set: Since it meets all the requirements, shouldn't depression be treated as a disease, and eliminated from the planet? Why is it different from polio or MS? What is there in depression that we glorify or value? Are we afraid of losing artistic inspiration, or self-awareness, or valuable alienation, or a valid response to the nasty state of the world? But none of those is central to the disorder -- or is it? Is it possible we could have all of those things without the real suffering that the actual disorder brings? (I mostly think it is.)

I gave some medical background as to what depression is and how we are coming to understand it with new technology and research. The physical changes that happen to the brain after episodes of depression. Its prevalence in the world. Diseases it exacerbates or causes. Then I laid out a brief cultural history of the disorder from the Greeks' melancholia through the Renaissance, the Romantics, and then Bellow and Styron and Plath and the whole 20th century crew. I laid out a strong theory (borrowed from Peter Kramer's excellent Against Depression) that the myth of the value of melancholy and depression got woven into our culture starting 2200 years ago, but it is just that -- a myth. I injected humor consistently so things didn't get too intense -- you have to laugh about such a heavy topic, and we did.

I opened it up for 20 minutes of dicusssions at the end, and was pleasantly surprised to see that there were tons of comments and stimulating questions. The chance to engage people and guide them as they grappled with the questions I'd been working on for weeks and months was quite invigorating. We ran over by five or ten minutes, and there was quite a buzz in the air as folks milled about afterwards, asking each other questions that had occurred to them.

Various people gave me very positive feedback, which, of course, was very nice.

(There was, of course, one curmudgeon with a snippy comment, an ex-English professor, but my pal at the Center told me he's a well-known sourpuss. At least he spoke to me privately, and even he said he enjoyed the lecture. But really, can't you just picture him?)

Quite the rewarding experience. Perhaps at some point I can do it again on another topic, or even give this lecture somewhere else -- a chance to polish it a bit and capitalize on all the work that went into it.

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