Hugh Glass 1823
Hopefully this is a positive post. My son, Shawn, recently shared a long article on Facebook about depression (especially depression as seen from the male point of view). It is very long, but well worth the time and effort to read. Here is the link Leashing the Black Dog. It is not a feel-good article about how to be happy. It is an article about the realities of depression, and how to cope with it in your daily life. It’s not about being a victim (I can’t do anything about it), it’s about being a survivor (there are things I can do about it).
Some of the information is not new, but there is also new information and insights into this age-old condition. Though its gone by many names throughout history, depression (or melancholy) has plagued mankind for millennia. Depression (although it doesn’t affect everyone) is a natural condition, and not necessarily something that needs to be cured (if a cure is even possible). Treating depression can be different for men than for women; the Freudian method of talking it through isn’t always helpful for a man. The need to share through verbal articulation is most often intrinsic to women.
The author points out some positive aspects of a melancholy personality, such as a more pragmatic outlook on life and world events (who knew there were any positive aspects of depression). He mentions the benefits to be gained from introspection and periodic social isolation. The goal is to manage depression rather to cure depression—Leashing the Black Dog. He also suggests that depression might be a primitive, evolutionary defense mechanism: a biochemical reaction that forces us to slow down and reflect upon our actions (I had never heard that argument before).
So what possible connections are there between travel and managing depression? In 1804 Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery (The Lewis and Clark Expedition). The co-commanders of the expedition were Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The tales of this early exploration of our country (west of the Missouri river) are extraordinary. I’ve read the complete (original) journals of the expedition twice, and the biographies of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their descriptions of meeting the fearsome Grizzly Bear are absolutely hair-raising.
Two movies, The Man in the Wilderness (Richard Harris 1971) and Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio 2015), recount one such true-life encounter in 1823 (Hugh Glass). In 1804, at the time of The Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Grizzly Bear was mostly a mythical creature among the white man, though the Native American knew it well. But I digress (sorry). Meriwether Lewis is now thought to have suffered with severe depression, but strangely enough not during the famed expedition. His death, at age 35 in 1809, thought to have been a suicide in many circles (Smithsonian Magazine), is still being disputed by historians.
So why didn’t his melancholy affect his performance during the expedition? Some of the suggestions contained in the article referenced at the beginning of this post, and my personal experiences travelling the world, might help to explain that. Action (and not reflection) is helpful, being dynamic instead of static; having a purpose (a mission, a passion) greater than self; exercise, and a healthy diet are all suggestive of effective deterrents to depression. Certainly Lewis was active during the expedition (surveying, mapping, journal keeping, as well as long days travelling), the mission (his purpose beyond self) speaks loudly, exercise and diet (basic but nutritious) was the rigour of the day.
I find the same is true when I travel. I am action-oriented rather than reflective (except when I stop for a prolonged period); my purpose (my mission beyond self) is my photography, writing, and travel; I exercise more, walking everywhere I go, and I eat much healthier since leaving the States. Extricating myself from a toxic work environment (and marriage) has removed much of the stress from my life, and I am seldom bored. I am an insatiably curious man, and travel helps to satisfy that curiosity. It’s when I stop travelling for a time that the symptoms of depression arise.
If you have a depressive personality like me don’t lose hope. There are many positives to go with the negatives. Depressives (those suffering with melancholy) are often very talented and creative, they can be empathetic (not so much in my case), they can be very pragmatic when sorting through life’s clutter and distractions, they can be philosophical, they can be focused and reflective, and they can be balanced when watching various emotions flow through their life. Depression isn’t a disease to be cured, it’s a condition to be managed—Leashing the Black Dog. Work towards acceptance and contentment.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller