Depression is like a black hole in the fabric of the mind

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:20


States of depression often follow painful or traumatic experiences that are difficult to process and make sense of - that shatter some basic belief or assumption about the person's world. Examples of these might include betrayal by a spouse or a trusted colleague or boss, or a discovery that the basis of a sense of security or safety is an illusion, or that an envisaged future has been destroyed by certain events. All these are profoundly disorienting and cannot easily be assimilated into the web of meaning that normally sustains the person's sense of who they are in the social world. They cause a rent, a hole, in the fabric of meaning.

This 'hole' in the mind is very real. It operates like an astronomic black hole, sucking life, emotion, and meaning into its vortex. Having fallen into such a psychic black hole, it can feel impossible to escape.

The pain of depression is beyond words. It is literally indescribable. The pain is not one that is experienced through the sense organs. Indeed a key aspect of this mental pain is that it cannot be represented. This adds to the sufferer's anguish and sense of being utterly alone. Depression is not an emotion, but an absence of emotion. This state of mind may be triggered by an external loss, but fundamentally is a loss of part of the self that has been devoured by the black hole.

Recovery depends on the person being helped to repair the rip in the fabric of meaning, gradually weaving the broken threads into a new pattern that assimilates the traumatic event. The experience of falling into a mental and physical black hole is itself a profound trauma, which also must be assimilated. Gradually the person finds a new place for the self in the world and a new narrative of their history. Unless this work is done, and if there is instead merely a 'fix' that lifts the person back to their previous state, the black hole remains as a continual threat.

Phil Mollon