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I have become Comfortably Numb: Depression and Perceptions of the Self

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Biology 202
2004 First Web Paper
On Serendip

I have become Comfortably Numb: Depression and Perceptions of the Self

Chelsea Phillips

"Without emotion, man would be nothing
but a biological computer. Love, joy,
sorrow, fear, apprehension, anger,
satisfaction, and discontent provide
the meaning of human existence."
Arnold M. Ludwig---1980 (1)
Questions and Introduction

Depression is one of several serious mental health conditions affecting over 450 million people worldwide. Is there a universal experience of depression? If so, can that universal experience lead to a deeper understanding of concepts of the self across cultural boundaries?

Facts, Statistics and Symptoms
Symptoms of depression include:
* Depressed mood - most of the day, every day
* Mood swings - one minute high, next minute low
* Lack of energy and loss of interest in life
* Irritability and restlessness
* Disturbed sleep patterns - sleeping too much or too little
* Significant weight loss or gain
* Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
* Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
* Loss of sex drive
* Thoughts about death and the option of suicide (2)
"Mental problems are common to all countries, cause immense human suffering, social exclusion, disability and poor quality of life. They also increase mortality and cause staggering economic and social costs" (3). Depression does not distunguish between ethnicity, gender or age, though it is twice as likely to occur in women and often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed in second- and third-world countries without the resources to fund mental health programs (3). In addition, cultural associations with depression frequently prevent sufferers from seeking help.
In China, stoicism is a highly valued character trait- seeking help for depression would indicate a weakness in one's character (4). The same perception is observed in African-American culture, particularly when pertaining to women (4). Information gathered on depression in Hispanic culture indicates that depression is expressed somatically in chronic aches and pains in addition to the "common" symptoms. Linguistic evidence shows that the somatic theme is also present in China. The literal meaning of the word "depressed" in China is a closed and drowning heart and "Depression" is a worrying (heart-troubling) disease (5).

Expressions of Depression
While the above symptoms are naturally important in diagnosis and determining treatment, the personal testimony of those with depression is important when attempting to understand perceptions of the self. Personal testimonies on depression range from completely detached to hysterical and everything in between, including an affinity with the experience, a desire to stay depressed. These testimonies almost always indicate a loss of self, though this may be good in some cases. It is essential to understand that by "self," a person's perception of their normal cognitive state is meant.
"I have become comfortably numb." -Pink Floyd (6)

"No pain remains, no feeling..." -VNV Nation (6)

" mind lay limp in an empty world." -Despair, V. Nabokov (7)

"Wake me up inside...
before I come undone,
save me from the nothing I've become." -Evanescene (8)
"...and you´re watching moving shadows live instead of you ...
suicidal tendencies, but no will to interfer.
feel it coming over you ... indifference ... indifference ..." -Wolfsheim (6)

"all the weights that keep you down seem heavier than before.
they hit me in my face, though you feel nothing..." -Apoptygma Beserk (6)

"This is when I feel dead: when I lie in the dark (or sit or stand anytime, anywhere) and can feel how insignificant taking the next breath is...It doesn't hurt not to, there's no panic, only a mild, detached observation that this might be what it feels like to die."

"Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm"
- Unknown

"...And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again,
Then space began to toll..." -Emily Dickinson, #112 (9)

"It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul." -William Styron, "Darkness Visible" (10)

Each of these quotes and testimonies are astounding in their repetition. Loss of feeling, numbness, death. "Save me from the nothing I've become." Is "nothing" Ludwig's biological computer? To lose emotion is to lose an essential part of self as identity. Therefore, whatever makes our emotions makes our "selves?"
Chemical Theory
Although the exact cause of depression is unknown, theories on chemical imbalances in the brain have led to the development of medications capable of eliminating or reducing symptoms. Some of these medications are known as SSRI's or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Serotonin is a hormone produced in the brain, which affects many things, including appetite, emotion, and sleep pattern, and promotes feelings of calm, contented well-being. When too much serotonin is reabsorbed by the presynaptic nerves in the brain, depletion disrupts the normal cycles regulated by serotonin. (11)
Coupling this knowledge with the personal experiences naturally leads to the question: are chemicals the "self?" This chemical balance leads to the feelings of "numbness," "not being oneself," etc. because perceptions of the "normal" self have their roots in the typical chemical make-up of their individual brains. "I'm not happy like I usually am" becomes "My serotonin levels are usually higher than this" or "my dopamine levels aren't usually this erratic." Does the self really exist in combinations of chemicals; somewhere beyond the "I"-box, yet containing it- a fluid, perpetually moving self?


1)Dr. Ivan's Depression Central

2)Befriender's International

3)The World Health Organization


5)Online Chinese/English Dictionary

6)Song lyrics

7)Nabokov, Vladimir. Despair. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

8)Song Lyrics Search Engine

9)Serendip Website, a Web Paper on depression and serotonin

10)The Quote Cache

11)More from Serendip



Comments made prior to 2007

Depression devestates your soul and yout ability to live a happy and free live.  You are always, angry, paranoid, unfullfilled, revengeful, and your heart is seaking death without knowing it.  You do not know what happiness is until you know what having depression is like ... Austin Pierce, 18 June 2006 


Pains in lust armsSerendip Visitor's picture

Im sorry life is terrible for

Im sorry life is terrible for me too

Serendip Visitor's picture

It's perfectly human

Depression is disconnection from your thoughts and feelings, ie - from yourself.
It is to have weak or no opinions.
It is for the mind's river of thought to stop running.
It is for the mind to be empty.
When you're not aware of what you think/feel about anything, you're effectively 'absent from the premises' - so that anyone communicating with you finds himself talking to a script you're writing as you go along ... which is why it comes over as unnatural and unconvincing.

For the undepressed, there is no requirement to write that script 'manually' because the constant torrent of thought and strength of thought/feeling/opinion/conviction flows automatically - and without the unrelenting effort required by the depressed mind.

Serendip Visitor's picture

i want to be numb

Im sick of overthinking...feeling too much and not having any one to bother to reach out and hold me, so I don't fall over the edge. Im sick to death of being the strong one and not even when I am physically ill will anyone acknowledge that I am because Im suppose to and expected to take care of everyone else. Sooo tired and sooo want to be numb to everything inside me. But unlike everyone else has their vises to help them cope and distract themselves ...I am not allowed to find my own because it is unacceptable or irrational or takes away from my ability to take care of everyone else.
I wish every night when I go to bed not to wake up the next morning. I don't want to feel or think anything ever again for the rest of my life.

Love is a lie...a fairytale in any form. Its a tool and way to be used if you utter the words and if I cry or do feel anything about anyone or anything it is irrational and not right...or never valid compared to their pain over things, to those I wish could help me. Besides...the more I ask for help or express basic needs to help me get feeling better the more I am denied them.

My only option is to be numb if I am meant to just even exist.

Any ideas of how to become numb emotionally and not give thot to painful things anymore??????? Plssss this is a serious request!

Leigh's picture

I have succeeded in what you

I have succeeded in what you wish to do and you should know there is no reversal and all the things that used to make you happy will cease to make you happy. I would trade places with you if I could, I'd rather feel constant emotional pain than to be numb. I just want to feel something so I can be human.

As to how to become numb, it happens from chronic doubt/hope, such as if someone told you they loved you, and you fell in love with them. Then they told you they're not sure if they love you after all and they never tell you a final decision, they only say "maybe". Years of this will make you numb. Take this as you will.

Nicola McGough's picture


Ive suffered from depression since i was about 11, that 9 years of feeling constantly worthless. Dont get me wrong Ive had my good days 2009 was a good year but maybe people have to face facts that depression is reality and when Im happy I only feel happy because im hiding from the true nature of life. This worlds bitter.
I have a lot of anxiety and often struggle doing the simplest task like standing near the back door or answering a phone. I dont know if anxiety leeds to depression, I just dont know anymore. I just want something to save me.

Chris's picture


I think I may have Depression, but more to the worried side. I have alot of anxiety and am worried about Mental Illness all day and mostly want to sleep. I always am doubting my future and not wanting to think of what it would be like to be worried and unaccepted by people everyday when I get older. Your information has helped alot. Please reply, thank you.

Nic's picture

They say sleep is a temporary

They say sleep is a temporary suicide, but its also an unhealthy way to escape from problems. I say fuck them If you need to sleep , sleep. If you need to cry cry. If you want to quit your job, quit your job because lifes to short pin pint what makes you unhappy. Mayby then you can cure it. Not that it ever goes away its just somthing else to help you cope.

Cathy's picture


I have been suffering all my life,

KevinFinnerty's picture

"I have been suffering all my

"I have been suffering all my life"


And so it goes.