Depression as adversary

Posted on February 4, 2007

It seems clear from the last several posts that I need a tool to help me make sense of when my thinking is from the depression and when it’s not. I’ve also written several things about my depression that follow a kind of theme:

  • it breaks me down and consumes me and spits out what’s left, and
  • I have this black cloud over my head or in my head and I can’t see (both from here)
  • [it] takes that and twists it all around, that I don’t deserve success, that my faults are too many, that I’m simply not good enough (from here)
  • I’m … under the influence of my unstable emotions (from here)
  • It left me questioning my contribution to my marriage, my contribution to anyone, my value to the world (from here)
  • It’s that I just feel less. Less everything that is meaningful to me, and
  • It diminishes everything important. It corrodes what makes my life meaningful and powerful and profound. It eats away at what makes me me (both from here)

And then over Shabbat I had a weird spark of an idea. Too often I see my depression as me, as the same thing as me. What if I thought of it as something else? My words above follow a theme of something taking over, blinding my reason and destroying what’s important to me, who I am. What if I solidified that concept?

Not like a multiple personality thing. I don’t need that on top of everything else. But it feels like an internal battle when I’m dealing with the depression, a fight to stay in the moment, a fight that sometimes requires sacrifices and casualties. What if it really is?

What if my depression is my own personal adversary?

R. Shimon b. Lakish stated: “A person’s evil inclination gathers strength against him every day and seeks to kill him” (Sukkah 52b).

The yetser hara, evil inclination, and adversary were often considered the same thing in Talmudic times. I don’t hear a lot about it today, but the idea holds a certain amount of promise the way I think. I’m not saying that the depression, or more specifically the bipolar II (depression/hypomania) major depression/generalized anxiety disorder with OCD features/seasonal affective disorder (as of April 2007), isn’t real, or that it doesn’t need medical treatment. Medication and therapy are a given. It’s more about perspective.

If I change my perspective, start thinking of the terrible, self-demeaning things I think about myself as coming from the depression/adversary then I have a way to fight it, resist it. I can picture the adversary/yetser hara/depression/black cloud trying to break me down, trying to get me to do harm to myself, trying to kill my spirit at least. I can see the real me differently. I can find answers in Torah, and Tehillim of course. I can ask G-d for help.

In my current flawed perspective it seems to give more legitimacy to my asking others for support.

Please don’t misunderstand. I have never believed in a source of evil except perhaps for human choices, and I don’t intend to start now. This isn’t some demon from the dark side wrestling for possession of my soul. It is brain-based and comes from within me. But the perspective of seeing it as the manifestation of my yetser hara, my adversary, allows me to see the real me as something different, something better.

Something worth saving.


  1. Anonymous

    Si Hai Ja Da Ken Ha Oui Naam Yes!

    You can let the depression and darkness define you, or you can define it. It’s a part of you, yes, we can’t cut out our brains, but it’s not all that you are. It is not the be-all and end-all (that’s Someone Else entirely).

    Chapter 139 of Tehillim speaks to me of this. Your mileage may vary, offer not valid in the West Indes, et ceteras.

  2. Rivka

    Remson: thank you. I’ve written a bit more about your site in a more recent post. You’re doing a good service.

    Anon: thank you. Though I’m thinking now it works better in theory than in practice. I have to work with it some more.

  3. Anonymous

    that is an amazing description of the depressive state and a tool to overcome it.

  4. Unknown

    Dear Rivka,
    You are incredibly articulate. You have so clearly conveyed the internal dialogue my mind cylces frequently. I appreciate the ideas you offer for one to consider.
    Thank you. I’ve posted a link to your piece on
    Please take good care and may you have peace.

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