What is depression? … No future

No FutureWhat is depression?

Rollo May, an American psychologist, suggests that depression is “the inability to see or construct a future.” 1 This 8 word definition blew me away the first time I read it. He really nailed it! Think about it for a moment. If there is no future then there is no expiration date on my suffering. There is no painless tomorrow. There will never be another sun rise to blast away the darkness. This is why my depression is so intense and overpowering. It is eternal and in it’s eternity it is meaningless and hopeless. Depression is, in fact, hopelessness incarnate. And I use the word “incarnate” deliberately because the hopelessness is literally “embodied in the flesh.” It is felt with my whole body as well as my mind.

This goes a long way to explain why I have no will. After all:

will 2 |wil|
1 [usu. in sing.] the faculty by which a person decides on and and initiates action

“Initiates” requires a future. “Action” requires a future. As a verb, will expresses the future tense. If there is no future, there is no will.

No Future / No PastI would also add to May’s statement that depression is the inability to reconstruct a past. When I am deep in a depression, there is nothing but right now. There never was a time when I wasn’t depressed and there never will be a time when I am not depressed. And this means that my suffering is timeless. All I have is the present, unchanging, never ending moment. All I have is right NOW! And in this NOW I’m struggling to find reasons to stay alive. This NOW is hell.


  1. Rollo May, Love and Will, (1969) p. 243.

17 responses to “What is depression? … No future

  1. Pingback: Got cud? (Jung's take on depression, part 2) | The Psychology of Me

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  3. I totally disagree. I have been diagnose to be in a depression.

    I am ambitious, joke and have full of life and still have a lot of fun in life.

    Whenever my partner mucked up my expectation and tell the whole world that I am in a depression, I get frustrated and feel depressed.

    Am I really in a depression then.

    • Ken,

      Of course, I cannot tell you if you are or are not in a depression.

      Perhaps you should consider asking your girlfriend why she tells people you are in a depression; does she see things you are missing? Also, when she does tell people you are in a depression, why does that make you react the way you do? Is there, perhaps, more truth to her statement than you wish to acknowledge?

      Just a couple things to think about …


      • Thank you for your reply.

        Perhaps, she is right that I am in a depression. Then, your conclusion that a person in , “Depression is the inability to construct a future..”, may be a bit misleading.

        I am full of life and own many businesses and they are thriving. I still want to set up more businesses.I enjoy it and look forward to a bright future.


        • Ken,

          Your sign-off — “Cheers, Ken” — made me smile when I read it. Partly because we share the same name and partly because the “Cheers” seems rather out of place in a discussion about depression.

          I want to emphasis that “depression is the inability to construct a future” is not my definition but Rollo May’s. I, however, wholeheartedly agree with it and have personally experienced depression in that way.

          Depression does not manifest in the same way for everyone. Some people gain weight (like I did); some people lose weight. Some people sleep all the time (like I did); some people experience insomnia. So, you cannot diagnose your depression based on my experiences.

          I am very happy that your businesses are doing well and you see a bright future. Some times I’d give anything to go back to the days when I held that point of view. Other times I’m very content being where and how I am now. We are all on our own, individual journeys. We often get so caught up in comparing our journey with the journeys of others that life loses its luster and meaning. We may all be headed to the same destination but we are definitely not all taking the same path.


    • You have NO IDEA what ‘depression’ IS!!! NONE of you-dilletants!!! I dont care if i get hit by a truck! I’d welcome it! I lost my beloved Son 1-1/2 yrs ago,and just want to b with him again! F all of you and your stupid definitions if what some little ‘bummer’ is!

      • Sorry for your loss.

        Is there anyone that would care if you got hit by a truck?
        If there is how could you do that to them?
        Maybe there isn’t anyone who cares about you?

        In any case you landed here looking for answers.
        Grief does fade with time, sometimes a long, long time,,.
        Love (meaningful caring) does sooth the heart.
        God knows!

        Why you, why him, why not someone else?
        God knows!

        There isn’t any quick cure.
        Vitamin E can help take the edge off, take too much and you get a little nonchalant.
        Apart from that there is mind altering prescription drugs a doctor can prescribe.
        But these wont cure grief, they may stop you from killing your self.

        Our emotions play a large part in our lives,
        When you start to feel how bad it is for you, have some thought of much worse it is for other people around the world.
        How much worse it could be for you, and how lucky you are that it is not as bad as others have it.

        Something else that may help you;
        Disassociation; you will need to understand this as a parable or example to do with something else, because although I wish to help, it is
        your journey in life. I hope you understand.
        I was once addicted to cigarettes, to stop I disassociated my habits with smoking, eg; I would start the day with a cup of tea and then
        through out the day I would drink coffee with a smoke, I would also enjoy a beer with a smoke, relax with a smoke, in fact I smoked all the
        When I stopped smoking, I changed from having a tea in the morning to coffee, then I drank tea through the rest of the day.
        Same with change all my habits or comforts that were associated with cigarettes,,.

        Life is a gift from God!
        You know how precious that moment was to have that new life come into the world.
        If things are not going the way you would like them; then change, make a new start, associate with different people, different surroundings, different home, different stars above, etc.
        Things are different from one state to another, same as on country to another, even one suburb or provence to another.
        Make your life better, for you and others,,.

        Sometimes things happen in life so to make something else happen.
        Maybe this is so for you.
        Maybe it is not for you but for someone else.
        God Knows!

        I have no idea if my words here have offered you any thought to a way forward.
        For me I believe in God; Belief I have no doubt there is God; I Know there is God!
        I AM, is his name, or in other languages, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, etc,,,.
        God works in mysterious ways.
        You can download free the King James Version of the Bible in audio format, just search: firefighters kjv audio bible
        You should listen to all of it, particularly to the book of JOB, and also the book of DEUTERONOMY.

        I lost my son, my daughter, my wife, all my possessions, my family, my life,,.

        Peace be with you sister.

  4. I heard the Rollo May quote in the movie Side Effects and it really spoke to me. I’m a 35 year old black woman who was initially diagnosed with depression when I was 14. I’ve been in and out of therapy and hospitals, tried more psych drugs than I can remember and sometimes gone without medication for long spans of time in the last 21 years. I’m single with no kids. I had one adult relationship; it was short-lived and ended 10 years ago.
    I’m lost. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a mess inside and out. But when I disclose my diagnosis to others, they’re stunned! I’ve become a master faker over the years. I seem upbeat and positive and jovial when I’m out in the world. But I know the truth–it’s a big, fat lie. I feel like shit, like nothing matters, like I’m unloveable.
    I’m on meds now but not in therapy. I considered ECT but was told that I’m not a good candidate. Nothing seems to work. If this was your experience, what would you try next? New doctor, new meds, new therapist, new life??

    • Chisa,

      I appreciate your openness in sharing what you’ve been going through. You’ve obviously been struggling for a long time with depression.

      Personally, I never felt that meds did all that much for me. I’ve tried 5 or so different ones and am currently not taking anything. They got me out of my deepest holes but never came any where close to removing my symptoms. It sounds like you may have had the same experience.

      I would recommend talk therapy. I would also recommend finding someone who is not “stunned” when you tell them the truth about yourself — this may be a close friend or a therapist or someone from a support group or someone you’ve just met or a clergy member. Depression is extremely alienating all on its own and it really helps to have someone with whom you can talk and who will simply listen and not judge nor try to “fix” you. I do not believe that depression is simply and only a medical problem that needs fixing but is a symptom of something else, something deeper, going on. Perhaps it’s really a spiritual or religious crisis which is manifesting itself in the body and the mind. Talking things through will sometimes lead to discovering what that “something else” is.

      As a means towards a “new life,” I’d recommend evaluating and trying to change your attitude toward your depression. Have you heard of The Depression Advantage by Tom Wootton? He talks about an attitude change in which you don’t ask “Why is this happening?” but “What can I learn from it?” James Hillman, the Jungian and archetypal psychologist, put it this way in A Blue Fire: “One thing you do learn in therapy is how, when you have a depression, it belongs to you, but you don’t identify with the mood. You live your life in the depression. You work with the depression. It doesn’t completely stop you. … Depression is worse when we try to climb out of it, get on top of it.”

      Much, much easier said than done, I know. But, it’s perhaps a new direction to consider.

      Most importantly, I think, is to be gentle with yourself and not demanding or demeaning or judgmental. This is something Wootton brings up: the rules are different when you’re functioning with depression. Constantly telling yourself you shouldn’t feel this way or wondering what’s “wrong” with you doesn’t help. Measuring your productivity against your co-workers’ productivity is comparing apples and oranges.

      I hope this helps. At least a little …

      By the way, I, too, saw the movie “Side Effects” and recognized the quote.

    • Hi Chisa,
      Our experiences are so similar. I am 38, A-A female who has struggled with depression since college. At least that’s when I first realized what was going on. Add to that I am shy and have some social anxiety. This has impacted every aspect of my life from being proactive in my career to sustaining relationships and making friends. I lost my mother tragically when I was 7 years old. That’s one of the voids I can’t seem to fill. My dad is my rock. I know that he is the one person in this world who loves me. Even when I want to give up, I keep it together for him. Without him, I’m not sure I’d have a reason. And that scares me. The thought of him one day not being here.

      Unlike you, I’m not upbeat or positive. I’m pretty sullen. Even when I was a child I was very quiet, sullen, observant. I can be upbeat for a while but it becomes exhausting. I, too, have not been in a serious relationship since college. What friends I had have I’ve lost touch or they have gotten married and had kids don’t really have time. This is not the life I wanted, and it is so frustrating. And in my mind, I’m like, Okay, you’re almost 40 . . . what’s going to change? You can’t go back and repair what’s done but it almost seems pointless to start again too. Absolutely cannot construct a future. That is why this quote spoke to me as well.

      I have been in therapy a few times through the years and I’ve tried a few medications. The medications don’t do anything to lift me. I do take medication for anxiety as needed and that helps during those times when I feel like a building is about the crash down on me. I’m considering finding a therapist now . . . an expense I don’t really need but I will have to sacrifice.

      It’s hard for other people to understand. Hell, it’s hard for me to understand. I am beautiful, educated, creative . . . and at the end of the day I feel worthless, alone, and pretty darn unlovable. One of my favorite lines from “The Secret Life of Bees” is when Lilly tells June she’s unlovable. That’s how I’ve always felt. I like the “new life” idea but how?

  5. You nailed it for me!!! did u get better? And if ‘yes’ how???

  6. Hi,
    The inability to see or construct a future.
    Hopelessness in life; Dispare; Hope in death, End, Peace, a way out!
    There is much more but I know not the words to describe my feelings.
    I know Depression; the above is I write is so true.
    I too just watched the movie Side Effects, and heard the phrase “The inability to see or construct a future”
    which lead me to this here.
    Fifteen years of my life has gone to Depression.
    At the Depths I tried to kill myself 1,464 times. 1461 of those times was through trying to drink myself into a fatal ending. The other 3 times were serious enough to bust just about every bone in my body, and give myself a closed head injury that effected my hole brain; of which I still suffer the effects today. One of the effects is losing the ability to construct sentences and the very meaning of words,,, it has been a long road!
    What caused the brain ingury I feel you ask? Try 200 km/hr head on into a tree on a motorbike.
    I really thought that would do it! So did the copper that was first on the seen, as he said to me months later he didn’t expect to see me again because I was doing what they call the death shake.
    Yeah I know depression. It seems so long now that I almost feel for most of the time I am all better now; But then I talk about it or something happens that brings it up and I’m ok until the next day and then it could be days, weeks, months, before I can do anything at all,,. Now I tend to think of it in a way that if you ever have a flue or similar chest infection etc and you have it for so long you actually start to feel better; but then for some reason you end up going to the doctors, maybe because you just don’t feel 100% and you get given some antibiotics or whatever to kill the virus and next thing you feel like you are superman because you have so much energy. Its be cause all this time you still had the flue…
    I don’t want to die anymore, that was 15 years ago now.
    I didn’t even intend writing about myself apart from I know depression, and I found that Vitamin E does help!
    I read an article on the web after I started with depression and it said something to the effect that a study people with depression vs people without depression, and that both groups were exactly the same vitamin intake but those with depression had less amounts of Vitamin E in their body. So I concluded that the Vitamin E used more so; so I started taking Vitamin E. For me I was taking 500 IU capsules the recommended of one tablet per day was on the side of the bottle, but I would take 6 and even 8 capsules a day sometimes more sometimes less depending on how I felt at the time. You also get Vitamin E naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach and silver beet, and the like.
    If its leafy and its a dark green colour you have a rich source of Vitamin E. But capsules are a necessary to have on hand.
    For me they worked pretty quickly, like an hour or two.
    I’d tell you more about my journey, but it really would be a book,,.
    Anyway I hope anyone who is suffering depression and reads this may find a help in Vitamin E.
    Personally I did, but no longer take capsules unless I find a sudden spiral into Dispare,,.
    Oh my thoughts on reading the first Ken with the businesses is that from the way he said about his depression; I don’t think he has any depression,,. I think if anything he may be a bit down or just sulking.
    Depression is a killer!

  7. Depression is a tough journey..

    I wish you all well in the moments of now that are your journey, and will become your future.

    All you can do is Be kind, loving and playful with yourself in the moment even on the dark days.

    Even if that means you won’t say harmful, negative self talk to yourself in those moments.
    That is kind and loving.

    Your not alone and you are all loved.

    There are so many good moments to come.
    Lots of love from me.

  8. I think depression has come about in my life with the many responsibilities I have taken on. Being married, having kids and owning a house are all great things but with them come a price both financially and emotionally. The older I get the more responsibility comes my way. At 60 I’m looking for solace but have had to reinvent myself because of the money crunch. It’s a bit painful to see that options and changes are difficult at this age. My days of making 70k a year are over and I’ve had to work three jobs now to make ends meet, , not good really. It affects your health.

  9. Ken,
    Thank you for this post. I’m only realizing now, at age 68, that I’ve been depressed since age 13. (Looking back, I can see I’ve been a super-sensitive person who did not know how to respond effectively when loved ones were callous, dismissivie, etc. I think I’ve wanted affirmation from them, but all are busy with their own lives. Over the years, I ‘ve managed to lead a life others say is good, yet always with the exhaustion of depression. What’s helped me, I think, have been: having and loving and being loved by my children, daily conversation with God, a good and wide education that makes me try to take interest in the world around me, being married to a naturally structured, though “un-relational” man, and habits I learned from my family growing up. The most important factor for me, by far, was having my children (10 of them). What a joy they have been! Knowing how much they needed care, an upbeat mother, someone to introduce them to the world and see wonders, motivated me, against all odds, I think, to get out of bed, to have a schedule, to set goals….although I never had dreams for myself. I’ve decided finally to see a therapist for talk. I may never be free of depression, but I can “re-frame” my emotions. (I’ve found reading about Cognitive Behavoirall Therapy helpful to me.

    • Anne,

      Children are amazing for their ability to help depressed parents. I know, without reservation, that without my daughter I would not be here today. She grounded me, held me accountable, and loved me without reservation.

      I’ve heard good things about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, although I’ve not looked into myself.

      Thank you for reading and sharing.


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