I really don't know what to say, because I'm stuck between wanting to talk about how well I understand what you're going through — like, in terms of neurophysiology and the mechanisms of human cognition — and wanting to talk about how poorly I understand what you're going through, in terms of... you know, everything.
The obvious solution is for me to listen and not talk; but, since this is a take-turns medium... I'm not going to talk about your situation (until I've heard more about it); instead, I'll talk about 'how brains work,' in a historical context — and if it's useful, awesome, and if not, we can always fall back on making fun of my pomposity.
Let's start here:
Nothing matters anymore.
Biologically-modern humans have existed for 1.5 million years — in other words, if I were to fly a DeLorean a million and a half years into the past, steal an infant, bring it to the future, and raise it to adulthood... when that antique baby eventually dies of old age, a modern mortician will examine the body, find nothing unusual about it, and go back to her sandwich. That's us: one and a half million years of identical hardware receiving software updates. (And battery improvements.) And for all this time — for all of human history, until the mid-1800s — all of the information you were ever asked to deal with mattered to you; the Incoming Information you received and analyzed over the course of a day was directly connected to actions you might take to directly affect your wellbeing. Throughout history, the overwhelming work of the human mind has been dedicated to navigating the world directly outside of it — my-health concerns, my-finance concerns, my-family concerns, my-emotion concerns, my-church concerns, my-security concerns, my-community concerns; time was, the contents of Your Daily Thinkin' could simply be described as 'navigating your own life,' without further elaboration. The process of 'adding thoughts to yourself' happened slowly, deliberately, and — 99.5% of the time — through books, pamphlets, or sermons you studied.
Now, within that context, grab ahold — real tightly — of how insane I'd seem expecting any opinion from you which was: 1) about someone you didn't know, 2) whom you'd never met, 3) whom you'd never meet, 4) whom you wouldn't recognize, 5) from a different social caste, 6) with whom you shared no interests, 7) who had no idea who you were, 8) and never would — and — I want your opinion to be: 9) existent, 10) informed, 11) reasonable, 12) current, 13) ready off the top of your head, and 14), while we're at it, 'particularly funny or insightful' would be good. If I had come back from the future to visit you in the past... and there's you, wiping down a bar, or making horseshoes, or fixing barrels... and I casually asked for your opinion on the recent behavior of somebody you didn't know, hundreds of miles away, whom you'd never recognize on the street, you would have rightfully considered me fucking insane for expecting you to have such an opinion — and all I ever did was ask your opinion of the President.
Holding tightly onto that insanity? Good.
Because then, thanks to clever advancements in the field of 'sparks,' our forefathers learned how to send messages over vast distances at the speed of light. Suddenly, wherever you were, the most relevant news from any distance would available to you in print within a week... and from that point forward — without ever reverting, slowing, or even merely coasting — the personal relevance of your Incoming Information continued to decrease, while the speed of its delivery continued to increase. At first it was just the most-important stuff, arriving at your doorstep a week later; then it was Big News In General, which would arrive within a couple of days; then it was The News, which would arrive the following day, and so on.
We added the concept of mass-print graphics to our Incoming Information — images of any kind, mostly in advertisements at first — and eventually we added photo-likenesses as well; then we added radio, and eventually TV; we went from being a culture with an average 'books-per-lifetime' rate in the hundreds to being a culture with an average 'books-per-lifetime' rate in the low tens. (Early America was a bizarrely literate culture — like, world-bizarrely. I'm forgetting the exact quote, but at one point Thomas Jefferson made a crack about ours being the only farmers in the world who had read Cicero. [Or someone, I forget the author.]) Moreover, we found new ways to go about implementing all of this newfound personally-irrelevant information: at first it was crosswords and quiz programs, to provide a minor recreational framework for decontextualized information; then we instituted frameworks in the actual culture for frequent discussion of General National Topics — and, by the time JFK is assassinated, the predominant cultural medium of the West is television, the daily life of citizens includes whole bathubs of 'irrelevant' information, the experience of being alive comes to mean 'vicariously having a meaninglessly summarized abstraction of the world everywhere but where you are described to you (in whichever terms television finds most convenient)' — and society has become completely unrecognizable to our highly-literate, highly-sparky forefathers.
That was fifty years ago.
For all of human history, 99.5% of the Incoming Information you received was solely intended to be acted upon.
These days, it's the opposite.
Nothing matters anymore.
If you offered any of us a chance to switch places with those folks, we'd spend roughly one second tabulating how profoundly under-stimulating our lives would become, and we'd pass on the opportunity, and we'd be right to: the lack of stimulation would drive us completely nuts. It'd take us years and years just to get used to it — and even then, we'd never stop wanting it back.
But, you want to know something interesting about living a life wherein all of the Incoming Information is directly relevant to your actions? Everything has meaning, thoughts have consequences, you're consistently the beneficiary of your own insights, 'news' is synonymous with 'changes', every effort your brain makes has measurable value in some directly-relevant context of your own life, you are engaged, and... you're not depressed.
Sure, you might be miserable, but you're rarely numb. (Unless one of your kids has recently died, but even so, that's a common culturally-supported experience — sad, not alienating.) Depression is a disease, it has always existed; that said, our societies have taken wildly different shapes over the years, and depression-as-a-disease expresses itself with various efficiency under various circumstances: even for a major depressive, it's easier to be depressed as a prince than as a forager. You're already intuiting why, but I'll spell it out for funsies: when your thoughts and actions have consequences directly related to your survival [or at least your well-being], you're simply being rewarded more for those thoughts and actions. Responsibility-for-consequence keeps your brain engaged in a framework of meaningful stakes; whether you become a forager for yourself or totally responsible for someone else, being useful means you're engaged in something meaningful, which means it's hard to be depressed when you're useful.
The irrelevant information we've replaced our culture with (and our significance) is a trifling parade and a grand larceny. It's become a toy with which we amuse our souls to death, and some souls burn through the meaninglessness faster than others.
Like I said, I'm not writing to give advice — but if I was, two things come to mind:
1) Become useful to somebody. You can always follow the depression advice everyone gives — exercise, diet changes, therapy, meditation, whatever — and none of those are in-effective, but... honestly, after years of reading about psychology and cognition and ideology and anthropology and history and everything else, I'm pretty sure the actual shortcut is "invest your mind in any ongoing framework of wherein your actions directly affect the stakes for yourself or somebody else." (I'm basically telling you to go make friends at a nursing home or play video games with kids at the hospital [real thing]; shit like this sounds freaky and exhausting and intimidating, but it's far more likely to be successful than 'inventing a personal project with personal stakes' would be. It's just easier to become invested in your value to someone else than invested in some personal project — and, come to think of it, the reason why is pretty much the 'Teague Law of Sympathy.' Same shortcut: you invest in the pain you see.)
2) Pull your head out. I don't mean 'snap out of it' — I can hang; this is useless advice — I mean, "fuck 'it'." Literally change value systems. Get perspective on your worldview by watching how its ass jiggles on the way out the door. Care about new things, and stop caring about old things. Learn about new things, and stop learning about old things. (I learned about history and stopped learning about movies, which brings us to the present.) That wistful feeling you might have felt while reading this post and ruminating about alternative value systems and how we all might fare differently if only society happened to be playing a different game right now... I mean, if you felt that... you felt it. That was real. That was an interesting result, and it was nothing more than the natural effect of investing your imagination in the prospect of a different ideology for self-appraisal.
You know how they say depressed people are really just realistic people in disguise? That compliment fails to be comforting because nobody ever felt better about being told they're realistically appraising their prison. The thing is, one can escape from an ideology — I mean, it's hard; it's been hard for me, and I don't have 'world isn't worth it' disorder — but once you've done it, just once, you realize how much of your daily experience is really just an unexamined habit.
'Snap out of it' is useless advice because it means 'stop thinking your current thoughts and just reset to the default ideology of irrelevance' — perfect, and you're right back where you started: nothing the world is telling you matters, and nothing you're telling the world matters, and you don't matter. The problem is the ideology-of-irrelevance. The problem — systemically — is that nothing matters.
But this is a flaw in society, not humanity — it's not a constant. One and a half million years ago, and also two hundred years ago, society was set up in such a way that dopaminergic rewards were tied to meaning, not novelty. That shit still works; all the drivers are pre-installed. Same hardware, updating software — and our current software fucking sucks at delivering meaning to the people who actually need it.
Fortunately, you're a programmer.
"Be careful how you see the world, because it's like that." — Anonymous
Now let's make fun of my pomposity.
I have a tendency to fix your typos.