One of the
things I want to be sure to talk about in these spaces
is depression. Most of us think of depression as something
we feel from time to time, like when we have the blues,
and we think it is not important or worth taking steps
toward treating. Alternatively, we tend to think that
depression is something that only other people get.
There is a lot of denial around the levels of depression,
which are extremely high in our modern world, for reasons
we will understand later. Really, depression is a very,
very common phenomenon, and the symptoms might actually
is actually an umbrella concept, and includes several
symptoms. It is diagnosed when a person has 5 or more
of the following: feeling sad or empty or tearful, losing
interest or pleasure in most of our activities, weight
change (either weight gain or weight loss), changes
in sleep patterns, such as sleeping much more or much
less, feeling paralyzed or, alternatively, more anxious,
feeling fatigued, worthless, guilty, having difficulty
concentrating, and having recurrent thoughts about suicide.
Sometimes people with entrenched depression know that
what they are suffering from is called depression. They
may even know how to handle it, how to emerge from the
grips of the disorder, how to live with it.
I want to point out some of the lesser known symptoms
of ordinary depression, the so-called dysthymic disorder,
which many, many people suffer from. Often, we dont
know when we are depressed in this way, and this is
the painful part. There is such a stigma associated
with depression that many people are not open to acknowledging
that depression might be the problem. We are so hard
on ourselves that we view depression as some sort of
moral failure, and we beat ourselves up for being depressed
in the first place. I believe that many of us have been
brought up to view weakness, vulnerability and sensitivity
as failures. So when we are hurting, we hurt doubly,
because on top of our pain, we have our own harsh judgements
about how weak/wrong we are to feel that pain in the
do you ask someone how they are, and are told fine
when you KNOW things are not fine? How often do you
treat yourself with harsh retorts, admonishing yourself
to get over it, or pull yourself together
rather than feel what you are feeling? I agree that
there are times when it is appropriate to not dwell
on the negative, or to let go of minor upsets and focus
on the positive. I do not dispute that. What I am talking
about is the self violence that we perpetrate when we
refuse to allow ourselves our own responses to the pains
of our lives. For example, the incest survivor who tells
herself that it wasnt so bad, she really is ok,
while she lives a desperate and unhappy life. Or the
gay man who hides his feelings of inadequacy and shame,
caused by the cruelty of childhood schoolmates and rejection
by his father, by drinking and seeking male companionship
through anonymous sexual contacts on dark streets. Or
the bulimic woman who does not acknowledge her depression,
but instead compulsively eats and purges whenever she
feels confronted, or whenever anger threatens to break
through. How much easier it would be if we could simply
say, with no judgements, I hurt. Even if
we could say it only to ourselves, we start to undo
the cycle of violence towards ourselves that tells us
to get it together. One thing is certain, ALL FEELINGS
ARE LEGITIMATE. If you are sad, or hurting, or angry,
or despondent...there is a reason for that. You deserve
to know that reason, and it is virtually guaranteed
that once you begin the exploration, you can expect
to feel better. If you tell yourself, or if someone
tells you You shouldnt feel that way,
that person is doing you a disservice. The more appropriate
response would be, Why do you think you feel that
way, or What is going on that you feel that
of depression is that it is the squelching of feelings.
If you are trying to live your life while you have feelings
bottled up inside of you, be it anger, sadness, fear,
jealousy, grief, WHATEVER, you can expect to be depressed.
There is a big difference between depression and sadness..people
who start to work through depression and start to feel
real sadness say that the sadness, though it hurts,
feels good in a funny way. This is because the truth
is always liberating, even if it is sad, or even if
is also thought of as anger turned inward, and this
is often the case. Scratch your depression and you might
be amazed at the fact that you are angry. A good experiment
to try is the following. The next time you feel depressed.
Ask yourself, If I were angry at someone (not
myself), who would it be? And just let the response
arise. There are many reasons why anger gets turned
against the self. Most of us were not allowed to express
our anger when we were growing up. Few of our parents
actually said, Yes, dear, I see how angry you
are! Tell me all about it!! Right? So we were
messaged that anger is NOT ok, and that it would result
in love being denied us. Our loved one would usually
either retaliate (get angry back at us: as in Ill
give you something to cry about!) or collapse
(get sick, cry, attempt suicide, in one case I know
of). We learned certain things about handling anger,
including not to express it directly. Over time, we
learned to forget what we were angry about, and we even
learned to forget how to feel angry, at all! But guess
what, instead we discovered we were depressed.
your anger, assertiveness and power, and you will find
yourself less depressed. Sometimes, anger is a symptom
of depression. If you are very sensitive, if your feelings
are easily hurt, if you lose your temper easily, chances
are you have an underlying depression. Depression can
be masked by anger, jumpiness, sensitivity, easily hurt
feelings; it can be covered over by compulsive activities,
addictions to alcohol, drugs, work, food, or any other
substance or activity, or other sorts of compensations.
The truth is, sometimes it is very hard to acknowledge
that we are depressed.
explanation of depression is that it is the result of
feelings of inadequacy, a deep state of empty depletion.
In this case, depression is referred to as an empty,
depleted depression. Not all depressions are paralyzing,
or are characterized by lethargy. Some people become
quite worked up, anxious, agitated or upset when they
are depressed, and in that case it is called an agitated
depression.. It is thought that depressions of this
sort are the result of narcissistic depletion, that
is, they are caused by deep feelings of inadequacy,
failure, being a loser, not good enough, broken, etc.
Most survivors of childhood trauma suffer from these
deep beliefs. Even without childhood trauma, you might
have a deep self-image of this sort. In either case,
the beliefs come from childhood experiences which failed
to validate us when we were forming our self concepts.
For the most part, I am referring to a lack of mirroring,
that is, the validation by a parental figure of the
childs subjective experience. We all needed mirroring
when we were becoming ourselves, we all needed to see
a gleam in our mothers or fathers
eye which would communicate to us that we were
loved, approved of, that we were OK. We might tell ourselves
in our heads that we know they loved us, but if we did
not have the gut experience that they thought we were
ok, we will feel inadequate somewhere inside. So a failure
of mirroring causes depression. And a failure of mirroring
in the present also causes depression.
need mirroring, throughout all our lives. A woman whose
husband does not notice her and does not care what she
does with her time will of course be depressed! A person
living alone in a new city with no one to talk to about
his day may very understandably feel depressed! We are
social beings and our inner realities are formed through
social interactions. We need others to feel adequate,
on a deep inner level! (Until we become enlightened,
that is). And social support is one of the best ways
to emerge from depression. Find someone to talk to,
any one person who is a good listener can help you.
Write letters to someone; speak at a 12-step meeting,
join a free support group. These are tools for depression
management which may make more sense to you now.
ideas are to get exercise, this is because exercise
helps generate the bodies own endorphin, which make
us feel better. And exercise allows the discharge of
anger...there is nothing like punching a bag, or hitting
a golf ball, or swinging a bat to get aggressive feelings
out of the body. Even digging in the garden allows discharge,
or baking bread! Of course, therapy can be very useful,
and medications can open up entire new vistas for people
with lifelong histories of depression. The new generation
of antidepressant medications can afford relief like
nothing ever has before. If you suffer from depression,
or from any of the symptoms we have talked about in
here, if you see yourself on these pages, remember,
you do not have to suffer in silence any more.
Signs of Depressions
Although we all suffer sometimes from the blues, there are certain symptoms which can alert us to the presence of a real underlying depression. Sometimes it is helpful to know if we have a tendency toward depression; it can help to normalize the way we feel. The following are a list of the most common symptoms, and a description of how they feel to those people who experience them.
• Persistent low mood. The low mood of depression may feel similar to the low mood of the normal cycle, except that it lasts and lasts. To qualify as depression, the low mood must last at least 2 weeks. Upon reading that, a depressed person will probably say "Two weeks! I've been in a low mood for 20 years!" That is because the seeds of depression are often planted early in life, or in adolescence, and those who experience depression have probably always had to fight it off, to some extent. In addition, the low mood of the depressed person can be paralyzing. When a nondepressed person experiences a low mood, it often motivates him/her to take an action to restore feelings of well-being and higher self-esteem.Not so the depressed person, a low mood just translates into inactivity.
• Low energy. Depressed people tend to have no energy, and they also feel that nothing really matters, anyway. People with depression can spend hours, days, weeks simply watching tv, or lying around the house. The extreme case, catatonia, results in a person' s being unable to even move a limb. Chronic fatigue syndrome is often thought to be a physical manifestation of depression. Depression is a physical illness as well as a mental one, and the body tends to manifest the symptoms through low energy, joint pain, headaches, stomach upset, muscle aches, etc.
• Restless irritability. Some people with depression become fidgety, anxious, unable to sit still or remain quiet. They become compulsively active, pacing, tapping their foot. Along with this, there is usually a low frustration tolerance, and short fuse and an explosive temper, although some people express their anger through insults, sarcasm or contempt. It is sometimes amazing to realize that underneath that angry, hostile exterior is plain old depression.
• Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. There is a sense of powerlessness that accompanies depression. "There is nothing I can do to change this, and there is nothing ANYBODY can do." The depressed person feels impotent, gloomy and despairing. If you feel powerless, hopeless and despairing, chances are you are depressed.
• Withdrawal. Depression leads one to withdraw. Someone might become aloof, cool, stand-offish or more radically, isolate, become reclusive. It becomes too tiring to try to socialize, or even to spend time with friends. Depressed people find themselves more and more alone as they push their loved ones away. Yet social support is one of the best cures for depression!
• Increased desire for intoxicants. As one becomes more isolated, one tends to turn more and more to non-human forms of self-soothing. It is true that beneath most alcoholism, drug use and other addictions, there is depression. Depressed people try to self-medicate with these substances, searching and searching for SOME WAY to feel better. Some people drink more, others take pills or other drugs, other people may 'shop til they drop', eat chocolate, or do something else in an effort not to feel the feelings.
• Tendency to cry over small things. Many people cry easily, it is a part of a sensitive character structure. But a depressed person will often manifest an exaggerated tendency to cry over small things, often generalizing them to the world. For example, one person told me she heard about a friend's taking in a stray dog. She started cryng about all the abandoned dogs in the world. Another person reported spilling a pitcher of lemonade, and couldn't stop crying from the upset over the incident. The crying responses of a depressed state are one of the most recognizable symptoms.
• Insomnia. Sometimes people with depression just want to sleep and sleep. But often, even if it is possible to fall asleep, the depressed person wakes up in the early morning hours, and cannot go back to sleep. This is very difficult, since lack of sleep itself contributes to depression!
• Inability to experience pleasure. This classic symptom of depression is also known as anhedonia, an inability to experience the joy of the good things of life. Depression leads to a loss of libido, sexual appetite, to a loss of the ability to get turned on by anything, music, sex, food, nature...Depression feels like wearing a shield over the entire psychic system; nothing good can get in!
• Self-loathing. The inner sense of personal failure of a person in depression is reflected in the self-flagellation which they heap on themselves. Most depressed people call themselves "losers," "worthless," even "better off dead." If you find yourself having these thoughts, you are probably struggling with depression. The thoughts are not real, they simply are a sign that you are depressed.
• Inappropriate guilt feelings. The depressed person tends to think that she or he caused all the bad stuff that happens around them. For example, one person said she felt guilty because the stock market went down a week after she convinced her sister to open an IRA account. Or someone might think that a family member suffered an illness or accident because she or he failed to call as planned. In serious cases, these guilt feelings can lead to beliefs that are unreal and entrenched, such as that God is punishing him or her, specifically, for being so "bad."
• Distortions of reality. These guilt feelings described above can become serious enough to be distortions of reality. Thinking that you caused someone else's illness or bad fortune just because you were involved in some peripheral way in a circumstance is not sound thinking! If you find yourself having these thoughts, you may be suffering from depression.
• Suicidal urges. Suicide is the depressive person's last stand. Suicide ranks as one of the ten leading causes of death in all age groups, except those over 65, and most suicide victims have suffered from depression. If you are having suicidal thoughts, consider speaking with someone about your depression.
Depression is a constellation of symptoms. This is important because the only way you will know you are depressed is to notice the symptoms and say, "That means I am depressed." It is important not to believe the thoughts you have when you are depressed; and it is important not to take actions which you may think you should take, like committing suicide! If you see yourself in this list of symptoms, it is possible that you are depressed. Call your doctor or a therapist. Get help.
Depression is an illness, but it is a TREATABLE illness, for which there is usually a 100% (or close to it) chance of feeling relief. People too frequently do not realize that they do not have to suffer from depression. IT IS TRUE. If you are depressed, you CAN feel better.