James Hollis, Ph.D., the noted psychologist, once said that we spend the first half of our lives accumulating accolades for our resumes. These same achievements, he opines, then become the biggest impediments to our making real and healthy changes in our lives. It’s as if we are at an existential crossroad: we look back –north for the sake of this analogy – and see what we have accomplished. We then look forward – south – and see an unknown and scary future as yet undefined. “The past is who I am”, we think. It offers us a sense of stability, a history and a comfortable life. Nothing bad in and of itself. Yet, we may be deeply unhappy and unhealthy. We may even be suffering from depression because of the stress involved in accumulating these accomplishments.
The prospect of real change is frightening. We worry: “What if I make these changes in my life and things don’t get better. Maybe they’ll even make my depression worse!” Yet, depression is a terrible liar; its voice drips with a corrosive inner directed sarcasm that seeks to undermine any meaningful recovery from it. It disempowers us from seeking a way out of its meaningless labyrinth. Its sole agenda is to keep perpetuating itself.
In some real sense, we must stand up to our depression. We must disassemble it piece by piece and try to understand what we are dealing with. We must know its ways and how it manifests in our daily lives. There are things that we do that propagate it; other things that let it wither on the vine.
I used to unwittingly feed my depression with my pensive nature. In some dreamy sense, I thought I had some dramatic and sad existential take on the human condition. Sort of like a modern day Tolstoy. The problem, as I see it now, is that this propensity was not constructive and helpful. It could, when fueled by the various conniptions of life, be overly dramatic.
As I’ve previously blogged, pessimistic or distorted thinking is a hallmark of depression. While I don’t think existential musings make one depressed, I do believe that when we take such thoughts too far or too seriously, we fuel depression.
I often think of depression as an iceberg. We envision these monoliths as permanent, imposing and unshakable. Yet, we know that they really aren’t. An increase in temperature (e.g. think global warming) causes chunks of ice to start falling away from the iceberg’s hefty girth. By standing up to depression, parts of it too begin to fall away.
We don’t have to take our depression on all at one time, but take it on we must. I like to think of it as a kind of vow we make to ourselves . Mahatma Gandhi once wrote: “A vow is fixed and unalterable determination to do a thing, when such a determination is related to something noble which can only uplift the person who makes the resolve.”
Standing up to our depression is ennobling and courageous. Rather than being a victim of depression – and there are sure to be times we feel that way – we can take a vow to stand up to it.
Please try to be one of the thousands of people who stand up to depression everyday. I have been privledged to know some of these everyday heroes and it always reaffirms my faith in humanity.