Most folks describe depression as a weight they carry around: dumbbells lodged in their pockets that drag them down body, mind and soul into a stinking swamp.
There’s no humor in this bayou; no levity, no sense of the sweet exuberance life can bring. Instead, there’s a collapsing inward, an inertia in which we can’t imagine . . . well . . . anything good happening to us.
We have a yearning to be free of depression; a deep desire to cut our losses and spit in its eye. It has cost us enough heartache – no more, we think. We pine for a way out of it, but sometimes don’t know the way.
But if we are to recover, we need to think about a different kind of life for ourselves. One where we take the “UP” to happiness escalator instead of the “DOWN” one to depression.
Imagining a Life without Depression
Envisioning freedom is part of the journey out of the dark woods. So often, depressives imagine a future with uninterrupted bouts of depression. This sorrow is what leads so many to a state of hopelessness. We need, with the help of wise others, to begin to imagine what our life would look like without depression and walk, step by step, that way.
I used to say to my therapist when depressed, “Why am I being punished?” It was as if I had done something “bad” and was a “bad person” (though I didn’t know and couldn’t articulate whatever that was) and now the Karmic Universe was going to dish out the punishment I thought I surely deserved.
As depression author Dorothy Rowe writes,“Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer.” Start to see, just a little bit at a time, that depression is not just happening to you. It’s an inside job too. This took me years to learn. Our thoughts and style of thinking help create and sustain depression. When we feed it with negative ruminations, it grows larger – like an algae plume. Withhold this noxious nourishment — and it can, slowly, wither away or at least become more manageable.
Happiness Skills Can Help
Before even imagine the promised land of happiness, however, we may need medication to lift the more onerous physical symptoms of depression to give us enough focus and energy. No doubt, antidepressants aren’t the only way to do this. Many have accomplished the same results with exercise, nutrition and/or psychotherapy.
In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., writes:
“Even the most the most severely depressed individuals can improve by doing a simple daily happiness-increasing exercise such as taking time to recall three things that went well each day. Although the exercises are not designed to ‘cure’ depression, if you are depressed, trying one or more of these activities affords a strong chance of lightening the burden and darkness of depression and producing positive feelings.”
We can also look back further than just what went right on a particular day to increase our sense of happiness. There is a powerful connection between how we view our past and present day happiness says Rick Nubert, Ph.D. In a study of 750 people, he found that highly extraverted people are happier with their lives because they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past and are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets than their neurotic counterparts. Howell says that while it may be difficult to change one’s personality to being an extrovert, he found that savoring happy memories or reframing past painful experiences in a positive light could be effective ways for people to increase their life satisfaction.
Other ideas offered up by Dr. Lyubomirsky include avoiding overthinking – a big problem for lawyers: “Very happy people have the capacity – even during trying times – to absorb themselves in an engaging activity, stay busy, and have fun. To practice this strategy, pick a distracting, attention-grabbing activity that has compelled you in the past and do it when you notice yourself dwelling [on the bad stuff and your problems]”. Check out her other ideas in her blog.
You deserve to be happy. You don’t have to keep riding the down escalator. While going up to the second floor, just wink and wave at your depression as it goes down into the bargain basement.