Depression blogger Therese Borchard’s great piece about developing our own “healing packages” of activities, resources and comforts. Read her Blog
How to Design a Self-Care Prescription for Depression
Best Depression Quotes
Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t. Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast
That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
In depression . . . faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute . . . It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. William Styron, Darkness Visible
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. David Foster Wallace
The term clinical depression finds its way into too many conversations these days. One has the sense that a catastrophe has occurred in the psychic landscape. Leonard Cohen
They flank me-Depression on my left, loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show their badges. I know these guys very well. …then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. Penelope Sweet
Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it. Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Choking with dry tears and raging, raging, raging at the absolute indifference of nature and the world to the death of love, the death of hope and the death of beauty, I remember sitting on the end of my bed, collecting these pills and capsules together and wondering why, why when I felt I had so much to offer, so much love, such outpourings of love and energy to spend on the world, I was incapable of being offered love, giving it or summoning the energy with which I knew I could transform myself and everything around me. Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot
I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable. Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast
Depression is melancholy minus its charm. Susan Sontag
You are constantly told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but a part of depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown does not mean that your life isn’t a mess. If there are issues you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping back up and stare you full in the face, and one aspect of depression is a deep knowledge that the comforting doctors who assure you that your judgment is bad are wrong. You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life. You can accept rationally that later, after the medication sets in, you will be better able to deal with the terribleness, but you will not be free of it. When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different. J.K. Rowling
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. Pope John Paul II
The absolute worst part of being depressed is the food. A person’s relationship with food is one of their most important relationships. I don’t think your relationship with your parents is that important. Some people never know their parents. I don’t think your relationship with your friends are important. But your relationship with air-that’s key. You can’t break up with air. You’re kind of stuck together. Only slightly less crucial is water. And then food. You can’t be dropping food to hang with someone else. You need to strike up an agreement with it. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
And an inky-colored despair of rejection enveloped me like the black tortilla of depression around a pain burrito. Christopher Moore, Bite Me
Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t. Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
So why am I depressed? That’s the million-dollar question, baby, the Tootsie Roll question; not even the owl knows the answer to that one. I don’t know either. All I know is the chronology. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity. Oliver Sacks
Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression. Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong. Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression
It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint-it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.” Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
A loss of focus can be the most debilitating of depressive symptoms, rendering a person unable to work effectively or plan for the future, which seems desolate, devoid of the possibility of redemption. John Nelson, M.D.
The depressed person is constantly chewing on himself. He needs to find something else to chew on. The form of diversion is not important, but the act of diversion is. Penelope Russianoff, When Am I Going to Be Happy?
Depression is not only an experience in the mind; it is also an affliction of the body. There is a lack of energy, a painful heaviness; sadness and a grief that permeate to our marrow. Philip Martin, The Zen Way through Depression
In an age of hope men looked up at the night sky and saw “the heavens.” In an age of hopelessness they call it simply “space”. Peter Kreeft
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings, a big heavy blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
Depression can be set off by a variety of stressors: sexual abuse, housing problems, illness in one’s child, and the other common problems you might imagine. To suggest that depression arises from loss is to skew the argument in the direction of the metaphor . . . , the one that likens apparent depression to ordinary bereavement. Likewise, “sadness” does not capture the essence of depression, which is a marked disruption of brain and mind characterized by painful apathy. Not only in degree but also in quality, sadness and depression are different. Peter Kramer, M.D., Against Depression
One of the features of depression is pessimistic thinking. The negative thinking is actually the depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression in fact manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect. Most depressed people are not aware that the despair and hopelessness they feel are flowing from their negative thoughts. Thoughts are mistakenly seen as privileged, occupying a rarefied territory, immune to being affected by mood and feelings, and therefore representing some immutable truth. Hara Estroff Marano
I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were felt by the whole human race, there would not be one cheerful face left on earth. Abraham Lincoln
My hunch is that the disease/defect model of depression, is unwittingly contributing to the ongoing stigma of depression. Through the lens of the disease model, the legions of the formerly depressed are a “broken” people who need lifelong assistance. I would like to see a more revolutionary public education approach, with campaigns that emphasize the unique strengths that are required to endure depression. Even if a person is helped by drugs or therapy, grappling with a severe depression requires enormous courage. In many ways, a person who has emerged from the grip of depression has just passed the most severe of trials in the human experience. If we acknowledge that surviving depression requires a special toughness, we will not see formerly depressed people as a broken legion, but as a resource who can teach us all something about overcoming adversity. Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D.
Where’s the big national foundation leading the battle against depression? Where is the Jerry Lewis Telethon and the Annual Run for Depression? Little black ribbons for everyone to wear? The obvious answer is the stigma associated with the disease. Too much of the public still views depression as a weakness or character flaw, and thinks we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. And all the hype about new antidepressant medications has only made things worse by suggesting that recovery is simply a matter of taking a pill. Too many people with depression take the same attitude; we are ashamed of and embarrassed by having depression. This is the cruelest part of the disease: we blame ourselves for being weak or lacking character instead of accepting that we have an illness, instead of realizing that our self-blame is a symptom of the disease. And feeling that way, we don’t step forward and challenge unthinking people who reinforce those negative stereotypes. So we stay hidden away, feeling miserable and yourselves for ourselves for our own misery. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transform our lives. Healing depression and overcoming unhappiness mean dealing more effectively with stress; recovering physical and psychological balance; reclaiming parts of ourselves that we’ve ignored or suppressed: and appreciating the wholeness that has somehow slipped away from us, or that we have never really known. James Gordon, M.D., Unstuck
Scientists know that traumatic experiences such as child abuse and neglect change the chemistry and even the structure of the brain. They sensitize the stress response system so that those who are abused become overly responsive to environmental pressures. They shape wiring patterns in the brain and reset the sensitivity level of the machinery. Eventually, even small degrees of stress provoke an outpouring of stress hormones, and these hormones in turn act directly on multiple sites to produce the behavioral symptoms of depression. They push the brain’s fear center into overdrive, churning out negative emotions that steer the depression’s severity and add a twist of anxiety. Ellen McGrath, Ph.D.
Depression can be seen as a break-down in the service of offering the person an opportunity for a break-through. In this way, depression can be a corrective feedback to a life with little reflection. We only reflect on those things that break down in life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it. Lara Honos-Webb, Listening to Depression
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings, a big heaving blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
When we ruminate, we become fruitlessly preoccupied with the fact that we are unhappy and with the causes, meanings, and consequences of our unhappiness. Research has repeatedly shown that if we have tended to react to our sadness or depressed moods in these ways in the past, then we are likely to find the same strategy volunteering to ‘help’ again and again when our moods start to slide. And it will have the same effect: we’ll get stuck in the very mood from which we are trying to escape. As a consequence, we are at even higher risk of experiencing repeated bouts of unhappiness. Mark Williams, The Mindful Way through Depression
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives we fear are princes and princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants us to help. Rainer Maria Rilke
We only reflect on those things that break down in our life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of your life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it.But if you begin to open to the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with your level of functioning before your depression, only then does the idea of depression as a gift begin to make sense. A breakdown can become a gift when it is in the service of increasing reflection on your life which will lead you to ask the fundamentally important questions: What is wrong with my life? What can I do to correct the problem? When you listen to your depression, you can heal your life. Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., Listening to Depression
Depression has a mind of its own. When you are depressed, you think in generalizations (nothing works out), you don’t give yourself credit (I can’t do anything right), and you label yourself in the most negative terms (loser, ashamed, humiliated). You set demanding standards that you will never live up to. You may think you need to get everyone’s approval, or excel at everything you do, or know for sure something will work out before you try it. Your thinking keeps you trapped in self-criticism, indecisiveness, and inertia. Robert Leahy, Ph.D., How to Beat the Blues
Depression is the inability to construct a future. Rollo May, Ph.D.
Every time a person gets depressed, the connections in the brain between mood, thoughts, the body, and behavior get stronger, making it easier for depression to be triggered again. At the earliest stages in which mood starts spiraling downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it. Mark Williams, The Mindful Way through Depression
The Failure of Will theory is popular with people who are not depressed. Get out and take your mind off yourself, they say. You’re too self-absorbed. This is just the stupidest thing you can say to a depressed person, and it is said every day to depressed people all over this country. And if it isn’t that, it’s, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’ These attitudes are contradictory. Conquer Your Depression and Everything Can Be Fixed by the Miracle of Science presuppose opposite explanations of the problem. One blames character, the other neurotransmitters. They are often thrown at the sufferer in sequence: ‘Get out and do something, and if that doesn’t work, take pills.’ Sometimes they’re used simultaneously: ‘You won’t take those pills because you don’t WANT to do anything about your depression, i.e. Failure of Will. Susanna Kaysen, Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression
Perhaps, the answer is that my ravaged mind rails against the idea of God, but something deeper in me calls out as if God might answer. ‘There are not foxholes,’ I guess, and depression is the deepest and deadliest foxhole I’ve been in. It may be the ‘dark night of the soul’ that the mystics talk about but in depression it is not so much that one becomes lost in the dark as one becomes the dark. Parker Palmer
Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem. David D. Burns, Ph.D.
That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward. Ernest Hemmingway
One description of depression is that it is like the shapeless sagging of a rubber band that has been kept too taunt for too long. When feelings have been strong, stressed, unprocessed, or held captive over a period of time, we just stop feeling altogether. Persons and events no longer have the power to enliven us; we operate on a low level cruise control. Usually we keep functioning, but there is no positive or creative affect toward persons and things, and even less toward ourselves. We basically stop living our only life. Ron Rohr
All of us feel shamed by life. All of us consider ourselves failures of some kind, screw ups in something really important to us. Notice how shame, consciously or unconsciously pulls us away from risk, ratifies our negative sense of worth through self-sabotage or compels us into frenetic efforts of overcompensation or yearning for the validation from others that never comes; how much each of us needs to remember one definition of grace as accepting the fact that we are accepted despite the fact that we are unacceptable James Hollis, Ph.D., What Matters Most
Everyone knows what depression feels like. Everyone feels the blues at times. Sadness, disappointment, fatigue are normal parts of life. There is a connection between the blues and clinical depression, but the difference is like the difference between the sniffles and pneumonia. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
While direct-to-consumer advertising has likely fostered an easier acceptance of these pills, most of the people I interviewed who suffer from major depression embark on a psychiatric career with great reluctance. Typically my respondents turn to medications only when desperation leaves them without alternatives. This is understandable in terms of the identity line that one crosses by seeing a doctor, or seeing a diagnosis of depression and filling the prescription for anti-depressants. One person poignantly expressed her identity dilemma by saying that, ‘When I swallowed that first pill I swallowed my will.’ Beginning a regimen of psychiatric medications is part of the traumatic transformation from person to patient; from being merely a troubled person to someone who has mental illness. Daniel Karp, Speaking of Sadness
Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from natural experience, the grey drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. William Styron, Darkness Visible
Paying Attention to Our Depression
Depression isn’t just an illness. It’s a messenger.
In his book, Unstuck, James Gordon, M.D., writes:
“Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transform our lives. Healing depression and overcoming unhappiness mean dealing more effectively with stress; recovering physical and psychological balance; reclaiming parts of ourselves that we’ve ignored or suppressed: and appreciating the wholeness that has somehow slipped away from us, or that we have never really known”.
If we would but listen, we might find that our depression is trying to tell us something; important insights about our lives and the ways we live it that might be keeping us mired in a soupy gloom.
We often don’t heed our inner wisdom, but keep going full-speed ahead in the wrong direction anyway. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. observed, “Depression is a vicious circle and we keep doing these destructive patterns because “we don’t how to do anything else.”
When we think of depression only as an illness, we oversimplify its causes and remedies. No doubt, it has profound effects on our brains and bodies. Surely, it runs in families and likely has a genetic component. But if it were only that, a blue pill would solve the problem. And it doesn’t.
The pain of depression may be an impetus for sufferers to live a more authentic life. Often people who suffer from depression are living from a wounded place within themselves. Along the way, they learned that they weren’t “good” enough or were “bad people”. As a consequence, they learned to hide their true needs and wants and live an inauthentic life; a life that may not work, but they don’t know how to change.
In this vein, folks can come to think of depression as some sort of punishment: a recompense of some unknown sins from an undefined past. Or, maybe the very real wrongs they may have committed are magnified, as they are prone to be in the mind of a depressive, by the process of generalization: a known cognitive trick of depression where we take a negative incident (e.g. “I lost this case”) and turn it into “Why am I such a failure?”
Depression doesn’t just happen to anyone. Rather, it is the accumulation of a lifetime of varying degrees of psychic pain suffered during a lifetime, often starting in early childhood. In our early years, many learned that it was dangerous to live from a space of our true selves because of a parent who was an alcoholic, abusive or in some way emotional abusive or absent.
Ellen McGrath, Ph.D., writes:
“Scientists know that traumatic experiences such as child abuse and neglect change the chemistry and even the structure of the brain. They sensitize the stress response system so that those who are abused become overly responsive to environmental pressures. They shape wiring patterns in the brain and reset the sensitivity level of the machinery. Eventually, even small degrees of stress provoke an outpouring of stress hormones, and these hormones in turn act directly on multiple sites to produce the behavioral symptoms of depression. They push the brain’s fear center into overdrive, churning out negative emotions that steer the depression’s severity and add a twist of anxiety”.
Our parents, acting out of their own wounded souls, unconsciously played out their unresolved pain with us during our childhood. They did so because of their distorted way of seeing the world; a place that they found threatening, its problems unsolvable and against them at every turn. This hardened them and led them to fail in life’s most important vocation: the nurturance of their own children.
I recall my mom saying to me as a child, “Well, what are you going to do?” While one could say this was the innocuous lament of a middle-aged mother of 5 kids, later in life I learned it was mom’s worldview that there weren’t really solutions to life’s fundamental problems, that we are, at our core, helpless in the face of life’s thorny challenges.
My mom suffered from undiagnosed and untreated depression for most of her life. I now see how this passive, victimized way of seeing the world took root in my psyche as a young man. And how hard I had to work to overcome it over the years; how I had to struggle to listen less to the inner voice and critic of my parents and incline my ears toward my true self which was always there waiting to be heard.
In Listening to Depression, psychologist, Lara Honos-Webb writes that depression is trying to tell us something: that we are on the wrong track in life. In this sense, depression can be a teacher if we would only listen to it.
How can we come to see depression as a teacher? Honos-Webb writes:
“Depression can be seen as a break-down in the service of offering the person an opportunity for a break-through. In this way, depression can be a corrective feedback to a life with little reflection. We only reflect on those things that break down in life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it.”
I admit that it’s hard to see depression’s value when in the thick of it, the swamp through which we slog with little relief. But there’s much to be said for seeing depression not just as a disease, but as a messenger that our lives need to change for us to heal.
Getting Unstuck From Depression
Two people look out the same prison doors: one sees mud and the other stars. – Frederick Langbridge.
Some of our best efforts to escape the deep mud of depression are misguided – – we step hard on the gas pedal only to find our wheels spinning deeper and deeper into the gooey, brown earth.
We keep using depressive thinking to get ourselves out of, well, depressive thinking. We are asking the wrong questions: “What’s wrong with me, why can’t I fix this, I suck at being a lawyer, my life is a mess.” Surely, this is not the tow truck we need to pull us out of the swampland of depression.
Depression makes us feel like we are stuck in our lives; we can’t seem to move forward beyond our melancholic sighs. According to psychologist Rollo May: “Depression is the inability to construct a future.” Maybe this is so because the muck of depression is so painful and deadening that it freezes us like a deer caught in a steel trap.
Depression also handcuffs us to our past. We mercilessly ruminate about all the ways our lives have gone wrong. We marshal the evidence against ourselves and “guilty” is the verdict every god damn time. What are we really “guilty” of? Of being a human being who makes mistakes. As newspaper columnist Jan Glidewell once wrote: “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.”
Our real and true self is sandwiched between our negative views of the past and our inability to move forward – hence, our bogged down blues. We have to let go of the past and lean into a vision of a more optimistic future to begin living our lives again.
We largely ignore the truth that we are not perfect – like every other person on the planet because we likely didn’t learn it in childhood. Perhaps, as much of the research as suggested, we were the victims of parents or other caretakers who caused us as children to see ourselves as “bad” or “the problem” instead of the out of control parent(s) who dumped their toxic thoughts and/or unhealty thoughts and emotions on our precious heads.
Our child’s mind, which lived in a world of magical thinking, was simply unable to process these painful interactions with our parental giants who held all the power. We could not reason that it was the caregiver(s) that was the “bad” one – and not ourselves. This dramatically changes how we view ourselves as people and we leave childhood with a high risk of adult onset clinical depression.
I was one of these children with a raging alcoholic father and a depressive mother. And I developed adult onset depression.
According to psychologist Richard O’Connor, author of the book and website Undoing Depression:
“Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile and withholding, and we are pessimistic about things every changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our needs; misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear the honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings”.
Optimism researcher, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., wrote an article, “Why are lawyers so Unhappy?” which was reprinted on Lawyerwithdepression.com. The essence of the piece is that lawyers have a pessimistic cognitive thinking style which is groomed in law school. I think this theory is half-right: we are groomed to “think like a lawyer” in school, but many people who come into law school are already vulnerable to depression based on genetics and their childhood experiences. For these people, the stress of being a law student and the combat of practicing can law can tip them over into as state of depression.
In his book Unstuck, psychiatrist James Gordon, in a subchapter entitled, “From the Swamp of Stuckness to the River of Change,” writes:
“‘This is the way things have to be,” you may tell yourself. Or you plead, ‘I’m doing the best I can.’ Pride and stubbornness and, of course, fear fix you in a circle of pointless argument and hurt. But it’s familiar and seems so justified. Even as the pain of stuckness becomes intolerable, or life begins to pry your fingers loose, you still hold on”.
“You’re afraid that without your familiar mooring you will lose hope and, perhaps, life. You will not let go, will not move into the current of your life, will not trust that this current will take you where you need to go. And go you continue to live less than fully, in denial of the change that is possible and necessary. And, as time goes on, as you persist in resisting or blocking your own movement, your depression may deepen”.
Dr. Gordon lays out his holistic approach to recovering from depression in a question and answer session on his website.
Depression gets to be a habit – a bad one. The more we depress, the more likely we are to become depressed in the future, the more likely are to become . . . stuck.
Please understand that your depressive thoughts are just broken records that keep repeating crummy tunes about yourselves. We become stuck because we refuse to change or we just don’t know how to do our life any other way. We need to let go and see that we can lead a very different and empowered life — a life without depression.