As the saying goes depression is the dark shadow creature in the corner. Sometimes, we know it’s there, and we try to keep it at bay. Other times, we’ve never noticed the shadow creature until it moves toward us and is absorbed into our consciousness. The say goes that “when you are depressed, you’re thinking about the past”. We tend to ruminate on choices we’ve made, and think of how our life would be better if we’d chosen a different job, partner, action. And with the abundance of social media, we do a lot of comparisons between our lives and the seemingly grand, happy lives of our friends who are in new relationships, or have moved into a new home, or are on a dream vacation. We don’t take into account that what is posted as a representation of someone else’s life is deliberately embellished in order to appear enviable. We don’t know about the darker things that are part of that life: maybe there are addictions, or domestic abuse, or maybe they’re so heavily in debt that their grasp on that new house is tenuous at best.
We are sad and scared as a society. Australia is burning, and our hearts break for the Koalas and Kangaroos. Every week, there seems to be another mass shooting. The very health of our planet is in jeopardy, and it feels like no one cares enough to make the changes that need to be made in order for Earth to survive. Many of us feel weighed down by the demands of our everyday lives, leaving little time for self-awareness or self-care. Our culture values achievement, material pursuits, unrealistic body image and socio-economic status, and it’s easy to feel relentlessly driven to keep up and to feel valued. Often, we maintain an outward demeanor that belies our emotional reality. “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thanks!” It’s the instinctual, expected response, after all no one really wants to know how you’re truly feeling; that’s not why they asked.
Even those who seem to have everything going for them can suffer from depression. Remember Chris Cornell, the front man for several iconic rock bands through the decades? He took his own life a few years back, after which we learned that he suffered from depression. This was a man who seemed to have everything to live for: an enviable music career, a family whom he loved, the promise of a comfortable future and good overall health. By all accounts, no one knew the depth of despair and hopelessness that apparently led to his suicide at the age of 52. Anthony Bourdain, the lively host of “No Reservations”, a food and travel TV series in which he went to exotic places, sampled the food, met with the local people and experienced their culture. He was surrounded by adoring fans, breathtaking views and was in great health. He hung himself in his hotel room. And before that, it was Robin Williams who committed suicide in 2014, shocking the world by what appears to have been the tears of a clown. Nobody would’ve thought someone like Robin Williams could be depressed. What did he have to be sad about?! New information on the Robin Williams suicide revealed that he had a generative cognitive disease that would gradually render him helpless, eventually making him reliant on others for his needs.
Clinical depression is not necessarily about something happening in a person’s life, or due to what they might have going for them. Depression can happen to anyone and, by its nature of heaviness, it can set a downward spiral in motion. Sometimes it begins in response to a loss or a disappointment, such as being laid off from a job or losing a loved one. This kind of temporary malaise can be called “situational depression”, because it has an identifiable origin and is usually short term. But if energy is not directed to regain a sense of emotional balance, the momentum of sadness can perpetuate and lead to hopelessness and clinical depression.
How do you know if you are, or if someone close to you is suffering from depression? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental health disorders lists among the symptoms of a depressive episode:
- A depressed mood that last for more than two weeks
- Changes in sleep, whether sleeping more or sleeping less
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loss of interest in things a person typically enjoys
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
Pay attention and give importance to assessing your own mood, and inquiring about the well being of friends and family members who “just don’t feel like themselves.” It’s easy to become overwhelmed when a person is depressed—in fact, that’s pretty much a symptom in itself. So break things down to the most simplified, fundamental needs. In my work as a psychotherapist with clients who suffer from depression, I encourage them to just change one thing. If you are isolating, being sedentary or otherwise inactive, or simply avoiding life as you used to know it, first of all be understanding and tender with yourself. Acknowledge that you have an emotional need that is not being addressed. And then add one thing to what you are doing:
- Begin journaling about your feelings. This has the effect of getting your emotions off of your proverbial chest, and beginning to sort through things.
- Talk to someone about what you’re feeling, whether that person is a friend or family member, or a therapist.
- Begin a simple exercise practice. Get outside and walk, do some gentle yoga, or jump in the pool for a swim. Exercise releases the “good stuff” in your brain, such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. It can also help to improve the quality of your sleep.
- Strive to accept or extend one social invitation every week. Ask a friend to join you for dinner or accompany your sister to her meditation class.
The “catch 22” in depression is that the only thing that makes you feel better is to get out and do something. But the last thing you have the energy for is to get out and do something. Understand that by keeping it simple and just doing one thing, you can set forward momentum in motion and begin to feel more energetic to do two things or three things!
Or change one thing by eliminating something that you’ve been doing:
- Stop allowing yourself to stay in bed half of the day
- Don’t continue judging and berating yourself for feeling down. Understand that most everyone will experience some level of depression during their life, and that this is something you can overcome.
- Eliminate things in your diet that contribute to feeling bad physically. (processed foods, alcohol, excessive sugar)
- Stop feeling like you have to do everything today. Address the overwhelm in your life by prioritizing and doing just those things that must be done now, or by delegating or asking for help in completing your to-do list.
If you need help in identifying underlying issues that might be contributing to a feeling of hopelessness and depression, reach out for help from a skilled therapist. Begin today by valuing yourself and finding the self love that allows you to begin to heal the wounds that have kept you feeling hopeless and depressed. The good news is that you don’t have to stay there! Our counselors at Life Skills Resource Group are skilled in working with depression and a myriad of other emotional concerns. Make that “one thing you do today” be to reach out for help. (407) 355-7378. We can help you crawl out of the depression hole.