Depression is the worst. It can make us feel tired, unmotivated, and under valued. Sometimes it happens for seemingly no good reason or in the face of countless logical reasons not to be depressed. It is annoying, frustrating, exhausting, and stubborn. At its worst, our relationships, jobs, and health are impacted and we are left in a cycle of deteriorating feelings and behaviors.
I write this post to offer an insight into my thoughts of treating depression. I am writing with a focus on the way depression changes how we think about ourselves and lives. This is only one part of treating depression. If you are concerned about your own experiences, you should talk to your doctor and counselor. If you don’t have a counselor, let’s talk.
SO WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
The unfortunate truth? We don’t have a clear answer to this. At least not in the same way we have an understanding about physical health problems. When you have the flu a doctor can explain why you got it, how it affects you, and how to treat it. Depression is, unfortunately, not so clear.
What we do know is that there are a consistent set of symptoms that often occur together and when they do we call this, depression. What are they?
- Decreased energy
- Appetite changes
- Sleep changes
- Social isolation
- Lack of concentration
- And some others, but these are the most commonly experienced
Could these symptoms occur after losing a job? Sure. What about when you lose a loved one? Absolutely. Bullied? Definitely. Had a rough childhood? Congrats, you can get these symptoms too. This leads me to my next point.
DEPRESSION DOESN’T FOLLOW RULES
Some truly unlucky people might experience all of these events while never facing consistent depression. Even more confusing is that others will feel depressed for no logical reason whatsoever.
It could be that what we call depression is actually more than one thing. Maybe at times, this set of symptoms is a response to an event. Maybe other times it’s a sign of either an overabundance or a deficit of a certain neurotransmitter. Perhaps it’s caused by some other physical ailment. Many times these symptoms can be a combination of recent events, past events, relationships, and environment.
Although we use a singular word to describe a set of symptoms, it’s important to realize that not all cases of depression are the same. One person’s story of feeling depressed is not the same as the next persons.
DEPRESSION BECOMES YOUR VOICE
We’ve done an amazing job beginning to change the way we talk about depression. We call it a disease and we talk about it as an illness. So many of my clients are great at using this language to describe depression…..right up until they begin talking about themselves.Then they unknowingly begin to merge their own identity with their depression.
But that’s the trick of depression. It makes you feel like you and it are the same. It enters your mind and begins driving the direction of your life.
Spoiler alert: depression only drives in directions which support itself. It is always looking out for it’s best interest.
DEPRESSION CHANGES THE WAY YOU THINK
You know this has occurred when you began thinking things like,
- “If I didn’t feel so depressed, I would go out with so and so.”
- “I can’t wait for this feeling to go away.”
- “Look how happy everyone else is.”
- “I can’t believe I feel like this again.”
- “I wish I wasn’t such a burden on everyone.”
In your mind, you are no longer identifying yourself as separate from depression. You wear an imaginal name badge only you can read stating, “I’m Ben, the depressed guy”.
Coincidentally I’ve never heard anyone introduce themselves as, “Ben, the flu guy”, or, “Ben, the strep-throated guy”.. If we are really going to embrace the depression as a disease model, we must also be willing to apply that ourselves and acknowledge that depression is something you experience, not something you are.
LEAVE ROOM FOR MORE THOUGHTS
A more healthy way of thinking might be, “I am Ben and I’ve got depressive symptoms right now”. While it might be true that you feel depressed now, you are also many other things.
You might be a friend, an employee, a brother, a spouse, a daughter, a father, or so many other identities. Each of those identities has certain responsibilities, joys, and motivations. They do not disappear when you experience depression no matter how much depression attempts to drown them out.
YOU’RE NOT YOU WHEN YOU’RE DEPRESSED YOU
It’s incredibly important that you are able to recognize the You and the Depressed You. The way depression survives is by clouding out You. It implants its own thoughts and behaviors that only serve to make itself stronger.
For example, depression tells you to lie in bed longer than usual. It tells you to not get dressed, to cancel dinner plans, to sit and think about the times you screwed up, and other defeating thoughts. These all serve a function to make you feel more depressed.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
I remember hearing another therapist talk years ago about his own experiences with depression. He talked about the difference between “doing your way into feeling” and “feeling your way into doing”. For example, I go out for runs somewhat often. Not because I particularly enjoy running, but more so because I particularly enjoy cheeseburgers.
More often than not I don’t feel like running. Yet, I have never regretted going for a run. In fact, when I am running or just after running is when I feel most like going out for a run. Sometimes the behavior has to come before the feeling.
SOME PRACTICAL TIPS
Think about who you are when you feel healthy. How do you think? Who do you spend time with? What do you do? How do you sleep? How do you dress?
- Write these down and begin doing them. Do your way into feeling.
- Develop a daily routine of simple tasks and do them each day whether you want to or not.
- Enlist a social support to keep you accountable to your routine each day.
- Learn to notice the Depressed You versus the real You.
- Develop coping statement or positive self-talk to challenge the Depressed You.
- Do something for someone else. Depression makes our world feel small. Engage other people.
- Write a letter to your grandma.
- If you are grandma, write a letter to your grandchild
- Call and old friend
- Cook someone a meal
- Talk to your primary care doctor about physical reasons you might feel depressed.
- Sleep well, eat well, treat your body well. Take care of yourself and you will get better.
Notice the way I have talked about depression in the post. I have referred to it as its own entity with goals and unique wants and behaviors. This is how you should speak to your own depression. You should learn to recognize its patterns and be able to say, “depression, I feel you there. I am annoyed by you, but I am going to continue to live my life”. Your goal will become less to get rid of depression so that you can live and instead to tolerate the depression while you continue living.
SOME MORE RESOURCES
If you are suicidal or know someone who is, you can contact 911 or dial 1-800-273-TALK which will connect you to a local crisis center in your area.