“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” ~Charles R. Swindoll
People almost always misunderstand depression. I know I used to.
My first dance with depression happened fifteen years ago. I was in my early twenties and it totally freaked me out.
When you’re depressed, your perception of pretty much everything changes.
Except you don’t realize that it’s your perception that’s changed, and instead it feels like the world has turned bad. If you’ve been depressed you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It goes something like this …
One day you feel confident and happy, and then the next day, ugh!
All the ideas and plans you have now seem ridiculous, your thoughts become morbid, and boy do you feel sluggish and sleepy, and why (yawn) is your boyfriend/friend/parent/spouse being so critical and mean all of a sudden?
And if that’s not enough, the world seems more abrasive—as if someone’s turned up the volume and taken off your sunglasses.
This is what happened to me. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why I felt so bad: I had loads of friends and an awesome boyfriend; I’d recently been accepted into a post graduate masters degree program for human nutrition.
Life was good. Or it would be if I only could stop crying!
Finally I went to the doctor, which made me feel better because the doctor told me I had a chemical imbalance in my brain; but then she told me I was “depressed,” which made me cry again since I thought depression was for negative people with no plans for their life.
So that was that. I was depressed. I had an illness. I took the medication and kind of, sort of started to feel better.
But after a year things started to change. I don’t remember why I started doing this—maybe I read it somewhere—but I stopped taking antidepressants, and whenever a “flat” period would come I’d watch it with as much distance as I could summon.
I started to notice that if I just let the “flatness” be and stopped worrying about it, my perception about something would shift, and as it did, the depression would lift.
The more times this happened, the more I began to trust that it was going to happen. And always, there standing on the other side of the flatness, was an understanding that made my life richer, less stressful, and more pleasant, well worth the ticket of entry.
Back then I had very little sense of self-care. I pretty much treated myself like a machine—a friendly, do anything for anyone, study-hard, play-hard machine.
Looking back, it’s not surprising I was depressed, or that it would lift once I started taking better care of myself.
Other shifts included the realizations that I was creative (back then I thought creativity was for other people) and that I was spiritual being, connected to all things.
I stopped seeing depression as a disease and started to see it as a symptom of imbalance—a self-imposed silence allowing the space for a new healthier belief/understanding to emerge.
Or as a friend of mine puts it, “Depression is your friend.”
I like how Kahlil Gibran explains it too:
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.” ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
For a number of years that was how I understood depression, but it wasn’t until more recently when I spent the best part of a year being silent that I understood more fully what was going on.
My “year of silence” is another story, but in short, it involved me metaphorically throwing my hands in the air saying, “I am so over repeating these old habits. How do I make this stop?!”
One of the things that emerged from my year of silence was an appreciation of the scale of madness of the mind and how to differentiate myself from my mind.
We live in a world focused on strengthening the mind and listening to it above all else. But when we do this, we get out of balance. The truth is, our mind is only a small part of us—and it’s not the wise part. It can be the worrying, negative, computer-like part.
A friend of mine explains depression as what happens when you listen to your mind at the expense of your heart for too long, ignoring the natural flow of your life and your inner wisdom.
He says, “Depression is your heart stepping aside temporarily.”
This explains why you feel so down on yourself. The unpleasantness of depression is what it feels like to use your mind without full use of your heart, since your heart is the bit that loves and feels connected and joyful.
So often you hear people say how they “beat” depression by taking up skydiving or some other new behavior, but probably it’s the other way around. The depression lifted because the message to take up skydiving was received. The depression’s job was done.
If you’re going through a depressed period, it may help to adopt these attitudes:
It is what it is, and it will pass, so there’s no point in judging it.
Eat well, exercise where you can, and continue to live. Be gentle with yourself. It can sometimes be helpful to talk to someone.
Mind your Mind
Try and stand back from your mind and know that much of what your mind is telling you is incorrect. Know that your mind is operating alone while you heart takes a little rest, which is why you feel so bad and why you can’t feel as much love for yourself or others.
Add a little downtime to your life. Instead of watching TV or trawling Facebook, take some time out and try just sitting. The thing you’re looking for is not outside of you, but within you. Meditation can be helpful too.
Often depression comes with morbid thoughts. Monitor these. They’re just thoughts, and they will pass as the flatness lifts, but at any stage if you feel unsafe, ask someone for help.
I write about a lot of things, but this is the first time I’ve written my thoughts on depression because it’s so often judged.
The reality is that most people experience some degree of depression, or as I like to call it flatness, at some time in their lives. It is a normal reaction felt by just about everyone—and we can all get past it.
Note: Lisa has generously offered to give away two free decks of her healing, inspirational “Life Cards.” You can enter until midnight, PST on Friday, August 24th by leaving a comment on the post! UPDATE: The winners for this giveaway have already been chosen.