What is it?
Everyone falls into the doldrums at times, or luxuriates in a bit of self-pity or melancholy. But depression is different. Depression robs the person of vigour and hope, warps the mind, saps the energy and turns the inner world of a person into a prison of isolation and despair. Depression is not simply about being unhappy. When you are unhappy, even if you have suffered a serious blow, you are able to seek comfort to ease the pain. You are also able to give yourself comfort. In depression you are unable to hear, let alone use the love, sympathy and concern from others to help ease the pain. It is like you have a wall around you, like being in a prison. You are both the prisoner and the jailer. In depression you are your own worst enemy.
During these winter months there is a greater tendency for people to become depressed, with less daylight hours and sun and a harsher climate with a less of an appetite to seek fresh air and be outdoors. This type of depression is colloquially called SAD – which is Season Affective Disorder. However, suffering from the “winter blues” and holidaying abroad to seek more sun is not necessarily the entire remedy but it can help.
How is it caused?
Depression is not a mysterious illness which descends upon you. Rather it is a complex set of interlinked opinions and beliefs which you have acquired over the years which related to particular circumstances of your life. It seems to be that from birth we are programmed to strive to be better or different from what we are already. This deep-seated belief that we are inadequate propels many people into depression when faced with a change of life situation such as loss of a job, a loved one or financial problems.
Most people manage to cope with life and survive despite the difficulties. How we interpret and use our failures and successes can often depend on our beliefs about ourselves. For example if we have a negative belief about ourselves and then have unsatisfactory relationships we may believe that we are bad or unlovable rather than admitting that we are attracted to the wrong kind of person.
Beliefs are the compass and maps that guide us and give us surety to know we can achieve what we want to achieve. Belief in recovery from depression is a necessity. However, recovery from depression is not magic. It takes commitment and action. It is not enough to just talk, you need to “walk your talk” and propel yourself into action. Some people are convinced that life has a fixed pattern whereby good times are followed by bad so they spend their good times in misery of expecting the worst. Some people think that they don’t deserve to be happy so they react to any good fortune with misery and guilt. Others would rather be right than happy. They try to make the world into what they want it to be and when the world does not respond to their wishes they cannot bring themselves to admit they had made a mistake. Instead they create misery for themselves and often for the people around them by ranting and trying to prove they were right.
All this illustrates that you can make yourself unhappy by the way you think. The potential for happiness or unhappiness is built into the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and what our future will be. Some people suffer terrible experiences and feel sad about who or what they have lost. If, however, they blame themselves for the disaster or loss, this then could spark a bout of depression.
Our past can influence our future
Painful experiences in early life can also sow seeds of future gloom. Experiences of abuse, physical, mental or sexual, neglect or divorce can affect a child so greatly that it predisposes them to depression in later life. Some scientists now belief that traumatic experiences create changes in the central nervous system so that it alters the neuron chemistry and so places the person at a higher risk of depression.
What can you do?
The task is to learn habits of thought and action that help you to feel good about yourself and not to hinder yourself.
- Consult your doctor who may prescribe anti-depressant drugs to help lift your depression so that you have the energy to tackle your problems
- Accept and value yourself. Treat yourself as your own best friend
- Make a list of all the pleasurable things you can do just for you and do at least one daily
- Do something physical, (e.g. a walk), something intellectual e.g. read a book, magazine, do a crossword) and do something spiritual (eg listening to music, singing in a choir) every day
- Limit how much time you spend thinking about the past and future and concentrate on enjoying the present. If you don’t know how to do this take up yoga, Pilates or martial arts or mindfulness and learn how to be in the moment through correct breathing and calming the agitated mind
- If your depression persists seek professional help from a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist
Accepting ourselves means living in the present. Happiness only exists in the here and now.
In subsequent blogs I will write about aspects of depression which need to be confronted and digested in order to change our depression into experiencing greater fulfilment and belief in ourselves and in our lives.