Depression is one of the most common afflictions of human beings and one of the main reasons why people seek some form of help. Depression has been medicalised in the last hundred years and ‘treated’ as a disease. In some cases there are, of course, biological or other physical reasons for depression, such as chronic pain and fatigue, that can be managed by medicine. These could be considered ‘internal’ factors, such as hormonal imbalances and the theory of brain chemical imbalances. In most cases, depression is a response to how we are living; the way we have learned to make choices, and the way we continue to choose to interact with ourselves, other people and the world outside and around us.
Changing the way we live can change the way we experience the world.
Having suffered from depression at various levels throughout my life (and why I will use the inclusive word “we’ here), I know that one aspect of depression is the feeling that there is no hope. Hopelessness comes from believing that nothing is going to change and we tend to experience this sense of hopelessness by doing the same things over and over again. The monotony of repeating the same patterns of thought and action creates an experience of the world as being ever narrower and smaller and increasingly bleak instead of the open field of possibilities that it actually is. This repetition into hopelessness can then create the experience of helplessness. But, as adults, we are rarely ever truly helpless or hopeless. We’ve just stopped recognising our power to overcome adversity; our power to make choices that make life better for ourselves and others.
The first step out of this pattern of monotonous repetition is to begin to see that you have the power to choose to either continue along its path or to change directions. Unfortunately, another consequence of doing something over and over again that makes us miserable and hopeless is that it becomes familiar and ‘easier’ to keep doing the same old thing. We may well have ‘reasons’ for feeling depressed in the first place, but the fact remains that doing the same things over and over again – things that keep you in a downward spiral – is often at the core of our worsening misery. It entails restricting our experiences to those that are predictable and thus ‘safe’. And I speak from personal experience. The equation becomes ‘safe misery’ or scary change. In a vulnerable state we tend to choose ‘safe misery’.
The idea of changing this pattern is often, from a depressed perspective, the last thing we want to look at. It is a form managing our sense of vulnerability or insecurity by seeking safety and comfort in the wrong places: by narrowing life down into predictable patterns of choosing and not choosing, avoiding and denying. Throw in some self-punishment, self-deprecation and blame, and some other ideas about being unloveable or ‘bad’ and we end up with an even bigger mess that seems insurmountable.
If we want to overcome depression then we must look very closely at what we are doing. We must look at depression as something that we have, in fact, unintentionally created by the various choices that we continue to make every day. By starting to untangle these choices, patterns and the experiences they create, we take the first step into re-connecting with our power as creative human beings with free will and the ability to thrive if we are willing to create the right conditions for us to thrive. Even though it will undoubtedly feel ‘easier’ to just avoid this step, it is crucial in allowing ourselves to then begin to re-build our aliveness, our power, our willingness to feel alive, to experience excitement, hope, love, gratitude, generosity and joy – all experiences that we have typically cut off in ourselves by being depressed. Beginning to regain our sense of who we really are then allows us to look at where the depressive spiral actually started i.e. the reasons we got to where we are as depressed people.
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