There are simple reasons we end up depressed, getting deeper and deeper into a state of numbness or hopelessness or meaninglessness or apathy. All of the characteristics of a depressed state are the result of going away from something. That something could be a problem, difficulty or truth we are avoiding. Or feelings. Or people. But it will be something that we find difficult to face in life, and so we go deeper into this state we refer to as depression because it feels easier, even though in reality it makes our life harder.
Whatever your reason for becoming depressed, it’s never easy. It’s a painful, horrible, dreadful state to be in, and the feelings of loneliness, feeling stuck, wordlessness, self-loathing, anxiety etc can be difficult for others to understand or cope with. These are experiences that need to be listened to with compassion and care, and for this reason it is important to reach out and get help from someone who knows how to listen in the ways that you need.
Once you find someone who can listen and understand, you then begin to engage in the actual change process from being depressed to recovering from depression. If we use the metaphor of ‘going downhill’ – a description often used to describe depressive or physical or mental decline – we can glean a sense of what’s involved in ‘getting depressed’. It’s usually easier to go downhill than it is to climb uphill. It’s the same with depression. The downhill slide is a process that makes depression ‘easier’ than its reverse. ‘Easier’ in the short-term, that is. Much harder in the long-term.
And what is the reverse of depression – the recovering part? Thriving? Celebrating life? Enjoying life? Perhaps. But even though many of us aren’t depressed, thriving and celebrating life can be pretty tricky experiences to achieve. A bit like getting to the top of the mountain in terms of our uphill-downhill metaphor.
But if depression is about going downhill, (and the further down the hill we go, the harder the climb back up), then going back uphill is also much simpler than reaching the summit of a mountain. Reversing our direction is more a case of turning around and taking the first step in the opposite direction. It is the first step into the deliberate choices of appreciation, gratitude, compassion and love. These aren’t feelings. They might result in feelings. But all of these are actions – things you can do if you choose, regardless of how you feel. You can begin, step by step, to climb back up the hill to a place you can see more clearly, even though you don’t feel like it.
Yes, appreciation does feel a bit harder than staying absorbed in depression and the resulting retreat from the world. But appreciation, gratitude, compassion and love are harder because from a going down-the-hill position, going back up the hill is harder. It feels harder. But by taking the first steps into deliberate acts of appreciation, gratitude, compassion and love, we are saying ‘no’ to the downward slide of the mental, physical and neurological decline that happens as we choose the depressive path. And yes, we choose it. By choosing to turn around and start going in the other direction, we begin to embrace our self-healing, even though it will feel hard initially. It isn’t about feeling comfortable. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other, especially when we feel uncomfortable and ‘don’t feel like it’ until eventually we begin to feel comfortable in the new direction. Action and discomfort come before the new comfort.
Not feeling like it is part of the problem of depression. We end up attached to the more comfortable state of numbed misery, unwilling to venture out into the cold uncertainty of new experiences. And yet, letting go of the relatiuve comfort of depression and being open to the short-term discomfort of new experiences and the uncertainty they seem to promise, is essential if you are to get out of what can often feel like the prison of depression.
In Part 5 I talk about how to start changing the direction of your mind from a depressive, or ‘downhill’ perspective, to one that allows you to recover and heal by starting with small, manageable changes.