The Narrowing Focus
Depression can and does narrow and compromise our ability to think clearly, think effectively and maintain perspective on our lives. This narrowing down of our worldview can be an incremental, imperceptible process; so gradual that we can still believe we are seeing through our normal perspective, when in fact, we are not. This perceptual shift is readily seen once we recover and can look back on how radically different our mindset can be in a depressed state. The incremental shift from openness to a very limited sense of possibility, choice and new pathways we might take in the service of our finding a way ahead can leave us feeling bleak and hopeless in the midst of depression. The more inward we become in our despair, the more this narrow view becomes even more constricted until we are left with simplistic binary choices in a world of extremes: to press on or give up; to keep going to work or quit; to live or die. Black and white choices are the result of either-or thinking, which is a product of loss of our broader perspective. Developing an awareness of this narrowed perspective is an important first step in recognising that it is not our normal way of thinking. Actively reminding ourselves of this fact throughout the day can begin to help us ‘step outside’ of the depressive mindset in order to begin to take charge of what we are doing.
However, the longer we leave the situation without seeking help, the harder it is to bring ourselves out of it. And the more depression begins to feel like an illness rather than the cumulative effect of a series of choices, beliefs and habits we have undertaken over time. Some of these habits might be our taking responsibility for others’ feelings, actions or opinions; holding a devaluing self-view; a habitual reliance on others for praise and approval; the habit of suppressing words and feelings so that greater emotional pressure builds inside a lonely or detached way of being. We can do all of these things without being fully aware of doing them. This can then leave us with the false impression that depression is an illness.*
The Short-term Focus
The short-term focus in therapy is in helping you to manage your struggle with low-mood and perhaps difficult ideas and feelings. These might include despair, high anxiety, and suicidal ideation and intent. This is the focal point for most medical and public mental health service interventions, where ‘symptoms’ may be alleviated by pharmaceutical drugs (which can also increase suicidal ideation and intent!). Focussing on ‘positive thoughts’, regular exercise and eating and sleeping well are all conducive to recovery from the acute or debilitating symptoms of depression. However, alleviation of symptoms is not the end of the story. In order to prevent further periods of depression it is important to look at how you create depression and the underlying causes and vulnerabilities you may have that make depression possible.
The Long-term Focus
Many people – in believing the medical explanation that claims that ‘depression is an illness’ see a lift in mood and activity as an indication that they are overcoming their ‘illness’. As such, there is the temptation to think that – like recovering from measles – alleviation of depressive ‘symptoms’ means that our work is done. This may not be the case.
Depression, from a non-pathologising perspective, is often the consequence of a series of choices, personal habits, lifestyle factors, adverse circumstances and life events, and our ways of responding to them. In order to understand how one created an acute or chronic depressive state it is important to look at how you got there, and this may involve taking a longer-term, deeper look at your self-view, your personal history, your vulnerabilites and earlier experiences. By doing so it becomes possible to identify the ways in which you may have maintained vulnerabilities that can make you prone to creating depression as a debilitating state of being.
Some factors influencing low or depressed mood related to our choices, circumstances or lifestyle:
- early or current experiences of emotional or physical neglect, criticism, abuse, trauma, abandonment, bullying, harassment
- physical illness and chronic pain
- loss, retirement and bereavement
- prolonged exposure to microwaves (5G, wifi, smart meters, mobile phones, wireless devices, EMF radiation)
- lack of sunshine, mobility or exercise
- alcohol and substances
- social isolation
- toxic views or mistreatment we take in from others and use upon ourselves
- low self-worth and approval-seeking/ rejection
- poverty and hardship
- an unhealthy culture: relationship, family, work, prison, political
- an unhealthy workplace or management [example*]
- ineffective boundaries
- habits of suppressing emotions and genuine expression
- maintaining the illusion that your value lies in the opinions, approval or praise of others
The longer-term therapeutic process helps you identify the underlying foundations of what may make you susceptible to a depressed way of being and gives you the skills to create a new, more skilful way that better serves your needs. Rather than viewing depression as an abstract illness requiring an expert to give you medicine as a ‘cure’, recovery involves a process of reviewing and reassessing your meaning and the relationship you have with your own mind, your feelings, other people and circumstances past and present. In doing this vital work you then empower yourself to make the kinds of changes that can keep you from inadvertently digging yourself into an emotional hole again. This self-empowerment is an alternative to the dependency position; a position that relies upon the notion that your brain chemsitry is malfunctioning, for example. This is an assertion that finds no evidence for its support beyond myths that are continually circulated to justify the consumption of anti-depressants. Likewise, the idea that all you need do to feel better is achieve more, get better grades, make more money, or gain more approval in order to be okay, all of which are short-term measures for temporarily lifting one’s mood.
In short, the power to overcome depression lies within the individual. Empowering oneself to make both short-term and long-term changes is a two-fold path to expanding our view of life and self to include the possibility that life can be worth living again.
*Depression can sometimes, rarely, be the consequence of genuine hormone imbalances, brain injury or other discreet biological or physical causes
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