I have learned that depression wears many masks but the standard physical and psychological symptoms of depression broadly include:
- a continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- feeling tearful
- feeling irritable
- intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in participating in life
- inability to make decisions
- lack of concentration
- feeling overly worried or anxious
- feeling angry or having angry outbursts
- feeling guilt-ridden
- trouble remembering things
- unexplained physical problems like back pain or headaches
- weight loss or gain
- loss of sex-drive
- talking/moving slower than usual
While I would call the above symptoms I call the following traits or causes of depression:
- lack of self-love
- little to no self-worth
- poor self-esteem
- addiction to things like refined sugar, alcohol or certain drugs (antidepressants are not one of them).
- feeling disconnected from life, community and other people
- lack of purpose
- struggling to care about life around you including plants and animals
- thinking that you’ll ever find or deserve love
Depression is on the rise in the first world and with one on four now suffering from it at some stage in their lives we shouldn’t ignore it. If one in four is now diagnosed with depression at some stage in their lives there are many more that are not diagnosed while suffering from it, and it seems likely that you may at some stage have been or will be affected by it in some way even if it's through others.
Depression is preventable, it really is, and while I’m not going to go into prevention here and now, the above bullet points give some indication.
I have really struggled with finding meaning in my own depression, especially this year after having made a significant dent in the power it has over me since mid last year. I did what a lot of people do, I began looking past reasons and causes wanting it to have arrived at my soul’s doorstep to infect my mind for some sort of higher purpose; I found none. What I did find though that it was a continuous disregard for my own emotions and feelings, and a very pronounced lack of self love that had left the door wide open for it. I’m not saying it’s my fault I suffer(ed) from depression; I’m saying I wasn’t taught the simple but very important skills needed to prevent it.
I often wondered, especially in the past year, if depression taught me anything, if it had brought me any life enhancing skills. I was already at odds with the whole grateful movement so trying to find even the slightest good in what I had gone through was hard. It was in the process of trying to though that I found in the end that what it had taught me wasn’t unimportant:
Empathy is the power to experience what others feel and while I think that there’s a huge difference in how we choose to express our knowing it's a kind of super power. We often express sympathy (“oh, you poor thing”) when encountering someone else’s suffering while feeling empathy affords us the opportunity to be able to crawl right in there with them without being swept away by what they're going through. The power of empathy is the ability to create a safe space in which the suffering person can work through things, and in which we show up bringing a toolkit to help them do just that while supporting them.
Depression isn’t weakness; it’s a huge signpost that pops up in your path telling you that you need to change. It calls for re-birth, and re-calibration of your mindset, thoughts and your lifestyle. When we’re stuck depression is the spark the calls for creation, movement and change, and this at a time when you’re more than likely is already in the powerful claws of apathy. It’s a last ditch attempt made by your soul to call you into action, to build a life raft and to courageously save yourself (of which seeking help is the most important effort).
Vulnerability isn’t a negative reflection of our own trauma, grief, shame, guilt or deep sadness. Vulnerability is the seed for life changing authenticity, an opportunity to become real with yourself and to become courageous in the face of your own fear. It’s when you overcome that fear of allowing yourself to be vulnerable that you find an incredible amount of strength and you grow resilient.
Depression thrives on past regrets and worries about the future, and it fixates on them. The most obvious and effective way to stop that is to become present. Depression lives in your head and its power ends there. Depression has no dominion outside your head even though it likes to make you think it does with its physical pain manifestations. Grounding yourself in your body can bring immediate relief (and I suspect that’s why exercise is such a powerful healing tool when it comes to depression and anxiety). Practices like mindfulness meditation can bring about the awareness that we aren’t our thoughts or feelings, that beyond them lies something far wiser and calmer, and that at any given moment you can tap into it if you look the past regrets and worries that generally cloud your mind.
I find it hard to say that I have "cured" my depression because more and more it really feels like depression was just a symptom of much deeper wounds that needed to be healed. I know that sounds so quasi psychological or even new age but that's where it's at for me.
To have a chance to keep it at bay and to leave it behind I had to sit and listen to myself, and what I found was a pretty sad and misunderstood person. I had looked for the remedy and salve in all the wrong places, and the solution was in the end painfully obvious: I had to start listening to myself, and I had to start paying attention to myself. I had to dig deep and I had to invite my demons to the table and I had to face them and listen to them. It was only when I did that, when I began to accept them and the messages they had for me, and actively tried to even love them, that I started having some progress with digging myself out of the quagmire i was in. It was only then I realized that the only thing that was going to get me out of it was that superbly annoying notion that I had to begin loving myself, ALL of me.
Am I grateful for having suffered depression? Hell no! I still doubt I will ever get to that point but I have learned that I can work my mind, I can change it and that there's probably no limit to what you can actually achieve in that area. And, I have learned that if there's one thing that protects you pretty much against anything it's loving yourself and ALL of you. It's hard, I know, but it's a fun work in progress!
I'm just saying.