Escaping from depression

The word “depressed” is bandied about in common parlance as meaning anything from how a woman feels when her hairdresser has done a terrible job cutting her hair to how a person feels when he or she is hopeless and feels that life is too difficult to live.

Depression is not a simple thing. People who have never suffered from depression cannot really understand it. Many years ago when I was an intern at a family therapy institute, I was called upon to help a depressed woman. She and I met two or three times a week. It wasn’t until then that I began to understand how unremitting and pervasive depression can be. It was then that I really learned how to stay with a depressed person and enter her/his world. It was only then that I learned to be effective.

People who are depressed fall into two main categories: those who are depressed as a reaction to something that happened to them or something in the environment (e.g., the death of a loved friend or relative, the loss of a job, the harassment of a hostile neighbor) and those who are depressed for no external reason.

The first group of people have what is termed a “reactive depression.” This type of depression is normal and many times it leaves with the passage of time and/or change of circumstance (he/she finds a good job, his/her neighbor moves away). Even when it doesn’t leave of its own accord, in general, therapists can be very effective in helping the person to recover from the depression and resume their normal life.

The second type of depression is much more difficult to treat for a number of reasons. First, there are people who simply have chemical imbalances that cause or exacerbate depression. Second, these people are told by their well-meaning friends and relatives: “Look how much you have to be grateful for!” “You have no reason to be sad—you’re young, intelligent—you have your whole life ahead of you!” Of course then the person not only feels depressed, but also misunderstood, and often guilty for being depressed. Is he/she ungrateful? What does he/she want from the world!

If a person is observant, he/she may notice that he/she has constructed a life that supports the depression. Often the home is dark, the person has few friends. He/she doesn’t feel like going out and so stays at home aside from work or school. He/she may eat either not enough, resulting in feeling weak or too much, in order to fill him/herself up. The person moves slowly, smiles little, and becomes more and more isolated emotionally. Other people represent challenges and sometimes pain, and so the best thing to do is to have as little interaction as possible with them.

People who are depressed often think of the depression as being part of their being, their personality. This is unfortunate as it makes change much harder to achieve. Of course we are talking here about people whose ability to even consider change is weak or non-existent. After all, change involves both effort and risk, and when one is depressed, it seems as if it is simply not worth it.

I think there are some things that people who are depressed can do for themselves whether or not they are seeing a therapist and whether or not they are on medication.

1. Separate yourself from the depression. In other words, just like people get the flu and then the flu goes away, people become depressed and then they become un-depressed. Just as you are not a “flu-person”, you are not a “depressed person”—you are a person who is suffering from depression.
2. Even though it is hard to imagine it, understand that change is possible and that your life will change for the better in the future.
3. Think of one activity you would engage in if you were not depressed. What would you be doing? Painting? Taking long walks? Jogging? Inviting friends over to dinner? Find one, just one, and do it anyway. Pretend for that period of time that you are not depressed. This helps you to begin changing the lifestyle that supports your depression.
4. Be patient with yourself. People go through different phases and stages in their lives. Sometimes life hands you more than you can cope with temporarily. You will get over it. Be gentle and patient with yourself. There is an end to the depression and it may surprise you as to how it happens.

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