I have been doing a bit of research about depression. From my own experience, depression can be debilitating and a great cause of shame and self-deprecation.
There are many levels of depression, from a minor bout of a day or two; to a severe bout of chronic depression lasting several months. In my teens and early twenties, I endured several major bouts of depression – usually over the loss of a “true love” but sometimes just due to anxiety and self-loathing (or was the self-loathing brought on by the depression? The old chicken or the egg enigma). However, those were not my only encounters with depression, I’ve struggled my whole life. It is only recently that I have started to really delve into the actual conundrum that is depression – the gray cloud that can set you on your haunches for days or weeks at a time.
Depression – a state of feeling sad. : a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way. (Webster)
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults.”
A “major depressive episode” is defined as: “A period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
What does any of that mean? Only that a lot of us experience depression. It may help you to know that depression is a means of dealing with our everyday fears, anxieties, and loss: our daily stress. Depression can be useful to us – if we learn how to use it to its’ full potential.
“Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.
This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable.
Analysis requires a lot of uninterrupted thought, and depression coordinates many changes in the body to help people analyze their problems without getting distracted.
Many other symptoms of depression make sense in light of the idea that analysis must be uninterrupted. The desire for social isolation, for instance, helps the depressed person avoid situations that would require thinking about other things. Similarly, the inability to derive pleasure from sex or other activities prevents the depressed person from engaging in activities that could distract him or her from the problem. Even the loss of appetite often seen in depression could be viewed as promoting analysis because chewing and other oral activity interferes with the brain’s ability to process information.
But is there any evidence that depression is useful in analyzing complex problems? For one thing, if depressive rumination were harmful, as most clinicians and researchers assume, then bouts of depression should be slower to resolve when people are given interventions that encourage rumination, such as having them write about their strongest thoughts and feelings. However, the opposite appears to be true. Several studies have found that expressive writing promotes quicker resolution of depression, and they suggest that this is because depressed people gain insight into their problems.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/depressions-evolutionary/
How do we learn to use depression in the way it was meant to function? Here are some thoughts:
Stop running from it. I tend to fear that gray feeling. I am afraid that if I sit still too long, it will bowl me over and leave me in a pit of despair for weeks on end. Instead of running, be still. Let your mind ruminate. If you are like me, it will start out in a frenzy – going to and fro between the different hitches but eventually, if you sit long enough and still enough, it will start to put things into order. (Writing, as part of the process, does help…)
Sorting, sorting, sorting. How much of the fear is real? What part of the anxiety is within my control? What steps can I take to reduce the anguish?
Feel. Just let yourself feel. Just for these few moments. (That’s what you’re really running from – having to feel). We are afraid to be afraid. What if we cry? What if we are angry? What if we lose someone or some thing? What if we are NOT worthy? What if we disappear?
As the tears fall, as the heart aches, as the fears reach their zenith; the air clears, the lungs expand, the water circles the drain and dissipates.