I imagine that every person, in the history of people, has experienced at least a moment of internal darkness; where they feel themselves depressing, or lost in the processing of their life. For some, this is short-lived, and they naturally return to a sense of homeostasis. However, for others, this darkness feels like a literal place within them, that is both familiar and terrifying.
I recently learned a concept which I found incredibly fascinating. The goal of the concept is to alter the perspective from which we perceive our helplessness. Instead of saying, “I have depression,” which would serve as an identifier of who we are; it would instead be expressed as “I am depressing myself.” One is an identifier, the other is a chosen act. Now, perhaps you are saying to yourself – I thought depression was a purely genetic disease? Well, this concept questions that, and shows mounting evidence that our thoughts create our depressing symptoms, and for those who are genetically prone, continued depressing leads to disease.
Why would anyone choose to depress themselves, you might be asking? Well, depression is considered a turning away from life. When we are faced with environmental pain that we are unable to, or unwilling to process, one choice is to turn away from it. Unfortunately, turning away from it does not resolve it, and thus we are asked to continually keep turning away. In doing so, we are lost to ruminate on the situations we find ourselves in, and the helplessness and hopelessness that comes with them. The longer these situations persist, the farther we feel we would need to go to heal them, and thus we keep turning away from them. However, what we eventually discover is that we are turning away from life itself.
There is no way, from a depressed state, to think yourself out of depression. If we continue to overlay our thoughts with the depression we feel, our ruminating will only be a reflection of that pain, and likely push us deeper into a sense of despair. We will inevitably feel additional pains of guilt and shame, to add to our sea of depressed qualities.
In talking with an individual with severe depression who has suicidal thoughts, this individual initially felt their suicidal thoughts seemed to occur randomly. However, after further investigation, we discovered that those suicidal thoughts are most likely triggered by an external stimuli, and the suicidal thoughts may be a delayed response that happens when we find ourselves alone, or calmed, or no longer in the presence of our immediate stressors. We also recognized that these suicidal thoughts are patterned thinking. For example, let’s say a person is having issues at their job, and they are feeling such enormous stress and aggravation that to escape the painfulness of it they fantasize about packing up and moving to a new state in the middle of the night. Or, a person in an unfulfilling relationship, who, when they are feeling lonely or have had a disagreement with their partner, they fantasize about life with a more ‘perfect’ partner. For the suicidal individual, when their emotions or environment get too overwhelming, their fantasy is about escaping through death. Essentially, for all of these examples, the idea of escaping is an ingrained, habitual thought pattern. This is why ruminating on our concerns from this mindset will likely never prove effective.
So, where do we begin? I would like to say we start by turning ourselves toward our pain because that is where we have to go to truly heal. We will need to lean into our pain, to learn about it, and honor it so that we can ease it. I also know that for many, that may feel like an impossible first step. Perhaps then, the first step could be, the next time you feel yourself wanting to turn away from life, or you feel the sensations of the depression washing over you, would be to ask yourself, “Why am I depressing myself at this moment?” “Why am I turning away?” “Why am I choosing to turn this pain in on myself?”
I want to also acknowledge that medication is crucial for many individuals with depression and I am in no way advocating that you go off your medication while doing these investigations. Those medications are likely giving you the peace you need to be able to recognize your sensations, to then know when to ask these questions.
Depression is “a pandemic that represents the fourth greatest burden to society among all diseases – and it is projected to move up to become second by the year 2020” (Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2016, p. 148). Knowing that there are tools to help you is essential to taking steps to reconnect with your life.