Having suffered from depression, I’ve come to recognise the many unexpected gifts of this paralysing label.
Experiencing depression, hopelessness or being stuck gives us a choice, unconscious though it is for most. We can subscribe to the label and the idea that we don’t play a part in this very real and debilitating diagnosis; in other words that we are at the effect of and therefore unable to do anything about ‘it’.
Or, we can acknowledge that we play a part in the process of being depressed or stuck and can therefore choose to do the work necessary to heal the causes of depression (which are undoubtedly within us) so that we can release the feeling of being ‘at effect’ of this terrible affliction.
Those are our choices. Denial and debilitation, or taking some sort of action. Of course this raises the questions of what do we do and how to we do it? Before answering these questions (which by the way are multifaceted and different for each person and partly why it’s often not an easy problem to solve) let’s back up a bit and look at some of the gifts.
1) Learning and growth
One of the gifts that comes with depression is not just the learning, healing and the personal growth that we experience as we process and transform our depression, but how we can then share this wisdom and experience with others who are stuck in life or depressed. We can help others with our very real gift, of being a little further along the journey of dealing with this ‘dis-ease’.
Viktor Frankl wrote in his brilliant book Man’s Search for Meaning as he recounted his experience as a Doctor in Auschwitz, that when we find meaning in our suffering and are able to channel that into helping those less fortunate than us, we can find a sense of freedom and deep meaning to our existence.
“Suffering has a purpose.” Gene Early
Many people go through their lives never really finding a sense of meaning, purpose or contribution beyond perhaps having a family, a job, gaining material possessions, going on holiday or getting a pension. There is nothing wrong with these things (they are gifts in and of themselves) but they are what you might call ‘surface level’ and can miss out on deeper levels of fulfilment, experience and wisdom. Life itself!
This process of healing gives us a deep sense of contribution; of purpose and meaning to our lives where we can help others. We simply wouldn’t be endowed with this gift, were it not for the fact we have ‘been through the shit’.
Another significant gift is our hyper-sensitivity. I will use an analogy here to help explain:
I’m hyper-sensitive to what I put in my body these days. Whether it’s alcohol, steak or lots of ‘bad foods’ like bread, I feel it! On the one hand it’s a curse. I love wine, steak and bread! Too much however and I really feel the effects – lethargy, being bloated, tired or hungover.
It can be extremely annoying, especially waking up with a thick head. I can’t have more than a few beers without feeling the effects and hungover the next day. I can’t consume much steak, bread or dairy without really feeling its impact. What a shame!
The other side of this coin however, is that because I’m so hyper-sensitive (in other words I’m so open to the feedback that my body is giving me) that I know what to do in order to feel vibrant and healthy. So I have a choice, again, to be at effect of this hyper-sensitivity or to embrace it as a gift – and therefore move increasingly towards (and be at cause of) a life of full of health, nutrition and vitality. I have to say, I don’t always choose this!
To return to depression – our susceptibility or hypersensitivity to being depressed is a gift. We rarely see it this way, but it’s a signal, a trigger or a message as we notice ourselves going into this stuck state.
In the same way the effects of putting cheese, or steak or bread into my system is an indicator that I need to do something different, the stuck state or depression is a signal to ‘do the work’. It’s the signal to change our thinking; to make a change. As we do ‘the work’ of changing (which for people like me is an on-going process by the way) we become increasingly aware of the different kinds of choices we can make in our lives.
What does it mean? It means that we become aware that at the deepest level, that we are always choosing. And as we continue to choose, we create a life of freedom.
This is so far removed from depression it’s almost incomprehensible. But it’s true. Feedback and sensitivity are wonderful gifts and ours to resist, or enjoy, grow from and share.
3) The Fundamental Shift
In order to heal from depression, ultimately it requires a fundamental shift in the underlying presupposition or belief that “I’m at effect… I can’t… I’m alone… I’m not enough etc etc”.
It is these kinds of presuppositions or beliefs, often set up in childhood (and certainly in my case) that still run deeply and unconsciously. And the fundamental shift is that “I can… I’m never alone.. I can be present with myself.. I do have a choice in this moment.”
That’s a profound shift. A life changing one. What a gift not just for us, but to those others who we can also help to wake up to the truth that we all have a choice; that we are not limited to or destined to live from our limited and distorted belief that we don’t.
What a gift that depression – of all the curses we could suffer – could bring us to such a profound presence, awareness and joy of life and ourselves.
What do we do and how to we do it?
- Stay connected with your support network. You’d be surprised how many people want to help, when we ask for it. In the past, the last thing I wanted to do was to share my pain and vulnerability with friends and family. Over the years however, I’ve found it to be utterly transformational. For myself, and others. We are not alone in being stuck or depressed. It turns out to be a very common human experience.
- Get professional help. There are a plethora of methods such as CBT and NLP which can address the underlying causes of depression. For me, the vehicle was NLP. Of course we all have different preferences when it comes to cars and the same is true with our healing journey. Find your vehicle and get driving!
- Stop being a passenger. As I’ve said, we often we find ourselves at effect, blaming or resenting others. This is an indication that the external world is affecting our internal world. And yet we have a choice. Stop drinking the poison and expecting the others to die. When we resent or blame, we’re really getting angry for the mirror that others hold up to those parts of ourselves that we deny or won’t accept. Do the work!
- Do some exercise. It’s been proven to release chemicals called endorphins and thereby reduce stress, ward off anxiety, feelings of depression and to boost self-esteem. In fact, Doctors are now prescribing exercise for depression!
- Understand that medication is rarely the answer, it’s normally a plaster for the symptom.
- Depression is a process, not a thing. As a result, when we address the process for slipping into depression and change our behaviour (to for example exercising, reaching out for help, expressing truth etc) and things improve, the pattern will almost invariably come back around. Be prepared for that gift. It’s a sign for you to do some more work and go to the next level of awareness and freedom in your life.
- It’s our gift. When we find a way to deal with our own pain and suffering, it gives us a unique perspective and experience to share with others. My greatest pain and suffering now enables me to support others through theirs. It has given my life direction and purpose and so can yours, for you.
If this blog has touched you, you want to find out more about my personal journey or feel that you could do with some support, then do get in touch.