Seeing the world through grey
It is hard to see anything as good when you are depressed. The grey mist inside reduces everything to its lowest, saddest component. The feeling of futility breathes into everything until our senses are riddled. At worst, even the body feels torpid and diseased. Death can seem the only hope. I know this.
We are not encouraged by government or media to be OK with feeling low or to look to our own inner compass. The media machine of Western society promotes happiness and feeling good as constant goals. The message is: 'If you are not feeling good, why not?' In the same breath it teaches that feeling sad, bad or mad are signs of disease: illness. It tells us to avoid these feelings at all costs and by all available means! Through taking drugs, using alcohol, changing our appearance and buying more and more stuff. If we listen, we turn our head away from the truth of our own personal situation, from our unique and specific malaise, in favour of a mass-produced placebo. We are unlikely to feel better long-term. Although the opiate may provide momentary relief we will soon be looking for our next ‘fix’. While there is no change within the self the feeling of dis-ease reigns on.
In his book ‘Unstuck’, James S Gordon calls depression ‘the beginning of an unfolding process of self-awareness, not the grim end of a disease process… signs and symptoms can be used as opportunities rather than viewed as catastrophes.’
Low mood tends to occur at life’s turning points. Looking back at a period of intense depression in my own life I see with the benefit of hindsight that it signalled change: the beginning of a new and unfamiliar path. It happened at an in-between stage. Two years earlier I had left home – the home of my childhood – and a love relationship had ended a year later, which meant further loss and another relocation. I had been sacked from a job I enjoyed, which meant loss of income, loss of purpose and of a sense of belonging within the company, which was a small and intimate one. Who was I? The sensation was one of free-falling through space to no known goal. I felt frightened and alone. I tried anti-depressants and counselling.
My gloom lifted gradually. Having allowed myself some time to heal, I forced myself to seek work and over the next few months I found a job, began to meet socially with some of my colleagues and eventually a new relationship began. I had found a stronghold for a while and a new sense of identity and purpose was restored.
People need a sense of identity in order to flourish inside. In his needs hierarchy, Abraham Maslow describes the ideal conditions to experience well-being. After the basic necessities of air, food, water and rest, human beings need to feel loved and a sense of belonging to a group. Positive self-esteem grows from here. For some, family provides the love but not everyone is fortunate and some have to seek other soil in which to bloom.
If right now you are struggling with low mood see where you are as a transition point rather than an ending. Like arriving at a crossroads, see the options you can take in life like the directions shown on a signpost. In a moment of quiet take a look at the signs and the arrows, where they are pointing. Notice your thoughts about each and be aware of how your body is responding. Notice how you feel. Is there tension or coldness? Irritation? Warmth and excitement? Let yourself ponder, allowing yourself to float with your thoughts and feelings until you feel drawn towards a particular direction.
Although I believe that the road out of depression often lies within ourselves, I also see the value of both anti-depressant drugs (if advised) and counselling as supporting the change process. Anti-depressant medication can benefit by calming anxiety and enabling sounder sleep which is essential before undertaking a journey. Counselling can help with understanding you, who you are now and help you explore and throw away outmoded beliefs from the past, and with feelings of anxiety about change.
Look after yourself. Fresh air, water and rest are as vital to us as to plants. Eat good food, take moderate exercise and take time to rest.
‘Unstuck’ – James S. Gordon
‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ - Abraham Maslow
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About Caroline Brown
Caroline Brown is a person-centred counsellor based near Lincoln. She has a special interest in clients with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.