Depression as a great opportunity
What is Depression? What does it mean to be depressed? For each person that calls themselves or are diagnosed as depressed, these questions are expressed in a personalised ways with specific characteristics and causes.
Sometimes a failure or disappointment hits us so hard that we do not have the energy to stand up or sometimes a loss of a relationship feels like a loss of our ground and our identity. Other times a desire to have a relationship and the difficulty to maintain one leads us to feeling despair. Difficult living conditions or perceived inability to succeed in what we want may cause us to feel helpless.
There are also some of us that feel depressed with no apparent reason, and this 'type' of depression can last for years. We feel like we have no energy and no motivation to move on. We wonder what is the meaning and the purpose of our life. We feel defeated. There is no hope and no desire. And then we feel guilty because we should have been grateful for all the wonderful things that we still have in our lives but somehow that does not work. Life feels overwhelming. People seem too distant, too preoccupied with their own lives and stories. Others do not understand us and life feels unbearable.
Depression is used in psychology as an umbrella term that encompasses many sub-categories. These categories are defined by the symptoms that people present. In terms of the reasons that people develop depression, different therapeutic approaches have identified a variety of elements depending on their focus. For example, cognitive therapy has emphasised maladaptive ways of thinking such as pessimistic and catastrophising thoughts as the roots of people's tendency to develop depression. However, analysing the diagnostic criteria for the different sub-categories of depression and exploring the potential reasons that some people develop depression is the topic for another paper, for now let's go back to seeing depression as an opportunity.
Ironically, depression has the capacity to illuminate the path to a better life. Therapeutic work can assist in transforming depression into a great opportunity to:
1. Create our own meaning
Depression can lead us to connect with nothingness. In that empty space of nothingness illusions cannot stand, while societal beliefs and expectations, dreams, desires, fears and hopes become insignificant. Although it sounds and it feels grim, that space of nothingness can illuminate a great truth: we can choose to create our life how we want it to be. We can choose to assign meaning to what we want, we can choose our values and beliefs. We do not need to live any more by the values and beliefs that we were given. This shift will come as a result of changing perspective and instead of being drawn in the despair of nothingness we learn to move into the space of agency and freedom.
2. Engage with others in a meaningful and authentic communication
Depression can bring us in touch with our vulnerability. Vulnerability is when our defences fall and openness can prevail. So if we allow that vulnerability to be communicated with others, we open the door for truthful and engaging communication. There is something very freeing and inspiring about a person that dares to express their 'weaknesses'. There is immense strength in that. Others feel they can trust our courage and truthfulness and they can become inspired to open up, too. In order to achieve this openness and authenticity, we need to infuse our vulnerability with courage.
3. Cultivate our empathy
When we are in touch with our sadness at such an intense level we get to understand how difficulty and pain feels in a very profound and deep way. This makes us more able to understand other people's difficulties and feelings. People close to us will feel that oasis of acceptance and understanding. Therapy can help us shift from dwelling in the pain, hopelessness and despair to the reaching out with openness and curiosity in order to connect with others. This benefits our relationships with others and our relationship with our self.
4. Create a fulfilling life
Depression often screams that we are unsatisfied with at least one major aspect of our lives. It can point to what keeps us stuck, what does not allow us freedom, what we do not like any more, what does not fulfil us, what drains us etc. In this case depression becomes an arrow that points to the things that are no longer of use in our lives. For example, if someone does not like their job and feels drained by it, depression may enable this person to take a stance, leave their old job behind and engage in getting a job that they enjoy and makes them feel fulfilled. Depression then becomes an arrow that points to the things that are no longer of use in our lives. In this way depression has the potential to become a catalyst moving us from what suppresses - depresses us to the life that we want to have.
5. Learn to be in the present
Realising that depression is often a result of spending too much time in the past can assist us in working through the issues that keep us stuck in the past and can motivate us to learn how to stay in the present. A therapeutic intervention that incorporates mindfulness or other therapeutic meditations can be especially useful for learning how to stay in the here and now. Feeling depressed can be an overwhelming experience to the point that we can take no more of that pain and then the only way to save ourselves is to come in the present moment. By doing that we are shedding away all the stories we have been telling ourselves that keep us emotionally blocked and stuck in depression.
It is therefore through the change of perspective, through practice and enhancing of our awareness that we can really transform depression into a great life opportunity.
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