Fighting depression with a feather
Depression is a tricky one. Anxiety, which often accompanies depression, is also a tricky customer. They are a part of our mental health and as such – they have no face. Mental health is invisible so it is no surprise that others perhaps can’t see your struggle.
Are you struggling? I can see you. Stick around, maybe we can help each other out.
Let’s look first at depression as a condition. What causes it? Well it is very much a chicken and egg situation.
When the ‘happy chemical’ in our brain, serotonin, dips – we can become very low and/or depressed. The happy chemical isn’t being produced, or not enough of it is being produced to keep us feeling happy, or in the very least, ‘normal’.
We feel low. Very, very low. Everything becomes black and we then struggle to see anything positive, anything light, everything becomes negative.
It’s not your fault. I want to tell you this now. Stay with me.
When we experience a sudden trauma, shock, a major life change or we have experienced any of these at some point in our lives (this doesn’t have to be recent, trauma can be stored in the body for a long time) and haven’t ‘processed’ it then our clever body does the job for us – it closes down. It closes down the production (or reduces it) of serotonin (and some other brain chemistry that we don’t need to go into right now) and ‘protects’ us from the pain. We haven’t processed so our body does the next best thing. When I say ‘process’ I mean lots of things, whatever works, this can be therapy of course but it can also be a range of coping/healing tools that work for us – exercise done mindfully, martial arts (martial artists are often great at getting anger/pain/trauma out of their systems), cognitive behavioural techniques – you name it. When we don’t process – we become depressed.
So we feel nothing. Nothing at all.
This is depression. In a nutshell. If you are experiencing depression right now you will know exactly what I mean.
The chicken and egg should now be pretty clear – it can be that the happy chemical just stops being produced for no apparent reason and we become depressed. It can also be that trauma/events have caused the lull in serotonin and we become depressed. There are differing theories and research on this but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is – you’re depressed!
Anxiety often accompanies depression and presents as symptoms similar to the trauma itself – panic, fear, ‘fight or flight’ mode, sleeplessness – to name a few. All are the results of an over-stimulated nervous system. This can give a slight ‘high’ so when that high passes, the depression feels all the more intense. It’s like a black fog has descended over you and you feel powerless to shift it.
There is a saying that is controversial in the world of mental health. It goes like this:
‘Depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long’. Wilbur Mercer said this and he has received some criticism for it because it could sound like he is blaming the depressed person. He isn’t. What Wilber is saying is: ‘You have been strong for so long, putting a brave face on for the benefit of all those around you that your body just can’t do it anymore. So you’ve imploded’.
What do you do after you have just climbed a mountain? Metaphorically or for real.
You give yourself permission to rest.
Here is that feather I promised you – tickle your nose with it.
I am taking your depression seriously, believe it or not. I am also playing a little game with it in order to distract you for a moment.
You are allowed to distract yourself for a while. That distraction might come in the form of prescribed medication. It might come in the form of a cheeky therapist. It might also come from – you. You might decide that, just for today, you don’t want to think about depression. Just for this moment, you need to rest.
So take that rest. On a feather pillow if you’re not allergic (joke!).
Then tomorrow – we’ll see what happens. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break. Often we just want someone, anyone to say ‘hey you! You’re okay! You’re doing the best you can – and that’s enough’.
So give yourself that break. Often the space that we give ourselves, as a result of that break, can then provide us with the information we have been waiting for. It might be a ‘eureka moment’. It could be the sudden appearance of someone in our lives who can finally help us. It might be as simple as ‘Ah! I think I need to go and see my GP!’
The fog had blinded you for a while. It’s not your fault. Can you hear me when I whisper this gently into your ear?
It’s not your fault.
Now allow yourself that space.