Bodies are mysterious things, aren’t they? Physical, but emotional and (many would argue) spiritual, too. So when we find ourselves depressed, what are we to make of it? Which of our parts is to blame?
My own experience with a years-long depression, conversations with depressed friends, readings, and now, through notes that many of you have sent, all have me convinced that there aren’t formulas. Bodies can malfunction and bring on depression. Bodies can function fantastically and bring on depression (hello, normal response to loss, trauma, and heartbreak!). And bodies can experience dysfunction on one level (physical, emotional, spiritual) that leads to dysfunction in others.
What can be said, I think, across the board, is that American culture doesn’t do very well with depression. We like to keep things light. So when people – women and men – struggle emotionally, we a) want them to stop as soon as possible and b) consider their struggle – whether physically or emotionally or spiritually rooted – reason for judgment.
In an effort to shift awareness on this topic that affects so many of us, and as a move to grow trust where fear and frustration and (self) condemnation flourish, I’ve asked four people who have suffered with and through depression to answer the following question:
Not everything every one of these people says will apply to you and your situation. But I hope you’ll find amidst their words a helpful nugget or more to hold onto – whether you’re depressed now, or are loving someone who is.
Alana Sheeren believes in love, beauty and the transformative power of grief. She has spent the last year writing about her healing journey after the stillbirth of her son at Life After Benjamin. She holds a Master’s degree in clinical and community psychology, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. She lives and writes by the ocean in Ventura, CA with her husband and daughter, two cats and a dog.
Quiet your mind and listen to your heart. Your thoughts might paralyze but your heart – that deep, wise, loving heart of yours – won’t steer you wrong. If it needs to break, let it break so it can heal. If it needs the scent of green grass and a summer breeze, step outside. If it needs to hold a child, or read a book, or hurl rocks into the ocean, honor its request. Turn your face in the direction of healing as though it were the sun. The power of your intention will start the process, though it might be years before it’s done.
Get help. Find a therapist, a yoga class, a meditation practice, a tree in the park where you see beauty and feel like there’s a chance you’ll survive. Stop listening to your mind and lean gently into your heart. Take responsibility for your life without beating yourself up. It’s okay to be where you are. It’s okay for you to want that to change.
Remember that no matter how you feel, you are not alone. Others have been there. Others are there now. There are gifts in the darkness, though they need light to be seen. By virtue of being born, you are a miracle. By virtue of being born, you deserve love and the experience of joy. Stop for a moment and take that in. You might not believe it. I know it to be true.
And if you love someone who is depressed, remember they are not broken and it is not your job to fix. Take care of yourself. Live your best life. Trust their journey and your own. Love yourself well too.
Dave Ursillo is a 25-year-old writer, blogger and life-explorer at DaveUrsillo.com. He teaches people how to ‘Lead Without Followers’ in any walk of life by nurturing a quiet and profound sense of personal leadership.
The best advice I can give to someone dealing with depression (either yourself or someone you love and care about) is the advice that I would have loved to hear while I was dealing with depression, myself.
Depression is not random, like a virus you might catch from someone else. Depression is caused by either outsides circumstances (in our lives) or internal circumstances (ie, becoming caught up in our heads, through the quietly entrapping epidemic of “egoic thinking” – see Eckart Tolle’s Power of Now).
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that this depression is not random and does not exist because it simply wants to make me a horrible victim to the incredible burden of sadness, hopelessness and woe. Indeed, I would wish for someone to tell me what I myself have learned: that depression arises to compel us to change.
Esme Weijun Wang loves sentences. She makes her living, and puts together a life, that revolves around stringing them together. At present she lives in San Francisco, where she works on her award-winning novel-in-progress in a living room painted with a color called Grandma’s Sweater. You can find her at her website, writing about mental illness/health, compassion/care, and the art of fiction at EsmeWang.com.
If you have the resources — and for the purposes of this short response I’m thinking of financial resources, but a well-structured support system of friends and family is just as key — do not settle for inadequate medical care. Do not refuse it, if you can find it. And when you find that bedrock of care, utilize it to the fullest of your abilities.
I’ve suffered through countless mediocre therapists because I was too passive to express discontent, and too pessimistic to think that I could find a truly good one. I’ve kept psychiatrists that diagnosed me with personality disorders when I was too young to drive and too naive to know the impact such labels would have on my emotional development. I’ve resisted hospitalization because I didn’t want to miss school, and nearly died as a result.
Find help worth trusting. Then trust that help when you have it.
If you are the one who loves someone who suffers with a mood disorder, try to be patient. This is not easy. But in times of frustration, ask yourself: is this the illness, or is this the person whom I know that I love? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, and the line between the two is often blurred beyond recognition. Help him or her by seeing the aspects that are symptoms. See the potential for transience. Have hope.
Liv Lane is an artist, writer, radio host, and speaker dedicated to illuminating the magic in each day. Find Liv at her Choosing Beauty blog and on Twitter (@choosingbeauty).
Years ago, one of my closest friends got swallowed up by depression and I didn’t know it. Her home was a disaster, she became practically nocturnal, she no longer cared about our common interests and nothing seemed to make her feel better. I knew nothing about depression, so I grew frustrated and took it personally. I thought she was being dramatic and disrespectful.
Eventually, our friendship crumbled. In hindsight, I wish I’d stopped delivering candy and, instead, driven her to a therapist or found other resources to help her get better. That wasn’t something she was capable of doing at the time; depression sucks the life out of you and leaves you with no energy to help yourself.
I didn’t fully realize this until I went through it myself. With postpartum depression and PTSD after the birth of my first son in 2003, every task – from getting out of bed to changing my son’s diaper – felt like riding a bike through sand; it required so much energy and effort, yet felt completely pointless. I put on a happy face for others, but felt like a walking zombie. It took two years – and lots of encouragement from my family – to gather enough courage and energy to seek help. Thank God I did.
For those in the throes of depression, making a simple phone call can feel like climbing a mountain. If you notice drastic changes in a loved one, hold on tight and help them find the help they need.