Reflecting on Depression

Depression, true end-of-your-rope depression, is an awful illness to get through.  It is an illness, as much as cancer, in that something about the physiology of the body has gone horribly out-of-whack.  When you are sick elsewhere in the body, at least you are still in charge of your thoughts, you can devise a plan to cope.  With depression, thanks to brain chemistry, the illness IS in your thoughts.  Your thoughts are really the problem.  They aren’t accurate, they aren’t based in reality, they are all turned against you, they can only see what is wrong and bad …. But you can’t tell.  To you, they are as normal, true, and “looking out for you” as they ever were.

So we pursue them.  We pursue the thought that is plaguing us … to try to ‘fix’ the problem.  That IS what the human mind is so good at doing afterall!  We have amazing minds that can identify things we don’t like about our lives, and then choose a different path.  This works well when our minds are seeing things clearly.  However, with depression they no longer are.  The thinking literally IS what is “sick”, as much as your lungs are what is “sick” if you have lung cancer.  Engaging in these ‘poisoned’ thoughts, believing them, is precisely what keeps us on a perpetual hamster wheel of recycled, awful thoughts.  Thoughts that are filtered by the illness itself (the imbalance of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine…).  Only negative thoughts about yourself exist. Only negative projections into the future exist.  “What could go wrong” in the future or in any situation is all there is, as if every coin in the world can only flip tales – you lose.

There has only been one movie I’ve ever seen that, to me, truly metaphorically “captured” what depression “felt” like – “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams.  He goes to save his wife, and she was in a dark, dank world where only isolation existed. She couldn’t see or feel any other type of world, where anything existed other than misery.  Yeah, it’s kinda like that.  It felt like THAT world existed in BETWEEN me and the world I awoke to every morning and had to live in.

I think back to college, when I was depressed, and I know there was nothing someone could have said or explained to me that would have gotten me out on its own.  The judicious application of drugs has its time and place, and this was one of those times.  I had to wait it out, had to wait for the drugs to rebalance all those neurochemicals so my brain hardware could function normally again.  As imperative as drugs were though, they too, were not an end-all-be-all, because there is something else our human minds are also really good at – memorizing patterns.  When you’ve been depressed a while, you rather absorb the mindset that comes with it, you absorb the filter through which you’ve been interpreting the world.  Thus, even after the chemical imbalance has been nudged in the right direction, you now have “learned” and adopted a mindset of misery.  Fun, right?

If there was one thing I wish that girl from college could have realized though, when she was suffering in that dark, dank world – was that my THOUGHTS WERE NOT ACCURATE.  To not trust my thoughts. To not believe them as a truth.  To not engage with them, not believe them when they said everything was wrong with me and my life.  If I could have realized, somehow, that all these thoughts which I pursued to exhaustion and obsessed over in the quest to “fix” my suffering, were, in an ultimate paradox, the cause of my suffering.  “If I could only resolve X outside of me (or about me), then I would feel okay, I wouldn’t need to worry about it so much”.  This is the kind of logic that, normally, helps us to thrive and explore life.  But in depression, we don’t see X clearly anymore – X can be anything, but our skewed thought patterns project these worries into massive burdens that we feel we can’t take our eyes off of or else they will destroy us.  This perpetual obsession is really what causes the endless mental suffering, when the reality of the “X” (whatever it is outside of us that we are concerned with) is something we could have handled under normal circumstances.

Hopefully, you are lucky enough to have someone else who loves you looking out for you through this difficult time.  I did.  Without my now-husband I don’t think I would have made it.  Looking back, I realize I could have DEFERRED to him more; trust HIM to know when I was actually doing something wrong, trust HIM to know what needed to be worried about and what was okay, trust HIM to know that it is possible I could get better.  If I could have ACCEPTED that my thoughts were not accurate, that I wasn’t interpreting the situation clearly – in essence, that I was wrong, and he was right.  It is practically impossible to do, of course.  We’ve spent a lifetime trusting ourselves and standing by our own opinions and beliefs.  But when depressed, all that past data and accomplishment goes out the window.  The chemical imbalances literally make it impossible to think rationally, we literally interpret and experience a different world – unfortunately, a world where everything is wrong and bad, including everything about ourselves.

So if you are struggling from depression, ask yourself, what IF you are simply wrong?  Can you start to entertain the possibility that you are not seeing YOU clearly?  Not judging yourself clearly?  Not seeing your life clearly?  Not projecting your future clearly?  Listen to your loved ones.  Trust them.  Maybe you are just plain wrong, and that is OKAY, because you have an illness that prevents you from seeing the situation clearly.  Seeing something wrong doesn’t make you bad (that is the same voice you are trying to stop listening to).  There is nothing wrong with being wrong for a while!  The negative thoughts, worries, and interpretations ARE the illness.  The negative thoughts, worries, and interpretations ARE the symptoms of your illness, just as someone with a lung problem may have the symptom of coughing.  Depressions manifests its symptom into the very apparatus that we use to run our lives – our thoughts.

My obsession with how worthless of a person I felt like I was WAS the cause of my suffering.  I had loved ones that told me otherwise, but I didn’t believe them.  I had to FIX why I was worthless, and I BELIEVED that if I thought about it long enough, I could fix it. But the way out wasn’t to fix it – because there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t worthless, I just had thoughts that told me I was.

Drop the thought. Ignore that voice. Over and over and over again.  And then over again, again, because that’s what it will take.

Be rude! – Interrupt it! Talk over it! Don’t let it finish! Don’t engage. Don’t pursue it, don’t believe it when it makes you believe that it is something you have to worry about (let someone else, that loved one that is looking out for you, take point on it, let them handle it, defer to them).  Block it out. A Thousand times, block it out. Redirect.  Have an arsenal of positive affirmations at the ready, and repeat them in your head until you can drown out the voice that is saying whatever cyclic, redundant, worry-based thought that it has already said a hundred times.

It is hard. So hard.  That is true.  It is hard to dismiss your own thoughts.  But you are not dismissing *you*, you are dismissing the SYMPTOM OF YOUR ILLNESS. Those thoughts are not YOU, not like they used to be.  You know it of course, deep down, because you know you don’t feel like ‘you’ anymore.  And you’re not, because the illness has CHANGED your thoughts, hijacked them.  And because we are born to trust our thoughts, we get hijacked along with it, because we believe they are us.

Depression reprograms our thoughts.  We try to fix it using more thoughts, but the very mental habits we use to ‘resolve’ our problems is polluted with the same negative filter that created the problem in the first place.  Thus, you are caught in a perpetual maze with no way out.  You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.  The only way out of THIS maze is to climb straight up until you are standing up on top of it. The maze is our thoughts, engaging in them and believing them is walking the maze trying to solve it. 

I wish I could have realized in college to not trust my thoughts. That my thoughts were simply crazy (for that period), and not accurate at all.  Trouble is, I BELIEVED they were accurate, and because of that, I truly suffered.  If I could have just ignored them for a while, maybe I could have gotten better sooner.  Every time I had a negative thought about myself, if I could have countered with “That thought is simply a symptom of my illness, it is not accurate, I defer to the more likely truth of my loved ones that claim I am lovable and worthwhile”.

I recovered from depression.  And YOU WILL TOO.   When that voice tells you otherwise, REALIZE it is only a symptom of your illness that is talking.

The world may not be as you currently see it.

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