It was the summer between my 4th and 5th grade year that I first felt depressed. I don't know why I felt depressed that day, but I vividly remember the feeling. I was in the shower, and this wave of hopelessness and despair just kind of washed over me. It didn't make me want to cry; I just remember that I had to reach out to steady myself on the wet tiles. I felt a heaviness that made me want to shrink inward.
I've had episodes like this ever since, to varying degrees and lasting anywhere from a day to 5-6 months. My depression has never been what I would call extreme. On a scale of severity from 1-10, I've never experienced anything beyond an 8 out of 10. (10 being so much pain that the only relief is suicide; 9 being a depression so crippling you cannot get out of bed or move.)
There are many reasons why I get depressed, including (but not limited to):
- Brain Chemistry
- Sustained Shame About My Sexuality
- Aging and Body Shame
- Spiritual Confusion and Panic
- Hyper-Sensitivity and Social Anxiety
- The (Age-Old) Problem of Evil in the Universe
- *NEW!* Privilege Distress
NOTE: I plan to talk about my own recent experiences with privilege distress, and why it is a natural feeling to have when emerging from one's cocoon, in an upcoming post. Hold me to it!
My own experience with depression involves transforming any negative emotion into an emotion with which I am more familiar. For example, if I experience anger with someone or at a situation, I don't know what to do with that anger. I immediately become afraid of the emotion. Instead of focusing that anger outward, I direct it inward:
You're a stupid, lazy asshole anyway, Kevin, so why be angry? You deserve to feel badly. Plus you can't do anything about it anyway, so why bother?
As horrible as that may sound, I feel like I can deal with this emotion (self-loathing) because it is familiar. With this familiar emotion hovering in the background, I can cope by zoning out in front of the T.V. or the computer, by getting lost in a murder mystery novel, or by eating junk food.
The good news is that this happens less often. I take medication for depression, and have worked with many therapists. I have many tools in my psychological toolbelt to understand this feeling when it does happen.
But it still happens. I felt it this weekend, and I'm feeling it (somewhat) right now. And it still SUUUUUUCKS. And I still get confused. And I still feel hopeless at times. And I still try to transform any negative emotions into a deadening depressive feeling of hopelessness.
Do you struggle with depression? Do any of these feelings and experiences ring true for you? If someone told me they were depressed and didn't know what to do about it, here is what I would tell them.
PLEASE NOTE: I offer this advice ONLY to those who stuggle with mild to moderate depression. If you struggle with severe depression, have been the victim of abuse, or you have thoughts of suicide, my advice would be to consult a medical professional immediately.
Tell a medical professional.
If you have a primary care physician, tell that person. If anything, it just helps to tell someone. Whether or not you want to take medication, I still suggest you talk to a doctor to understand your options. There are many naturopathic and theraputic options.
If you can, find a therapist that you trust AND that you connect with on a personal level.
I understand that not everyone can afford to consult with a therapist. However, if you have medical insurance, check to see what's covered. Look online for therapists in your area and ask about insurance and/or payment plans. If you feel comfortable, talk to a trusted friend and ask them to help you find someone.
Have compassion for yourself.
I can't stress this point enough. Much of my own depression stems from self-loathing that came from years of shame. Allow yourself to feel badly, but don't beat yourself up about feeling badly. If it helps, I believe God shows compassion to us.
Allow yourself to go down "into the weeds."
Are you angry, sad, lonely, or fearful? Whatever the emotions are, stop for a minute and contemplate. Allow yourself to pause. You don't have to understand why you are feeling how you are, or what you should do to get better. It's enough to try to name the emotion that you are actually feeling. In my experience, this exercise is much harder than it seems!
Finally, there is a quote from Carl Jung (from his work Mysterium Coniunctionis) that I have hanging up on my cubicle wall at work. This quote speaks to me profoundly, because my depression often leaves me feeling dead inside. I hope you find something here that is helpful for you. I offer it to you, with no additional commentary:
"If you will contemplate your lack of fantasy, of inspiration, of inner aliveness, which you feel as sheer stagnation and a barren wilderness, and impregnate it with the interest born of alarm at your inner death, then something can take shape in you, for your inner emptiness conceals just as great a fullness if only you will allow it to penetrate into you. If you prove receptive to this 'call of the wild,' the longing for fulfillment will quicken the sterile wilderness of your soul as rain quickens the dry earth."Tweet