Depression (from the Inside): Tools and Resources of Love
Life confronts many potential pitfalls. The following discussions address clinical depression as an example since it is prevalent in the current world, but the concepts and approaches can be adapted to other situations as well.
Unless one has “been there,” no one can truly appreciate the power of deep depression. A pit. Hopelessness. A void bereft of energy. Waves and undertows of dread. The giving up of the will to live. A cancer of the spirit. It is a lifeless, hurting place.
Misguided platitudes simply irritate or push down further, since the person may gather they are somehow deficient if they cannot just “pick themselves up and do something.” The depressed person feels isolated and alone. No one understands!
Depression drains friends and relatives, further compounding the problem. Their efforts seem ineffective. They may be conflicted between desire to help, a loss of how to do so, and exhaustion/frustration. As family relationships and friendships pallor under the strain, the depressed person may feel an added onus that they are hurting those closest to them in addition to increasing isolation.
“I want my life back!” But the road is daunting, scattered with ruins. Home, peace, hope, joy are far away. How can life ever be rebuilt? “I have hurt and alienated so many.” “I do not have the energy.” “I see no way out.” “Maybe it would be better for everyone if I were not around.”
What response? What options?
Medical treatment is a resource. Medicines may help regulate chemical imbalances, stabilize mood swings, provide a safety net. Counselling may teach behavior/cognitive approaches, ferret out roots and triggers, promote understanding. Medical care can include suicide watch in crisis situations.
And yet, medical intervention has its limits. We are immensely complicated organisms. Medicines seek to chemically change a brain that has evolved over millions of years, and that has encoded millions of events. Our brains have approximately 100 billion brain cells, each one of which can connect to tens of thousands of other cells through synapses. The average brain has somewhere between 100 trillion -1,000 trillion synapses!
And, we are seeking to bathe that brain in a precarious balance of uppers and downers, many of which themselves have side effects that require yet further drugs. We may be able to adjust mood on a broad-based scale, and perhaps buy some breathing room. However, it is like using a hammer for microsurgery. The drugs affect the entire brain, not just the pathways that are beating up the spirit.
Given the complexities involved, it may take considerable time to find a workable cocktail, and even that is likely to require periodic adjustments, or may have effects that the depressed patient cannot or is unwilling to accept. In the interim, the depressed person is still depressed and now subject to further instabilities as the brain reacts to a variety of chemical baths.
Counselling and/or psychiatric care may be less invasive, and may seek to teach through cognitive behavioral therapies and other techniques. But counselling can take enormous amounts of time to find effective approaches, if that is even going to happen. And therein lay additional complications. Counsellors do not have infinite time and have many patients. The depressed person and family may lack financial resources to support long-term therapeutic treatment. The medical resources may not even be available within the community.
And even then, there is a further and perhaps ultimate issue.
We must engage. In some manner, at some level. This is not a criticism or lack of understanding, but a hope, a plea, a reality. Medical intervention may help and provide interim palliative care. In some cases, it may suggest methods of re-engaging. But ultimately, we need to take the step. It cannot take the step for us. As impossible as it seems: choice, decision and will is needed to move through depression. We cannot huddle in a cave awaiting a miracle pill or cure.
“Only I can survive. No one can do it for me.”
And that is where the resources and guidance of love may be most needed and potentially most helpful. In seeking to re-emerge from the abyss, we need to review, rebuild and appreciate Self. We need to exercise self-kindness, self-compassion, to find those comforts and supports that best speak to us in the journey.
Because love within is intensely personal, it can better pinpoint needs of Self. It lives inside of us. Its application can be unique just as we and our circumstances are unique. It can be with us 24/7 as a guide, mentor, support, hope, encouragement. It is not limited by time, medical resources or money. It is there. As a resource. Period.
Whether already in or beginning to spiral into a depressive condition, consider the following.
Catch depressive spirals as early as possible. Climbing out of darkness is like climbing in quick sand. The earlier we catch it, the easier it may be to raise our spirit out of the muck. But the key, in any event, is to begin working, no matter how we feel or where we are. Do not look at the mountain. Do not look behind. Look at the step. One small step at a time. One day at a time. Each step empowers. Each step is a mode of self-care. Each step re-engages Self.
Backslides may happen. That is okay. Just hang on and keep moving. Use the tools and resources of grounding that work with current energy levels and immediate needs. If something is not working, try something else and perhaps come back later. Do not worry about the next step. It will happen later. Just focus on the now.
If possible, have a quick response team: a mantra (“The day is what I make it”), a quiet cup of coffee, an exercise routine, connections. Whatever works to help divert and resist the spiral.
Keep the love mantras speaking inside, particularly those which honor Self, and those which affirm the value of connection. Cleave to that which builds, affirms, comforts and nourishes. Reject that which erodes: guilt, self-blame, self-judgment, regrets, resentments, anger, fear, worry, self-doubt, isolation, low self-esteem. As a potential practice, respond to each negative thought with its opposite affirmation. Repetition can build belief. Or, ask each negative thought: “Are you helping me?” If not, it is time to shop elsewhere.
Embrace the ABC’S of love as a potential grounding, framework, and short-hand guide on the journey. Do not become overwhelmed by options. You do not need to do them all. Simply pick one or two and try them out on a given day. If something does not work at the moment, fine. Try a different option and come back later if desired. The options are not going anywhere.
Be Aware, Appreciate and Apply positive aspects of Self. They may seem alien at the moment but contact—even a forced contact—will help stir the pot. Connect with Self. Connect with Self. Connect with Self. Remember your grounding. Do not mourn its loss. It is still you. Just dig around in the store for goods that nourish and use a few, however tentatively.
Depression likes to deny strengths and values so it can feel even more depressed. Depression feeds itself. Do not let it. You may or may not be able to “cure” or permanently prevent episodes of depression. But, you can learn how to manage it. It does not need to manage you.
Build and Learn. Read. Listen to audiotapes. Search out counseling and constructive support groups. Engage with others. Nurture soul and mind. Try out new interests. Study the enemy (though do not become fixated upon it). An understood enemy is one that can be more easily contained.
Care for yourself. Care for yourself. Care for yourself. Exercise in some manner—even in the face of lack of energy. Exercise and activity help elevate spirit, maintain health, and combat depression. Remember healthy nutrition and rest. Enjoy quiet and peace, not as a matter of hiding, but as restorative resources. Get out of the dark room and walk on a quiet path, breathing in crisp, fresh air.
Depression is exhausting. The churning is incessant. Practices of mindfulness and meditation help tunnel the frayed spirit from despair into peace—provide much needed quiet and rest.
Consider coping skills as modes of self-care. Partially detach from the immediacy of an emotion and refocus. “What is the emotion telling me?” “Why is it there?” “Is it alerting me to the need for a change?”
Replace self-blame, guilt, regrets—if those are elements—with self-compassion, self-kindness and understanding. As you would comfort and encourage another, so comfort and encourage Self.
Develop meaningful mantras to greet the day or events: “This day is what I make it.” “I am health, energy, intelligence.” “This too will pass.” Whatever works. Whatever resonates.
Accept care, comfort and friendship of others. Honor them with a “thank you,” even if a silent one. They are trying even if they do not “understand.” Listen. They may inadvertently mention something that could be helpful. They may themselves have had battles. You are not alone. There can be comfort in that knowledge.
Depression loves caves and isolation: it can do its thing without distractions. Understand the enemy and resist. Reach out to others for care and support. Accept it when offered.
If depression is nevertheless pulling you inward from outside contact, turn it on its head. Use it as an opportunity to visit your inner friend. You can visualize that friend as an independent person, an inner you, an outside you. Whatever best fits at the moment.
If you are troubled, what would he or she or do? What advice, support, comfort does he or she have? If your best friend were troubled, what support, encouragement or care would you offer? You are never isolated or alone. Think,
My best friend:
Has strength and wisdom.
Guides me. Cares for me.
Is with me 24 hours a day.
My best friend—is me.
Share. If and as possible, dig deep for that kernel of energy to offer something to another. It can be as simple as a smile or encouragement or a “thank you.” It can be an offered service. Outbound sharing nurtures the inner sense of value and purpose. The outward focus provides a reprieve from the inner workings of darkness. The emotional feedback of connection confirms that you still have value. The world would not be “better off” without you. You are “better off” with the world.
If and as the current wave passes, consider helping others on the basis of your experiences. A common feeling and expression of those caught in depression is “You don’t understand!” They feel isolated and hopeless. If you have needed to climb out of the muck, you can understand. You can touch them, care for them, provide insights to help them on their journey back. Make a gift your experiences and learnings to another.
Consider: every time depression strikes a person, it is creating a resource, such as you, who can help another reclaim their life.
Love, by its nature, builds and protects. Experiment. Find responses and tools that are consistent with growth and joy. Ponder, consider, plan, visualize. Love Self. Honor Self. Value Self. The depression is not the “you” you want to be. You do not need to embrace it.