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“You don’t understand
depression until you can’t
stand your own presence
in an empty room.” —Unknown
Depression is an epidemic across the world. It is estimated that more than 264 million people suffer from this malady. The late actor Robin Williams once said “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” Tragically, he died having been dominated by depression.
Depression has been a “friend” throughout much of my life. Many years ago it dominated me. I was hospitalized at one point unable to function. It was like living in a body that wanted to fight to survive with a mind that wanted to die. At times I was tired and scared at the same time. I was dominated by a fear of failure but had no energy to produce. I wanted to be alone but dreaded being lonely. I worried about everything while at the same time caring about nothing. There were times my head felt like an old Maytag washing machine churning and churning with anxiety. Then there were moments when everything felt numb and paralyzed. Depression was like a bruise that never went away. It was like being lost in the woods. The further I walked into the deep woods the more lost I became and the dimmer the light of hope was at the end of the tunnel. I got stuck in mental wool-gathering. Dread, emptiness, anxiety, and panic jammed my headspace. It’s like in the movie The Lord of the Rings where Frodo Baggins is stung and paralyzed by the giant spider unable to move. With depression, I wanted to talk and scream but all I could do was whisper. I wanted to stay in bed and hoped I would fall asleep before I fell apart. Depression is a wound that is deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. So, the question is when you are stuck in debilitating depression how do you get unstuck when you feel so paralyzed? Here are a few considerations.
1. Slow things down and sit with what is real. Don’t try to fix depression on the run. People try to avoid discomfort by distracting themselves with activity and daily busyness. For some people it works, if you define “working” as being able to numb out unwanted feelings so that you simply exist. This choice involves running on a treadmill of doing more to keep from being less. You have to be busy 24/7 for 365. Of course, no one can do this so you engage in a cocktail of destructive behaviors. You can make food, sex, alcohol, work, drugs, etc. an additive piece that provides temporary relief. Some people live and die this way. Others free fall into major depression which stops them cold in their tracks. If you suffer this malady you know that it is powerful and overwhelming. The best choice is to slow the pace of life and sit with unwanted feelings that are underneath the busyness of your life.
2. Listen to your feelings, they will tell you where your life is out of balance. Most of us learn to avoid what is uncomfortable. Yet, the way out is leaning into the discomfort. Discomfort is there for a reason. Feelings are a way for your body to talk to you. People with depression often experience levels of nostalgia. When you sit with nostalgia you notice that you pine for past experiences. Reflection, about past memories, triggers awareness to create warmth and connection in the present moment. However, the tendency is to wallow in the experience of yesterday without being motivated to provide meaningful connections in the present. The result is chronic loneliness which left untended will fuel depression. There are many feelings that bombard your awareness. Slow your life in such a way that you listen to your feelings. They will tell you where you are out of balance so that you can adjust your lifestyle to create emotional equanimity.
3. Don’t go outside, go inside. When people hurt on the inside they want to find a quick fix from the outside. There is help from the outside that will take you inside. The following medications have provided relief for millions: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are brand names that have been helpful. There are other medications that have also proven helpful. Plant medicines and dissociative medicines like ketamine can also be useful when administered by professionals and not recreationally. The utilization of these drugs and plant medicines, is strategically designed to assist in going underneath the symptoms of depression to address root causation. Ultimately, this is where healing takes place. Looking at the unresolved family of origin, trauma, and grief issues is helpful to drain the pain that fuels the major depression. There are many therapeutic interventions that trained therapists use to help with this process of healing. There is no magic bullet but there is healing for those who are brave enough to go inside.
4. Stop trying to fix other people. Other people’s problems become a tonic to our own existence—a way to get outside of ourselves. World-class performers like Michael Phelps, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry admittedly have all used performance achievement as an escape from depression. But it never worked. You may not be famous but don’t try to avoid your depression by getting caught up with other people’s drama to energize your life and to escape what you do not want to deal with. Stop trying to fix other people.
5. Live your life in emotional honesty. When you live with incongruence you learn to feel one thing, say another, and end up acting disconnected from what you say or what you feel. You get lost. This makes you vulnerable to depression. People who overcome depression learn to open up and say it straight. It takes courage to be emotionally honest. In treating depression, without emotional honesty, you will drown. People fear disappointing others who are significant to their lives. At the core of healing depression, you will need to practice detaching from pleasing others to be true to yourself.
Practice these steps and free yourself from the dregs of depressed living. If you are stuck and want help from your depression, reach out. You are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You simply must ask for help.