Many people think depression is feeling sad. That is not altogether true.
Depression is not sadness. In depression, we lose the ability to feel ANY emotion strongly. The true opposite of depression is vitality — the ability to feel a full range of emotions, including happiness, joy, pride, but also including sadness and grief.*
I have found this to be so in my own experience with depression. While I have experienced some sadness, it could best be described as a numbness.
Another pervasive problem among the depressed is a condition known as acedia. It is characterized by the gradual withdrawal into isolation and indifference. And even worse, it can sneak up on those of us who are depressed. Many look from the outside and think that a depressed person is just lazy and doesn’t want to do anything. This is NOT mere laziness, it is an actual closing down of their world.
Our depression causes us to lose pleasure in things and relationships, and the scope of our activities decreases. We stop taking chances, we play it safe, we avoid uncomfortable situations, and we cut ourselves off from anything that might shake our world, including loved ones. And the more we withdraw, the deeper we sink.
Drawing into my shell
Most depressed people actually have a fear of feeling emotions. It is probably subconscious. I know it was for me. When presented with a situation I was uncomfortable with, I would draw into my shell like a turtle.
I don’t know which comes first, the loss of being able to feel emotions strongly or the actual fear of emotions. Regardless, it is something that one we need to address if we are going to overcome depression.
As a reminder, I believe that overcoming depression can require multiple steps, which may include medication, therapy, nutritional supplements, exercise, prayer and meditation, as well as working to overcome some of the bad habits which would continue to support our depressed state.
To work to overcome this drawing in to oneself to avoid the pain of our depression, or of actually being presented with emotions we don’t know how to feel, we must fight to take steps of progress.
Stepping out anyway
One of the hardest things for me has been to do things I feel I cannot do. I was encouraged by my doctor and my psychiatrist to take my anxiety medicine and go do them anyway. That would be the only way to help me to overcome the fear of being in an uncomfortable situation.
I am talking about things like going to the grocery store, going to a ladies meeting for church, going to actually work out at a gym, and I even recently started attending a small bible study that a few friends are holding each week. I find that the more I make myself do, the easier it becomes.
Another thing I had difficulty with was sharing with my loved ones how I was actually FEELING. I would have conversations about my depression but never express what I was dealing with deep inside. I found that if I actually opened up, and poured my heart out, tears and all, I actually felt better. It was a very vulnerable feeling, but worth it in the end.
I have also pushed myself into doing things around the house I had let slack. Cobwebs and clutter that needed taking care of. Closets that needed cleaning. I fought those fears holding me back and just got up and did these things.
Many times I have had to have a conversation in my head, asking myself WHY a certain situation is a problem? What is it that I am afraid of finding or feeling?
And then learning to address those fears. Sometimes I needed to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I point out that what I was afraid of is based on false assumptions, that I had come to a faulty conclusion. And, sometimes I have to deal with these fears on a spiritual level, taking them to God in prayer and asking for help to overcome them.
While I empathize with those of my readers who struggle with depression, I am beginning to see that while we cannot just “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”, there are baby steps that we can take to slowly raise ourselves out of that darkness. We have to realize and accept that as painful as it may be, doing the work to heal is much better than staying in the pain where you are.
Do you feel sad, or do you actually shy away from feeling anything at all?
This post is linked up with Shell’s Pour Your Heart Out
*Undoing Depression by Richard Carlson – Dr Carlson’s website
The book, Undoing Depression has some really great steps for doing just what I am writing about here. I will be writing more from this book, however, you may want your own copy. You can purchase Undoing Depression here at a number of good books stores