Clinically diagnosed depression rates around the world vary between countries, but fall somewhere in the vicinity of four to seven percent in each each population. A quick search online will give you another statistic: eighty percent of those with depression go undiagnosed. On top of this, Australian organisation Beyond Blue states that one in five women and one in eight men will experience depressive symptoms at some stage in their lives.
Perhaps you know someone with depression? Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself?
I’ve had depression and depressive symptoms. Sometimes there were breaks from this darkness and at other times, it lasted for years. To combat this, I took anti-depressants for three years, worked with coaches, counsellors and psychologists and read widely, searching for as many perspectives on this condition as possible. I wanted to find a deep, lasting solution through understanding myself better. In other words, I aimed to heal myself by creating a new structure that augments the common medical approach.
Ultimately, the structure that helped me to leave depression behind was one of my own making. I discovered that depression is a journey we must each find our way through by learning lessons along the way, not a one-size-fits-all illness. I believe depression is meant to be a transformative journey, not a lasting disease.
Here are five key perspectives I adopted, and continue to draw upon today, that shifted my understanding of my depression and led to a holistic approach to health:
Part of transforming depression is developing the habits of embracing our vulnerability and facing fears. As an intelligent, deep-thinking person, I more often than not, shun my vulnerable side. I wanted to show my strong side only and be able to do everything. Many of these are worthy dreams and ones that I hold today too, but when I felt my lowest, it was my vulnerability that needed to be on show, rather than my bravado.
I believe we all need to be honest with ourselves about how badly we can feel.
By trying to ‘soldier on’ for the sake of others and not face my true feelings, I became more ill. This also perpetuated the myth that I should suffer, but that others needn’t.
I’d like to be clear about how my perspective has changed since then. I now believe that we’re all in this together and that if I’m suffering, the planet is suffering also. To put it another way, when I’m my best self, I’m the best for everyone else too.
My advice? Share your suffering and put it out there, if only to your journal. This will help your depression to take form and will give you words with which to express what is happening.
When life felt bad, when I was ‘on the back foot’, my tendency was to want to fix my problem. I wanted to do, I wanted to be better – thinking that ‘better’ would look the same as before, when I was last happy. But here’s the deal: depression is a cry for change, and as long as I resisted these low, bad feelings, the pain continued.
My advice? You need to look that nothingness in the eye, to squarely face the pain and the negative thoughts that are going around and around in your head. You need to be with those uncomfortable feelings. What I’ve found is that they don’t look as scary when I look straight at them. My heart might be pounding and I’m definitely worried and feeling sick sometimes, but by facing them, they become manageable – and then they pass away by themselves in time. It’s not that they don’t come back again at some point, but by facing them once, they’re easier to face again. Over time these emotions don’t bother me much anymore, because I’ve acknowledged them. They’ve been heard.
Depression is a sign that we’re out of balance. It’s our dark side knocking on the door saying you can’t push me away anymore, I’m a part of you too.
Depression was an uncomfortable – what the hell – a terrible illness for me. It left me feeling bereft, as if I had nothing and was nothing. It challenged me and pushed me to really examine myself and my choices. There was no room for pacing around the middle anymore. No room for sitting on the fence and keeping others happy. This was my wake up call, and it hurt.
My advice? The sooner you can accept the discomfort and hurt, the sooner you can develop a positive relationship with your depression. In other words, the sooner you can give up trying to be happy and admit that you’re not, the sooner you can begin to shift your relationship with depression.
We all have identities that we carry around with us, parade in front of others and use to help ‘put things into boxes’, including ourselves. Denise Linn, wise elder and author of spiritual books, talks about our need to have identities: “One of the most potent forces of a human being is the need to stay consistent with his or her identity”.
In my case, it wasn’t easy for me to admit to myself that I had depression. I was hanging onto that part of myself. I liked to think that I had a hard life, that being a Mama was difficult, and that this was a badge of honour of some sort. Admitting that this was out of control and needed to go was hard, despite the obvious suffering it was causing me.
My advice? Releasing these parts of our identity is like a death of sorts and we can expect, as with the death of another person, for there to be grieving involved. This can be a huge experience to bring upon yourself when you’re already feeling very low and can add to the range of emotions you experience. Be gentle with yourself here, seek help from professionals and expect this process to take time.
I’m a firm believer – after journeying through years of depression – that expression of your true self is the antidote to depression. You may need medical intervention, as I did, and you may need to clean up what you put into your body, as I did, but the ultimate healing of your depression will come down to you choosing to express your true self again and again.
During my years of depression, I was stuck in an increasingly outdated version of myself – I communicated poorly, I lacked creativity, I was not re-charging my own energy and I felt confused and lacked of clarity.
My advice: Writing is good. The word journalling is closely related to the word journeying – write about your journey with your depression so far. Write about your fears, your feelings and then write about what you really, really want to do with your life. Let it all out. Then let those thoughts sit. Add to them if you like. Talk about them to others if you can. Let the magic of your true feelings do their healing work.
By attempting and practising these five alternative steps, alongside any medical intervention you feel necessary, your depression has a better chance of being transformed into ‘just another part of yourself’, but one that is in balance with all the other beautiful parts of you.