Playing with My Unhappiness

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last week, I said that, since it seems to be occupying just about all of my attention anyway, I would try to blog about my efforts to come to terms with the depression and anxiety that seem to be dominating my life right now. Here’s installment No. 1 in this series of blogs, in which Mr. Mopey attempts to explain his admittedly strange approach to this project.

I am depressed--no doubt about it. I want this to change as soon as possible, and I imagine there are a few recent victims of my irritability around here who would like that too.

By education and by trade, I am also a philosopher and a psychologist/lifecoach, two activities which have involved a lot of thinking about this whole depression business. So, I would like to use these skills and resources to help myself find a "cure" for what ails me. I'll be happy to take some pills in the meantime, if they help--they aren't helping at the moment, but they have in the past and they may again. I might even be willing to try ECT.

But this blogging about my depression isn't going to be about my pill taking and its results. It's about playing with some different ideas and ways of thinking, to see if any of them can help. Some of them may sound a little strange, so be forewarned...

There is a method of discussion in both philosophy and psychology called “dialectics”, of which I have long been a fan (despite the fact that most people get all glassy-eyed whenever I try to explain myself). In a nutshell, dialectics operates on the assumtion that every concept contains its opposite within itself, and that this tension between internal contradictions (thesis and antithesis) is what makes development of new ideas (synthesis) possible. It also makes change inevitable.

To put it more simply, "depression" couldn't exist as a concept (or be "cured") if the opposite concept ("non-depression") didn't also exist. And since both of these concepts are always changing, any change in one will necessitate a change in the other.

In my opinion, this basic approach has at least two very important implications for anything I can say (or do) about my own depression:

  • If it is extremely difficult to change one side of the equation (and depression, once you are caught up in it, can be highly resistant to change), then the dialectical method tells us that the best way to produce some improvement might be to change the other side of the equation.

    Right now, for example, the concept of "depression" refers to a collection of commonly experienced emotional, physical, and cognitive problems that almost everyone has quite frequently. None of these things is unique to "depression." In order to get diagnosed as clinically depressed, you have to have a certain number of these problems every day within a certain time frame, and they have to interfere with your functioning in a signficant way. The more problems on this list you have, the more serious your depression is said to be.

    But what would happen if we all agreed to move some of the symptoms on the "depression" list off that list and onto the "non-depression" list? If it takes at least 4 symptoms to be diagnosed with major depression, for example, what if we moved all but 3 of the symptoms off the list. Could that cure my depression (and everyone else's)?

    This probably sounds a lot like asking how many depressed angels can dance on the head of a pin, or what sound is made by one hand clapping. But it's not. I've definitely noticed, since I started having problems with depression years ago, that I'm much more likely to stay stuck in the problem once an episode starts up simply because, when I'm depressed, my natural inclination is to look at every thing I do and say "Oh, that's my depression causing that." If some of those symptoms weren't on the list, I might just be more inclined to do something about many of the problems instead of rationalizing them as symptoms, and waiting until my "illness" is cured.

    So, one thing I plan to do here in this series of blogs is to test out this hypothesis by redefining the symptoms of depression for myself to see what happens.

  • The dialectical method also says that, if a problem like depression seems to recur or persist despite efforts to end it, then the most likely explanation is that the concepts used to oppose it aren't the right concepts--ie, the thesis is not matched to the right antithesis, and therefore no synthesis is possible. It's as if you set out to persuade yourself that rain isn't wet by saying the sun is shining today.

    Maybe, for example, one reason depression can be so resistant to change is that it is defined as a medical problem, when in fact it's not, or at least not mainly. What if it's mainly a social problem, or a spiritual problem? Or what if depression isn't a problem at all--what if non-depression is the problem? What if, objectively, the negativity of depressed people is more realistic than the cock-eyed optimism of non-depressed people, and the lack of interest in ordinary things is simply the natural boredom of an observant person?

    I'm not actively supporting this idea, of course. No one who knows what depression can actually do to people will make light of it like this. I just mean to point out that "depression" is a loaded concept that depends a lot on the values of a culture--more than it depends on innate biological "reality." Sadness is only pathological when the particular life you lead really "should" make you happy, because you have what your culture says is necessary for happiness. But any time you see the word "should" in this kind of discussion, that should be a big red flag--it's almost always evidence of a cultural bias.

    That brings us to the question: How does it help anyone--the depressed individual or society as a whole--to define depression as an illness? Don't we (as individuals and groups) need to acknowledge and accept the "dark side" of our human condition in order to appreciate our other possibilities--and to understand the dangers of denying the darkness in ourselves or others? Should we really be in such a big hurry to "cure " people who makes us aware of this darkness through their symptoms? Do we really believe that it's "normal" to be positive, hopeful, and upbeat most of the time? What kind of stress and self-recrimination does THAT cause?

    Likewise, what sense does it make to try to confine these and other such questions to doctor's offices and psychological treatment rooms, when dealing with inner darkness is something everyone needs to know how to do? Yes, we need to protect people from harming themselves or others in the midst of a serious depression, and we naturally want to alleviate as much unnecessary and unproductive suffering as possible, especially if all it takes is a pill and/or a few sessions of psychotherapy. But don't we also need widespread public discussion about when common human feelings and experiences ought to be considered abnormal, and when they ought to be taken as signs that something is out of kilter in our common life?

    I'll admit that, when I'm in the middle of a depressive episode, like now, it's pretty hard to believe that my depression is really part of a normal and necessary developmental process, or that it could be good for me and for my society. For one thing, it can wreak havoc on all my accomplishments so far, and my plans for the future. Nor do I often feel like talking about the intimate personal details involved. It just feels like something is wrong, not like I'm doing something that will be positive in the long run.

    But what if these consequences and negative feelings are due to not understanding the relationship between depression and progression? What if I suffer more during a depression because I don't know how to use the pain, extreme emotionality, confusion, and lack of motivation to deepen my capacity for "creative suffering" and instead, stay trapped in cycles of repetitive, unproductive, private suffering. I know this is true when it comes to practical life knowledge--the best learning is from your own mistakes, if you learn how to use them. But I haven't really thought of it in terms of psychological/spiritual growth and depression until now.

    Suffering itself is neither avoidable nor undesirable--that's a core message of nearly every spiritual tradition. You can't see the light until you've spent some time in the darkness, and that's painful. But it's a lot more painful and disabling if you can't get anything out of it or use it to help someone else--if you let your suffering remain uncreative.

    What if I could get back to normal functioning just by learning how to use the suffering of depression and anxiety creatively. Isn't repetitive, unproductive suffering the kind that's more likely to make me lose interest in my own life, and feel like nothing is worth the effort? Isn't it much more likely that whatever suffering I endure will be unproductive if I keep it to myself, or between me and my doctor?

    Is it possible that a period of depression could be much less devastating or debilitating if I had some way of understanding its uses and potentials, and putting it in some sort of more positive, public context so it didn't feel so much like meaningless personal mayhem? Would this be true for you, too?

    That's what I want to find out, this time around.

    What does it mean to turn a “negative” like depression into something “positive”? Is this just a word game?

    What does this look like in a real human life, and more specifically, in my life at this moment? One thing it doesn’t mean is simply struggling against my symptoms and keeping them private—that’s not a dialectical approach, and it’s probably not necessary anyway. Given enough time, my depression will go away all by itself even if I do nothing. And then it will come back again, as it has many times, despite years of therapy and all kinds of medications. To use this episode of depression as an opportunity to change this cycle, I will have to take what depression gives me and use those "givens" to accomplish something new. I won’t know what that something new is until it shows up (if it does).

    What tools do I have to work with?

    What does my depression “give” me? One thing it's giving me right now is a deep lack of interest in the things that normally interest me--it's a real struggle some days even to get out of bed, eat, or ride my bike, much less do some work or clean house. It also turns me into someone who is very self-absorbed, devoting almost all my attention to observing small changes in my own feelings, thoughts, moods, and behaviors--things that I would normally find far less interesting than the people and world around me. Every little bit of forgetfulness or loss of concentration is a sign of impending senility; every less than desirable choice is a sure sign that I will never make a good choice again; every ache or pain is proof that I’m over the hill. Good memories are just evidence that the best of my life is already over; bad memories are proof that I’m really a fraud and not at all the person I pretend to be, to myself and others. I spend hours every day sitting around worrying about these and similar things, and meanwhile, doing nothing much at all. I cut myself off from the world of normal people who pursue their survival and their goals however they can, and isolate myself.

    Worst of all, all of this feels right to me, more real than any feelings of interest, satisfaction, meaning, or happiness I might have when I’m not depressed, and more real than any intellectual criticism I could make of all this obviously wrongheaded, all-or-nothing thinking. Being “depressed” is what feels most real to me, the rest is all mere whistling past the graveyard.

    Where to from here?

    I have to admit, at this point, that this doesn’t sound like much to work with, lol. To transform these dark thoughts and feelings into creative agents, it seems to me I first have to learn how to travel differently. Instead of knowing my destination in advance, I'll have to follow T. S. Eliot's advice from East Coker:

    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
    Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
    The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
    The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
    Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
    Of death and birth.

    You say I am repeating
    Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
    Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.

    In more prosaic terms, what I’m planning to do is to try thinking of each of my major depression and anxiety symptoms--loss of interest, self-absorbtion, and social isolation-- as messages from my potential future self instead of as problems to be overcome. Instead of “opposing” them, I’ll try to accept them as appropriate reactions to my situation, and understand what they are telling me about how I can try to make some changes.

    Kind of scary, since I have no idea where this will lead. Maybe I'll get lucky and the meds will kick in before I have to go too far down this road, lol. Whatever happens, I'll work on being a little less abstract and more practical in my next blog...

    So, what do you think? Does this make any sense to you? How do you look at your problems/symptoms when you get depressed or anxious?

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    CHERYLHURT 5/4/2020
    I’m very happy because I have been so very blessed. Report
    ETHELMERZ 4/30/2020
    I wonder what happened to Dean, he seems to have disappeared. Report
    KITTYHAWK1949 1/27/2020
    Thanks. We all go though times of sadness and negative thoughts and feelings. At least I do. Report
    KHALIA2 12/18/2019
    Great Article! Thanks! Report
    DKALTMAN04 10/29/2019
    I think that one good thing is to look at what triggers your despressions. I have chemical depression and I can medicate to regulate it but the problems that sometimes trigger it can be countered by looking how I am handling stress and other issues. We react chemically to things so I agree without change you will continue to get the same or worsening results. So this is good advice but a not a whole solution. Report
    1CRAZYDOG 10/29/2019
    While I wouldn't label myself as depressed, I think there are times in life when we go thru times of having negative thoughts, just feeling negative, some more than others, for sure. There really is no 'one size fits all' way to handle it. It's hard to go through it, but we all do, some more than others.

    I do believe your point of view that maybe it isn't realistic to expect people to always be positive! Maybe.

    Thanks for this piece, and lots of food for thought. Report
    Wow Dean, what an insightful article. I am floored by the number of honest and heartfelt responses from so many, which is really encouraging. Each person shares their approach to dealing with depression and recovery from difficulties. I’ve learned a lot about my own sadness at different times in my life, and also about my strengths which have helped me pull through the rough times. Report
    As a currently depressed person (and frankly only able to speak for myself because we are all different from each other and each of our cases are unique), I was unfortunately unable to get through this article. The (shorter) comments seemed much more helpful for me, but thanks for trying! Report
    I am really with CHEMICALSMILE in this one in many ways. There are days I just can't go on SP and see the dispositions of others and trite ways people tell the other how to feel better whom can't understand the exact feeling of depression a person can undergo because it's a biological and chemical reaction. I never suffered depression until I began biological changes within me. Many emotions could be linked to past trauma and it would make me very, very sad, angry and emotional to the point of anxiety but it was not depression. My depression has no real beginning point except for hormonal, menopausal and biological aspects. Sure, I have days of feeling intense emotions and can look at myself in the mirror and work at talking myself out of it but it isn't what I feel when I am depressed. Lexapro helps but migraines and other side affects don't do so much. I feel it is not taken so seriously here on SP. Top that with the fact that I am an atheist (not a hater nor disrespectful of Christianity at all; my kids and husband are all Christian but we live with a respect to the differences) and some days can be a worse spiral being here. I relate much, much better to this article and am not unfamiliar with the background of dialectics but was fascinated with your blog and take on it. I am keeping it to reread and remind myself when it hits very hard and I am able to start coming out of it.

    I just want to re-iterate to anyone that depression is not controllable. There comes a point when you are able to understand what's happening and even when you know it's lifting a bit and can go into a controllable stage but if a person is feeling depression, there are stages that you can't move, you can't talk yourself out of it and you cannot control the feeling of helplessness and at times, despair at life. Even if you can say to yourself it's stupid, your days are great, etc it just simply cannot be controlled. You can adapt but it needs to be stressed that if you are confronted with a person dealing with depression, the first and only thing that should be said is to not be alone. To be with a loved one or friend. Nothing else you can say will help.

    Thanks much for the blog here. I really is a help. Report
    thank you Report
    Thank you for accurately describing what a major depressive episode feels like on the inside in the "What tools" section. Very few understand the vicious cycle that depression is and/or believe medication and therapy can "cure" us forever. Just your acceptance that your depression is not something you can control but a recurring life experience helps me. While I have often debated with myself many of the philosophical viewpoints mentioned, I am not familiar with dialetics. Thank you for introducing me to a new way to ponder the issue and perhaps find some inner peace. Report
    makes complete sense. A quote that comes to mind after learning about this approach is one of my favorites - "Ambiguity has a destabilizing effect - very few have the courage or the strength to hold the tension between opposites until a completely new standpoint emerges. This is because in acknowledging contradictory truths, one has to create an inner equilibrium to keep from being torn in two" - Aldo Carotenuto

    I feel so often that there truly is no negative but what we create. If you choose to make the symptoms of your depression positive or at least view them as a constructive part of your growth process then I whole-heartedly believe they will be. It is hard work and takes strength to hold those two opposities though but I believe you have that within you.
    Right ON! Its rediculous to think that we need to be positive all the time. Rather, while in a depressive state, look at the antithesis and become a being of synthesis. Right now is a time of learning, and getting out of self to give to others. I too am socially isolated right now, I hate it, I was depressed but feel that now I need to move on and impact other people's live for the better. May God Bless you all as you walk your journey in life. Today its cloudy outside (literally) but tomorrow will be another sunny day! Report
    I must admit my eyes glassed over while reading this lengthy blog. But I am sure there are some good points so I will try and re-read it once my meds kick in. Incidentally, I've been trying to kick one of my meds and I made the should have been done earlier decision yesterday to go back on it. My mind is crying for my morning meds so later. Report
    I believe that depression is a biological problem. But we can't treat it like any other physical problem (e.g. a broken leg), because has direct emotional, psychological, and social consequences.

    I believe that depression exists within the human population as a continuum, and each individual falls somewhere along the spectrum. It's not black and white. And I think that how prone to depression you are is just one more aspect of your inmutable disposition.

    Everyone is born with his or her own disposition. Our personalities may change, but we all tend to lean in one direction or the other. This is why siblings born of the same parents can be so different. For example, I've recently come to terms with the fact that I have a lot of anger. I don't know why - I just do. And I always have. I am not known as an angry person, nor do I act out on that anger. So it doesn't come through in my personality, but it's still a fact that I will probably always deal with.

    The problem is that as society advances and becomes more and more industrialized and connected, we are all funneled into a single version of what a human being is 'supposed' to be like. There is a definite expectation set for the individual that is going to go to work every day and be a productive member of society. And there isn't room for melancholy or anger in that model.

    Decades and centuries ago, someone who tended to be depressed would just be described as having a 'solemn manner' or some other apt phrase. It was okay and *expected* that people would have different personalities ranging from bright and bubbly to dark and brooding. In fact, the latter gave us some of the best literature, art, and music known today.

    So I try to remember that my depression and my anger are simply two components of a very complex disposition. That doesn't give me a free pass or excuse me from dealing with them. But it helps to remind me that it's not something I will ever have complete control over. I cannot change it, but I can manage it, learn to live with it, and (as mentioned above) use it to my advantage. Report
    Depression sounds like a person or a thing that controls us. Don't we have the power to control it? Sometimes I fight really hard with this and have been down for the count for awhile. However, I own my body. My body doesn't own me. I control my thoughts and "I choose" whether or not those thoughts control me. Report
    I am so sorry when people on SP do not have an accessible Spark Page as I would really like to commend SPHINXKAT on the wonderful, insightful writing done here. If that person is not a professional writer, he/she should be!!!
    I think I agree with Sphinxkat... it really concerns me how much emphasis is placed on how unnatural it is to be unhappy in our society. Life is a process. There is a time and a place for everything... including sadness, self absorption and boredom. I love to be a mom, but I'd give away the diaper changes in a heart beat! It's not reasonable to think someone can be blissfully happy about everything all the time.

    I really enjoyed reading Report
    I am thankful to find this blog, it gives me a new way to look a things. Reading some of the comments has given me new insights and things to ponder.
    Thank you so much! Report
    Atrum speaks from experience of the Modern's world. My experience has been a bit different (having been born to a long-lived family with older views of the world), though fraught with peril as it once was to be born in-between when I should have been and when I actually was, many would have called me depressed instead of a few degrees out of kilter with my context.

    Part of the problem with today's rise in depression is that it's opposite (nirvana?) is not a state which can be maintained in perpetuity. The reason for this is that the Modern's societal / cultural framework depends more upon physical signs of wealth and ideals of perfection which few people can attain or hold for a lifetime. Another part of the problem is the intensity of blame assigned to those failing of Modern societal perfection. Even in Medieval times one who had lived a life far from good could find absolution or a state of grace...

    The depressed state you describe is much akin to an epiphany awaiting -- your spirit knows you're on a journey and many of the way-markers have been ignored by the mundane "I have to succeed / I have to fit a niche / I have to be normal" psyche. It's the spiritual equivalent of a head cold, even though the resulting consequences can be far more dire.

    What helped me through dark times was the realization that "Normal" is unattainable. What is normal for me likely won't match what is normal for you. What can be attained though is simple, and yes the simple things often prove the hardest. It's about finding your center, your balance, and realizing that without sad there is no happy, without pain there is no ecstasy, for without the one (considered negative) we can not recognize the other (considered positive).

    What Modern society does not do is help its members with is learning to accept themselves. Each person has to find the balance of spiritual, mental, and physical where they operate best. It can be akin to looking at the back of your head to count the hairs (or lack thereof) yet it can also be like opening your eyes to the sunrise over a desert canyon.

    For me the via away from the dark times was to come to terms with the knowledge that the solution is not outside but inside myself. Whether I succeed in the eyes of others doesn't really matter, what I do with my life does matter. I can drink to excess, use meds that often have deleterious effects upon the body, or I can find my my way down a path others have walked before. As my father once said it's about being able to look in the mirror without despising the person you see.

    Ailments, almost lost an eye as a child, two cataracts and most recently an implant in same eye, torn up knee joints, arthritic shoulders and hands, an extra vertebrae, skin cancer, missing teeth, tachycardia, accelerated metabolism, silica hardened lungs; the list could go on but why? The fact is that with "physical restrictions" that would stop some people I can still go to 8,200 feet of elevation and climb, run, walk, and enjoy seeing things I had to climb to reach. I can still be active with the one I love.

    Aye, there are days where it literally hurts to get up, just as there are days where it would be easier not to have to deal with a world that often makes no sense from my paradigm -- yet for all the negatives there is the laughter of children yet to be, the soft chirruping of kats not born, and the simple pleasure of the sun in my face while sitting on a mountain ledge I haven't seen yet beckoning me onward to a morrow I can't truly glimpse until it arrives.

    Life for all its ups and downs is a gift -- the bad in life helps me truly appreciate the good it holds...

    Semper Praesto Report
    Marvelous! You, like I've observed in myself, when most unhappy are making progress. When I was most depressed and "scratching" myself as I called it blogging is what I did, too. Upon reflection - it was some of the most moving words I'd ever written. Your ability to look at all angles is emotionally "deep" also. Depression, from experience, is better then short or long term stress and anxiety. Depression is an inspiration. Report
    This does make a great deal of sense and it seems like the internal process that I have been waging all my life. I do think that calling depression an illness rather than a normal human condition stigmatizing and isolates people more. This has been most illuminating!!! Report
    On Social Isolation... here's some dialectic thought process. Maybe spending time with oneself is healthy, allowing processing of personal goals and behaviors. Maybe immersing in community is hiding amid numbers so as to not focus on one's own needs.

    Some of us tend to be loners, whether depressed or not. I like my own company. I like to have some contact with others -- when I worked from home, I discovered I became way too friendly with the people at the dry cleaners and the copy center -- so I look forward to some social interaction at my workplace.

    I give thanks that I feel a sense of wonder that the sun shines, the birds sing, and the leaves rustle. I am thankful that that can bring me out of a funk. Report
    I've dealt with clinical depression in the past and I honestly believe that I won't ever have to deal with as much pain as I did that first time because I believe I've learned how to deal with it. I get exercise, I eat healthy, I get sleep, I pray, and I go to my church meetings. I know that it sounds simple. I know how to deal with it when I very first begin to notice something's up, not when it has already consumed me. I react strongly at the very first indication because I know what happens when I let it in the door. I remember very clearly when I was in the midst of my first and only very awful episode, something suddenly came into my mind, I grasped it, saw how wonderful it was, knew it was the answer to all my problems, and then it was gone. I know that probably sounds crazy, but it was extremely meaningful to me and I will never, ever forget it. I may have totally lost whatever it was, but it gave me hope. And at that point, I'm sure it was just what I needed because I did start to get better, with the help of drugs, therapy, others' prayers, etc. I was never a church-goer at that point, but suddenly I became more open to things that couldn't be explained by my brain, but things that are felt deep down inside. Years later, (about 18, or so) I have come to believe that it was my father in heaven speaking to me that day, giving me hope and letting me know that I wasn't alone. Obviously, I don't know much about you, Dean, but I would like to suggest that you pull out a phone book and look up The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and give them a call. They will send out missionaries to your home to come speak with you and answer questions you might have. They taught me where I come from, why I'm here, and as I continue to learn through my membership, I'm continuing to become happier and happier. I am off medication, healthier than I've ever been, more stable than I've ever been, and very secure in my purpose on this earth. I wish everyone would know what I know. It takes all the guess work out of life. I hope I don't sound preachy, that is not my intent. I just know how blessed I am and I want that for you too. God bless you! Report
    Wow. It is like you cracked open my skull like an egg and poured out my thoughts into this blog. This is amazing. I am glad you were able to put all of this into words. I get it. I live it. Report
    I think that to a point, EVERYONE has some bouts of depression. I feel positive most of the time, and I try to be an upbeat person, but every once in a while, I have a "blue" day. I haven't really had it longer than a couple days, but it does happen.
    My thing to do is to realize that no matter how bad things may seem at the moment, there is always someone else that has it MUCH worse off than I do.
    I am very fortunate with my friends, my work, and my health, that I can usually get out of the slump and into a better mood.
    Think about those who are in constant pain, have no support system, etc. The sun may be out now, or it could have just stopped raining; look for the rainbow.
    I could probably fill up this whole blog with my opinion, but that is the basic idea; think about the good things that happen every day-you get the green lights most of the way to work. That person who let you in to traffic, when you saw a long line. going out to dinner when you don't want to cook. Having someone you don't know, smile and say hello. Smell the flowers that are at the grocery store, or buy yourself a big bright bouquet. It won't take long until you realize GOOD things are adding up. Go with them, and feel your mood lift. Report
    My response is to bluntly say: you are rationalizng your depression. You are talking all around it and not treating it. The kind of thinking you are doing now is depressed thinking. I know - I have been there and been fascinated by the same minutiae. I too have spent enrmous amounts of prescious time just paddling around and around in the ocean with one oar. It is time to get help from the outside and start to heal. Analysing is not helpful at some point and you need to get outside your head for more help. Report
    I agree with the concept that if we try to "know" the way out, our directions might be misguided.
    Allowing myself to be with the feelings in a safe environment and give them shape and color has allowed me to picture the antidote without putting an action to it.
    In meditation I can redirect my thoughts to a safe and happy place where I am free of the depression.
    Later I just bring the imagery back and it is instantly healing Report
    I've had several bouts of depression. Not fun at all. I read what I could find, took meds for a year as well. I don't have any plans of ever using pharmaceuticals again. I understand the need for them but I made the decision I will find the answers I need without them.
    I came to my own conclusion no prior training, just on my own, that depression is a symptom. I didn't need to treat the depression but the reason for the depression. I did some soul searching and corrected some of my faulty thinking. I learned several important things. One was to pay attention to what I was thinking. Then to take responsibility for the thoughts and for the results of my thinking which includes what I say and what I do.

    I was guided by the information I found on . It took time and I did have little relapses but eventually they became fewer and less intense. I am happier now than I have ever been in my entire life. I hope you find the path that helps you get relief and happiness. Best Wishes! Report
    How can anyone who writes so analytically, interestingly, emotively, intuitively --how can that person be depressed? Doesn't the passionately intellectual apleasure of writing so clearly effect some sort of a miracle cure? Joking a little -- and just another way of saying: like so many others, I really appreciated this article! Report
    I am so moved by your honesty and sincerity. Just like the seasons, everything is constantly changing...even though sometimes it feels like things will stay that way forever, they do change. You're doing everything perfectly, keep feeling what you are feeling. Stress and dis-stress tend to arise when we believe we SHOULDN'T be feeling the way we are. So keep letting it flow, and know that you are on the right path for you at this very moment. Your openness is helping not only yourself, but countless others. Report
    "How do you look at your problems/symptoms when you get depressed or anxious?"

    In 1968 my home town was struck by a series of tornados. I was eight. It seemed, at the time, I was not troubled by the degree of destruction and death. Ten years later, I discovered an anxiety over being surprised by a tornado. I wasn't fearful of being in one, only of having one sneak up on me. It came to the point where one evening, I sat down and cried. I felt so helpless. Next day, I got busy. I studied storms and weather patterns to the point that I could predict a storm as well as the weather stations. From that point I felt in control again. I still worry over personal property, but I am not afraid.

    After several years of driving, I discovered an increasing anxiety for driving long distance (highway driving.) First it was only night driving, then the bad weather conditions, then...the highway itself. Studying wasn't the answer there. But, knowledge was still powerful. I studied the promblem. Realized the triggers and dealt with them individually. I printed maps to my destination; planned a route to avoid complex exchanges (part of the problem being afraid of getting lost or finding myself in the wrong lane.) I also, through my study of the problem, realized the longer I considered the trip, the more fear I generated. I made a strong effort to realize that I was anxious and destracted myself from thinking on the trip once the route was properly mapped. No reslove there, I still get anxious when facing a long trip, but it no longer controls me.

    The only working answer that I discovered for anxiety that serves my needs: first realization, then knowkedge, then action. I had to take control of the situation in order to feel better about it. Report
    I first experienced depression and anxiety at the age of six, when I lost my grandfather. I began to ponder the meaning of life, and in my youth, could find no answers. My parents couldn't help - they didn't understand. I found no comfort in religious doctrine, though I was brought up in a religious household. It seemed like mythology and fairy tales to the child who wanted to know what had become of the person whom she had loved most in this world. So I retreated and hid inside of myself, trying to behave as normally as possible so that the people around me didn't realize that I was just going through the motions, all the time wondering "Why am I here?" What is my purpose?"
    I hid it well. Fear of "discovery" motivated me to go through the motions. The grown-ups never took me to a psychologist. They attributed my lack of focus to "daydreaming."
    It wasn't until I was in college that I began to find answers, and I discovered those answers as a result of my skepticism! One of my acquaintances introduced me to a relative who was an accomplished astrologer. Without knowing very much about me, she did an uncannily accurate reading based on my date, time and place of birth. I wanted to uncover the "trick," so I procured a old set of Alan Leo's Astrology for All books from a garage sale. I very quickly discovered a healthy respect for the subject and spent several years studying it. From there, I branched out into other metaphysical subjects which eventually led me to Edgar Cayce, and the knowledge that Grace supersedes Karma.
    When I read your blog I was reminded that astrology speaks of opposites and polarities, and the need to bridge these polar opposites to achieve balance.
    Martin Schulman has a series of books on Karmic Astrology. Among other things, these books discuss "phasing," or mentally displacing oneself from "the now."
    There are different types of phasing;
    1) Thinking about the past as though we could go back and relive it. In other words, what we would have, should have, could have done and what the end result might be in each case.
    2) Thinking about the future to the point where we are anticipating what might happen, running the various scenarios in our mind.
    3) Mentally displacing ourselves by comparing an event as we experience it to our expectations, or the scenarios we developed prior to the experience itself.
    The fourth book in the series, "The Karma of the Now" is an excellent read. You don't need to have extensive knowledge of the subject to benefit from Schulman's works.
    As far as I can tell, we are here to learn and grow and be the best that we can be so that we will eventually move on to the next step to be fit companions for God.
    Everyone is entitled to their own belief system. Not all people are seekers. I hope I have not offended anyone by sharing this. To me, astrology is merely a tool to self discovery. I have seen people abuse it, and do not advocate the use of "predictive" astrology.
    Back to the earthly plane. Here's some practical advice that anyone can use. When you catch yourself "phasing," stop! Stand up. Walk away from it. Break the pattern. Stop that train of thought by doing something to shift your focus. Exercise. Blog. Do something that will make you feel good about yourself. I know, it isn't easy. I struggle with it on a daily basis. But since joining spark people, my relapses are fewer and farther between. The key is to stop myself and not allow it to get out of hand. If I can do it, anyone can. Report
    I have had at least 4 major depressions in my life and countless ventures into wishy-washy depression. I also have anxiety and panic along with these. I must ever be on my guard for symptoms and when I feel that they may be coming on, I must be proactive and catch myself before the big fall.

    I am depression free without meds for over 2 years now, but I still struggle with anxiety. Some of the things that resulted in my depression, must be buried in my subconscious mind and they resurface as anxiety without warning. My adventure into Spark is partly to eliminate this from happening. I don't know how it will all play out, but I am in for the long haul. Report
    I hope you feel better soon, whatever you have to do to get there. Report
    Wow! That took some reading and I'm not sure I fully understand what I read but I applaud your decision to investigate the depression more deeply. It is also timely since I just blogged a little about my exerience with depression today.

    For myself, I found that as I get older, dwelling on the depression (or the fibromyalgia) only causes me to feel worse. But I can't tell if I feel worse because I'm dwelling or if I'm dwelling because I feel so bad.

    One thing I do take issue with is your assertion that depression is not a disease; that it is normal. If depression is a disease then it is something I have (I used to describe it as an emotional cancer). If it is not an illness, then depression is what I am. And if this is what I am, then I have no business taking up precious resources because it doesn't contribute to the world at all. Or at least it doesn't contribute anything desireable to the world.

    Unfortunately, as time goes on and my periods of non-depression (I can't actually say happiness) become fewer and shorter lived, I fear that it _is_ just who I am. Report
    Hi Dean -- At one of many very low points in my journey, I picked up a "selt-help" book by Thomas Moore, called "Care of the Soul." It was brief, concise and quite an easy read. When I finished, I set it aside and thought, "Well, then, I wasn't helped much for 9.95; so I guess you get what you pay for." My cyncism satisfactorily reinforced, I drifted off into a troubled sleep. At 3:30 am, my traditiional stressed-and-depressed wake-up time, I rolled over in bed, flipped on the light and thought, "What? Embrace the Saturnine influence? What does that really mean?" And I picked up the book for the first of many, many more times to re-read and meditate on the Moore's unique blend of Jungian and spritual concepts. Moore inforns his writings from a varied and eclectic mix of life experience and I appreciate his breadth of life study as much as his depth of thought. I've read several of his books since. He offers no panacea. He discusses concepts and discusses the experience of depression as part of the whole journey of the soul, a concept that removes it from the "sickness" category and neatly places it in the "normal" category, the place where we recognize, accept, approach and manage all of our feelings. This book caused the proverbial "lightbulb" that switched on over my head to illuminate some self dicovery and it has made a significant difference in my life. No it did not heal me; and yes, I've been depressed once or twice since. But the fear of that dark place is gone, which, of course, makes it a little easier to tolerate. Try the book if you're so inclined as I think it may appeal to your intellect first, something I think you highly value, and a part of you that is deeply offended by the emotional sandbagging. I deeply admire your commitment to share this journey. Take care my friend.
    Thank you for sharing Dean, I am generally too depressed and uninterested to take the time to read such a detailed, analytical and insightful blog, much less all the responses.
    This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, I had been mildly chronically depressed for over 20 years and I refused to believe that I had a problem. So what, If was not as happy and outgoing as most people, not everyone’s the same anyway. So what, if I rarely felt excited about anything, why get all excited, just to get disappointed anyway? I was always going through some situation or problem that was causing me stress and as soon as this situation was corrected, my joy would come rushing in. After there were no more major issues, I could not figure out why my joy had not overtaken me yet. I know I must be experiencing empty nest syndrome. My only child moved back home 2 years ago and we needed to work on healing our relationship. I had just moved across country to look for work a year prior to him moving back in. Not to mention a week before he got here the company I was working for downsized and I was let go. Still I was determined to conquer this situation and rise above. I moved to Arizona from Michigan experiencing low energy from my depressed moods add to that 115+ degrees for 4 to 5 months and no air in the car, I know I needed assistance to not go off the deep end. I began to talk with a therapist at the community college I was attending, I just needed to vent and get some things off my chest. I had been seeing her for 6 months, before my best friend for over 10 years, suggested Again that maybe I might want to try some anti-depressants. I thought, Really anti-depressants, me? maybe it is time to give it a real try.
    I began taking Wellbutrine 150mg in January 2009 and after a few weeks I felt a little better, not so out of it. I had a little more control of my emotions and I continued to talk to my therapist every 2 weeks. She is a good therapist lays it right out there with very little sugar coating and I needed that. I was still not totally satisfied with the rate of my progress. I felt as though I was not getting worse but I was not getting any better either so I asked the nurse if I could increase my dosage and she agreed. I began taking 150mg in the morning and 150mg in the afternoon, still not satisfied with my emotional progression.
    I have always been a self- help fanatic and have read almost every book under the sun. Almost 20 years ago, I began reading thing pertaining to ending domestic abuse in my life from there I went to Wayne Dyer to Positive Affirmations to be spoken day and night. I then learned about embracing my Inner Child and healing the wounds of the past. After obtaining my massage therapy certification, I learned about the emotions being stored in our muscles and cells throughout the body. Though I was aware of all this stuff, tools and techniques that could be implemented in my healing process, still in denial of my unnatural depressed state because it surly felt natural to me it was just the external problems keeping me from experiencing any joy. I’m sure it was not necessary for me to go through all these rituals and changes to improve myself. My depressed state is not that serious and as soon as my problem or situation is corrected, I’m going to snap out of this, without going through all those changes!! NOT!!
    A few weeks ago I finally began to implement this tool and techniques. The Positive Affirmations in the Mirror, The talking to and nurturing my Inner Child, PRAYER & Meditating, exercising and eating better. I never had a problem with getting enough sleep, my problem is not having enough energy, though my energy level is not where I want it to be with vitamins and healthy habits, it is getting better. I have finally begun to feel like the wounds of the past, negative emotions, hopelessness about the future and my desire to isolate myself from everyone who’s out to cause me pain and suffering is beginning to diminish and I feeling stronger and more in control of my happiness.
    I know it’s a long journey on a winding road with valleys and peeks; I just want to be able to look at the sunnier side regardless of my current situation.
    I am so hopeful Now! ~Zena~ WE NEED A 12 STEP PROGRAM AND SUPPORT GROUP! (One Day At A Time!!!)
    Best wishes for everyone and me!
    your blog could NOT be more timely for me...i think if i can concentrate on it long enough, i mean to figure how i can GROW from this ICKY time(that term is NOT in most psychology books) thank you for sharing and giving us a chance to piggy-back on your road to recovery... Report
    Coach Dean, you called yourself Mr. Mopey at the beginning of this blog. A little bit of advice from another person who has Dysthymia which I'm sure you know the definition of, calling yourself negative names will not help yourself. When I'm depressed there are a lot of things I'll do. First of all I have my WRAP book. If you don't know, WRAP stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Maybe you could look into it. It's a program where you set in place the things that trigger you, things that help you, when you need to seek professional advice, when you need others to take over making decisions etc., for you. If you want more information on it, feel free to email me. But one of the best things you can do is make a daily maintainance list. Things you WILL do everyday regardless of how you feel because you know that it will help you in the long run. Shower, eat breakfast, go for a walk, keep the house tidy, play with your pet, do some reading, or whatever your hobbies are that you normally enjoy. It's a wonderful program and it has helped me immensely. I hope you can look into it. If you Google WRAP and what it stands for, you'll come to their site and learn more. God bless you as you are in my thoughts and prayers. Report
    I think depression can be a choice to avoid having to do much of anything. Then you blame yourself for choosing limbo. Life is lived second by second. Read the book "Spark" written by Dr. John J. Ratey.
    I am not an expert on Scientology, but, your post sounds like you are. Report
    I read your blog twice...I get it ( I think) I've been in & out of depression since I was a child...I was always told "snap out of it"...I didn't even know what "it" I'm 61yr old.... a few yrs. ago I received ECT & it worked like a charm...I would do it every month if my ins. would pay for it...I saved your blog to my favorites so I can read it over & over...I seem to find something new every time I re-read. Thanks for the "other" point of view. I look forward to future blogs.
    Hi, not sure if you read the comments on the blog posts, but hope so. I wonder if a lot of your depression isn't directly related to your heart surgery. I've learned that any surgery can result in depression (directly related to the anesthesia, which takes a while to clear your system) and also there's a direct correlation between heart surgery & depression.

    Not sure if that helps, but it does help me to understand there isn't anything wrong with me (especially mentally) , but I wish you well on your journey and a good recovery. Report
    What a fascinating idea. As someone who has also dealt with depression for decades--as someone who has obsessed endlessly about what depression is/isn't/could be/might be/can do/limits--I must admit I never thought of it this way. Interestingly, I'm also a T.S. Eliot fan, and have the same quote from East Coker on my home page. I find it absolutely inspiring, and I've read it many, many times...yet I still never truly internalized the dialecticalism (like that? I think I made it up) of the statement. I need to chew on this some more, I think. Thanks! Report
    Please don't take this wrongly, no offense is meant; I read TSEliot's poem as a turn to what many see as tenets of Christian faith. I have found resilience there. I wish the lifting of the depression soon for you. Report
    So many deep thoughts...I saved your blog to my favorites so I can read it again. How ironic that you started this series right when I had a down turn in my own depression. I never thought to look for positives in this condition. Depression is so hard to deal with and for others to understand. My husband just doesn't see why I don't get more accomplished each day. He thinks its laziness but I know it's the paralysis of depression. A couple of days ago I practically had to force myself to shower and dress to go to the doctor. He started me on a supplemental med that is supposed to amplify my antidepressants. Sure hope it works. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for your next blog.

    Thank you for bravely writing about your struggle. It means so much to other depressives to be understood. Report

    I found this blog to be extremely interesting! I absolutely LOVE reading about psychology; I've always been drawn to it. I, like many others here, have dealt with depression in the past. While I'm an extremely happy and optimistic person, I am still extremely emotional and I do take pills currently to help me with that. I'm hoping it's something that will get better for me.

    It's so nice to read about someone who can relate! I look forward to your next blog and I'm curious about what you find... Report
    I appreciate your honesty and thoughts. I have found that I am a worrier... primarily I worry about my children, husband, Dad and extended family, such that when I wake up or have a moment when my mind is not occupied with my job or plans for the day or beyond, I am praying that everything will be OK and can only imagine the worse outcomes. I have respites when I don't feel this way, put it doesn't last long. I try not to let people know because I feel that they are dealing with enough of their own problems and am more of a listener. The last couple years have been unusually stressful: deaths in family, my Dad was diagnosed as mild Alzheimers, empty nest, work admin changes, quit smoking, etc. and it seems that even when there is a happy occasion, something happens to darken the occasion. I would talk to my DH but he is trying to quite smoking and hates his job, so I can't.
    I am currently looking to do something, even a small change to be able to smile and really mean it.
    Your blog has given me the chance to voice my feelings and I truly appreciate this chance. Report
    "Is it possible that a period of depression could be much less devastating or debilitating if I had some way of understanding its uses and potentials, and putting it in some sort of more positive, public context so it didn't feel so much like meaningless personal mayhem? Would this be true for you, too?"


    Out of all of the coaches on SP, I relate to you the most. Why? You did not have to tell me that you had suffered. It is reflected in your writing and in the approaches you take to health concerns in general. Those of us who have known the "dark night of the soul" or "depression" or whatever you want to call it, can often recognize it in others. You are a kindred spirit. Here is an example of a positive, public context in which your suffering can be put. Your writing, my friend, and your insights, are nothing less than inspiring. They reflect your suffering, and that is why they are so powerful and meaningful -- to you, and to others.That is why you write your thoughts. You are a person who has walked the walk, and you have learned to point your face to the Sun and to feel, at times, without self-negation and self-destructive behaviors. You have recognized the richness of the experience of getting better and seeing what is worth getting better for. You know that you know you are here. You are right. It will lift. It will ebb and flow, just as everything does. I like the concept of the dialectic, but it can be positional, when there is always so much gray area in the "real" world. Kuhn's "paradigm shift" is something I am more able to get my head around. There is a gradual build-up of information which nudges me to make a shift towards a changed view. I experienced it when I finally acknowledged my binge-behavior, and my alcoholism, and my own depression. These shifts can be both overwhelming and empowering experiences. And then one day, I find myself whistling again.....and possibly heading for another paradigm shift...Keep inspiring others. It is what you are meant to do.
    Ta, Regena
    . Report
    Hello, thank you for sharing your blog. I have experienced periods of depression and anxiety, and, after reading your blog and comments from others, I am glad that there are others out there who know exactly what I go through. You have some good points about depression. From what I have been told by other people, one reason I get depressed is because I have a high or unrealistic expectation of how my life should be like and that I expect nothing but the best, that I am never satisfied with what I already have, and because I never reach my expectations I am continuously disappointing myself. I also have a mild case of OCD, so I guess feeling out of control of what is going on in my life also contributes to me feeling like there's no point to life. After feeling depressed for a while, my eyeballs can't cry anymore and I start getting tired of feeling like crap all the time. So then I start thinking about everything in my life and what or who is it in my life that I absolutely love and am passionate about that can make me smile, and then I start thinking about how I can incorporate more of that into my everyday life, that I can either give up and settle for a crappy, depressing, unhappy life, or that I can do something about it and make it better. Exercising also helps sometimes (well, it certainly doesn't make it worse), and writing (or for me, typing) in a journal or talking (and crying) about it with my partner. Whatever helps me get it out. You can only hold it in for so long. Anyways, good luck to you, I know you will get through it. Report