I suffered from depression in my 20’s after various traumas in the military. For the past 35 years, I have learned to manage depression when it returns. This post discusses my fundamental approach.
Having a sense of understanding enriches our experiences in life. Failure to understand our experiences is frustrating. Afterward we appraise those frustrating events again to make sense in our own terms. That’s a good thing. But a bad thing can happen when we get stuck in a not-making-sense-at-all dead end. Things worsen when this cycle repeats time and again without resolution. We get anxious, initially, then repeated failures of sensemaking frustrate us and make us angry.
Eventually we feel emotionally drained. This cycle physically damages our sense-making brains as well. We lose the ability to get out of the dead end on our own, and depression results. It is not only psychological but also biological and chemical.
For me, the first step to stop the cycle of depression is to stop reacting to depression, and rather embrace it. I know this sounds philosophical and hard to do in reality, but, in fact, it’s very practical. Embracing simply means to give depression a chance to hang around without bias, without pushing it away, lessening my emotional resistance and inner conflicts. Embracing is mental acceptance and an invitation to share my personal space. I become a facilitator for the inner work to move on from depression and resume my reengaged self.
This change of attitude, from reacting to embracing, gives you a base platform to start from. It’s the first step for your one thousand mile journey as saying goes.
Acceptance of your depression increases the range of your awareness. You have more options. Keep your mind open, to anything, and look for anchors that can link you to what matters in your life. If you feel like nothing matters, try to remember what was important to you prior to depression and imagine regaining that feeling.
Another important point: Acceptance means that you should be realistic. Don’t expect miracles. Neither you nor your spouse or family members or friends or coworkers can perform miracles. In other words, we all are imperfect and should be realistic in our expectations of others and most of all ourselves. Try to live with yourself the way you are. You are perfectly fine as you are when you come to think of it. You don’t need validation from anybody.
Acceptance means that you believe that there is something you truly cared or care about deep inside yourself, and you would like to reach out to it once more. It can be an old hobby that you have forgotten, projects you didn’t have time to act on, or friends you lost contact with. Something that is important for you. Something that means a lot to you.
Acceptance also brings your mind to where you are now, in depression, unfortunately. Fortunately though, when you accept the way you are, there is peace with your burdens. Even accepting the fact that you are depressed lessens the inner struggle of fighting and denying that fact. With this, you gain a little more peace and your energy levels go up gradually.
With acceptance and increased energy levels, you will be able to find a thing or two to do that will help you recover further. Ideally, it would be good to have a thing that can pull you up and a thing that can push you up. As the saying goes, two hands are better than one. The thing to pull you up would be a thing you want to do: a goal, no matter how little it may be. Thinking about something interesting you can pull you out of this current moment into the near future, sparking desire. The thing to push you would be having support from your spouse or friends or mentor or even a total stranger you happen to chat with one day. You never know.
With acceptance, greater energy levels, and things that would pull and push you, you have a foundation for the inner work that you need to do next.