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Psychotherapy.co.za : Articles : Articles : Self Help : Show Entry

 Hope in Depression
Submitted By DavidvdW | Added on: 2011 February 20 | Total Visits: 41620 | Printable version

The beast that purred like a kitten

There is hope in depression

Jacques Taylor
This article is not intended to be a compilation of theoretical facts about what depression is, what causes it and what the different treatment options for depression are. For that the internet provides thousands of websites with adequate information about depression. Instead, this article is written for those that know what it means to be living with depression every day and still feel gripped by and powerless in the jaws of depression.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacques Taylor is a Counselling Psychologist in private practice in Cape Town. He has a special interest in working with depression as well as anxiety disorders. View Jaques Taylor's profile here.


This article is not intended to be a compilation of theoretical facts about what depression is,  what causes it and what the different treatment options for depression are.  For that the internet provides thousands of websites with adequate information about depression.  Instead, this article is written for those that know what it means to be living with depression every day and still feel gripped by and powerless in the jaws of depression. 

More specifically, I would like to focus on a type of depression called dysthemia.  Yes, an ugly clinically cold word.  A word that still has the professionals slightly baffled.  Dysthemia, in a very important nutshell, is a form of depression on which psychiatric medication has little effect.  One might experience all the symptoms that the text books about depression refer to but for some reason.....the pills just don’t seem to do its job.  But why? 

Some professionals hypothesise that the reason lies in the possibility that dysthemia is more anchored in psychological causes than medical causes.  In other words (if we peel away all the jargon and skip a few hurdles):  Dysthemia is a form of depression in which we, as the sufferers, have got the power to break the grip the depression has on us.

“That’s all great to hear” you might say, “I’ve tried breaking that chain with depression but it just wouldn’t go away”.  Well, this article is written for you then because working with depression over time has shown me something:  that fighting against depression (against dysthemia) might make the depression even more persistent.  If it sounds absurd then I wouldn’t blame you.  If it sounds impossible then I urge you to finish reading this article.

There is hope in depression but a very important part of finding that hope and living it, lies in what kind of relationship we have with depression.  And yes, every depression sufferer has a very distinctive relationship with depression.  For some, depression is the dark force that pulls them down into an abysmal jail.  For others, the thief of hope, of time, of joy, of life....the beast that devours.   For others depression is a social taboo....a shame that deserves no right to existence.  But for all that suffer from depression there is a common factor:  they all try to get rid of it.
You might argue that it is normal to try and “get rid of it” since the effects depression has are so obviously debilitating.  You might argue that depression has got no value to add to our lives... like that itching rash that just irritates us all the time.   Here’s the thing:  what if depression does have some value to add to our lives?  What if we are trying to get rid of something that does have an existence right?  What if you have had the wrong relationship with depression all this time?

What if you are trying to abort a part of you?  Yes, you read correctly:  “...abort...”  I use this word knowingly because that is how strong I want to convey the message that depression does have a place in our lives because DEPRESSION IS PART AND PARCEL OF BEING HUMAN.  It is part and parcel of being a very normal human being.  It is part and parcel of being fallible. 
 I do have a suspicion that this is maybe where the problem lies:  we don’t want to be ‘fallible...vulnerable....”imperfect”.  We’re supposed to have all the answers, be ready for anything, never doubt, always carry a smile, never tire, never/always....(insert favourite phrase).  Doesn’t this sound so familiar to you?  For some reason (and you might have your theory on why) we believe that being human equals being perfect.  And being perfect means we never make mistakes, never falter and never appear weak.

Well, someone has to disappoint you...so allow me:  we are not superhuman.  No matter how hard we try, there will always be mishaps.  But here is the good news:  Our bodies are perfectly created to tell us when we have reached our individual limits. Our bodies have a way of letting us know that we have to take a “time-out”, that we need to stop and take stock of what is happening in our lives in order for us to decide how to proceed forward.

Have you guessed it?  Yes, depression can be the natural mechanism that informs us when we are not dealing with life’s stressors in a way that is beneficial and/or constructive to our development and being.  I say “..can be...” because we don’t regard depression in such a way.  We seldom choose to use life’s difficult experiences as a positive influence in our own life.  Instead we demand the impossible from ourselves in dealing with life’s pressures.

It is at this juncture that things turn sour very badly: By demanding the impossible from ourselves, from others and from the world we are quickly swamped with feelings of disappointed, guilt and anger.  A sense of disillusionment reigns.  Disillusionment in how this world actually is and that is: broken and imperfect.  Our assumptions and expectations about how life (and we) should be is shattered.  And the more our bodies and mind respond with signs urging us to take note of what’s going on in our lives....the more we urge that away....the more we insist on “fixing” whatever is “wrong”.

End result: we’re left with all of these symptoms of depression.  Symptoms we desperately do not want because we’re busy fighting another battle.  Before you know it, you are actually fighting two battles: the real life stressor AND your own body trying to send you a message......and this is usually when someone seeks professional help.
So what now?  What do you do about this dual battle that drains all your energy and sucks your will to live?  There are therapeutic techniques that focus completely on symptom alleviation and this might be necessary at times, especially if the depression is very severe.  However, this approach can send the message that the depression shouldn’t be there and that we are right in wishing it away.

I want to propose an alternative:  why not start by looking at what our bodies are trying to tell us amidst the stressor that impacts on our life.  What can you learn about yourself amidst this stressful time?  How can you grow as a person despite what life is throwing at you?  You need to seriously ask yourself these challenging questions.  These aren’t easy questions to answer, not by a long yard. 

Amidst and despite that painful divorce, the recent retrenchment, the loss of a loved one, the nagging  illness.....how can we learn from that?  Ask yourself the question because the moment we are willing and open to learn, to be surprised by life, to forgo the notion that we control everything....only then will we be willing to stop fighting against depression.  Only then will we acknowledge and respect the fact that we are in a period of change in our lives, a period of transition.  Only then will we see that we are in a desert.

We all know that deserts are harsh places.   In fact, we expect nothing less.  Well, depression is difficult and very taxing.  Depression is supposed to be tough, just like many other things in life.  And yes, the moment that we begin to learn in this desert....that is the moment that the harsh desert changes from unbearable to sufferable and later yet to endurable, tolerable, acceptable and finally manageable.  The shift has brought about a sense of contentment.   Contentment with being in the desert.  Contentment because we have chosen to decide what meaning we want to give to whatever is causing the stress.  We have chosen to grow.  We have chosen to take positive control of our lives and not be the victim.

This contentment won’t remove the desert, it won’t put money into the bank account of the unemployed and neither will it return the dead to the living.  No, it will not lessen the pain  of this broken world.....merely give us the courage to endure it.  It will lessen the fear of being in the desert.

At the end of it all it is an attitude change towards life, stress and depression that is needed: if you are willing to submerge yourself into difficult times, to endure it and stop trying to push it away....then the effects of depression won’t be as debilitating as before.

If we are courageous enough to try and befriend depression.....then this once ugly beast might and can turn into a purring kitten.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacques Taylor is a Counselling Psychologist in private practice in Cape Town. He has a special interest in working with depression as well as anxiety disorders. View Jaques Taylor's profile here.



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