The Surprising Message Of Depression
The feeling of depression can be debilitating. It’s heavy, it’s lethargic and it makes you feel as if nothing will ever feel good again. It can creep up unexpectedly and overwhelm everything.
You know a run will make you feel better, but you can’t seem to muster up the energy to go. You know dinner with friends will probably be fun, but the thought of having to put on a mask of enthusiasm overrides the potential benefit. I found myself completely caught off guard when depression raised its ugly head for the first time in my 30s. I didn’t like its doubt and darkness and was ill-prepared for its intensity and fear. I was told by others to “take action” and to “seek help” and yet I knew for sure that this wasn’t going to be solved through external means. Something more was going on here.
So I got curious.
I started paying attention to what was going on in my life. I started journaling. I observed how I felt in each area of my life. I asked questions of myself. And I paid careful attention to the answers.
And this is what I found to be true for me:
- The feeling of depression is not necessarily the same as being depressed.
- The feeling of heaviness and lethargy is not necessarily something that “just happens”.
- The feeling of hopelessness and despair is not necessarily without explanation and therefore the potential for change.
I started to realize that the darkest times of my life were not “just because”. They were intrinsically linked to what else was (or wasn’t) going on in my life…and how I was feeling about that.
Depression as Boredom
I realized that for me, feeling depressed was exactly the same as feeling bored. And when I went into the feelings behind feeling bored, this is what came up for me: tired, disinterested, uninspired, stuck, flat. Pretty similar to feeling depressed as it turns out. And when the stories I told myself about feeling this way added shame and hopelessness to the situation, the feelings only grew more intense and more relentless until it really did feel like full-blown depression.
Understanding this has been a real game-changer for me in how I handle these feelings. Being clear on what is going on behind these emotions has helped me get clear on what needs to be happening in my life in order to prevent that black dog from barking. I’m now absolutely certain that my feeling joyful means feeling energized, inspired, productive and creative. And I know that and that in order to feel these things I need to intentionally design my life that way. I need to consciously create my diary, my days and my moments in a way that actively helps me feel this way.
If I don’t actively make these choices, the dark feelings return. If I get stuck in the humdrum of routine; if I’m not productive; if I don’t have purpose; if I don’t have enough variety in my life, I start to feel low. And then lower still. I now refer to my personal experience of depression in a different way. Because for me, it’s not depression, it’s joylessness. It’s the personal realization that what’s making me feel lifeless is not a physiological condition; it’s simply a lack of inspiration.
Look Deeper, be Curious
If you’re experiencing low feelings for the first time, my suggestion it to take a deeper look first. Get curious about the feeling of being depressed. Try and describe what it feels like in other ways, in different words; and then start thinking about what else makes you feel that way. When else does it show up for you? What leads to that? What makes you feel the opposite? What alleviates it? Are there certain times, days, seasons that you feel different? What’s going on for you there?
When I learned that my version of feeling depressed wasn’t really about being depressed at all, a new possibility came into view and I finally I learned that I could do something about it after all. Now I can choose a different reality. Now I can get up and be of greater contribution to the world.
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