When a woman in our community — a young, vibrant, kind, deeply spiritual, very loving mother of three young children — committed suicide in December, it tore a deep gash in the fabric of the many lives she had touched. As we gathered for her memorial, many of us were still in shock, not understanding how someone so precious and loved and loving could take her own life.
As a former teacher and a friend, I wanted to understand what had happened, what I could have done differently, what our community could have done differently. It was several posts on Raven’s page that guided me to more understanding of what she, and many others, was struggling with.
Raven had suffered from severe depression for years. She had tried to commit suicide previously. This time the temptation of a nearby gun was too great, her false belief too all-encompassing that everyone, including her kids and her new husband, would be better off without her.
As I re-read her final farewell Facebook post for a third time, and scrolled through her pictures and previous posts, I came upon a short article she had found and posted about depression. It described the numbness and hopelessness of depression, and posed the request: “Just sit with me. Hold my hand. Don’t try and talk. Just be with me.”
I wish that I had known when Raven emailed me two weeks before her death and asked about coming to our Winter Solstice ceremony, that she needed a friend, a hand, a heart. I wish that when she got lost on the way to the ceremony she had texted me for directions. I wish that when she didn’t show up on December 20th I had called her and asked how she was doing. I wish that instead of posting a farewell message on December 28th she had picked up the phone. We all wish many things. And I honor Raven’s choice.
There have been gifts from her passing. I’ve become dear friends with her best friends, who called me to hold space for her memorial. I’ve learned more about depression and suicide. I’ve talked to many friends who have struggled with depression, or who have had someone in their life who was suicidal or had committed suicide. I now have so much more compassion and patience and understanding for people who are struggling with depression.
And one of the greatest gifts was a mind-heart-expanding article a friend wrote and sent to me about her experience with depression. As I was talking to “Chris” one day about Raven she said, “Wow, I just realized that I was severely depressed for 20 years and I had forgotten all about it.” That night Chris wrote out her story. Over the next few days she edited and rewrote the original article, tracking her depression experiences and sharing suggestions for understanding and assisting someone who is depressed.”
My commitment to myself was not to dwell on the what if’s, but to focus on the gift that Raven was in my life for the brief time I knew her, and to support those affected by her passing. After her death my commitment to Raven was that I would help care for her children, whom I hold in my heart everyday. And that I would call a friend who was depressed and check in regularly. And that I would do my best to get the word out about depression and suicide and how we can help create a safety net for those struggling during their darkest times.
Chris’s article is the answer to my prayer for how to do that. It is poignantly written, a baring of the soul so we can peek into the depths of despair and frustration depression brings.
Whether you are struggling with depression or know someone who is in caught in the numbing, thick fog of hopelessness, this article will shine light into the depths. Clinical depression is not an easy fix with a “snap out of it!” attitude. Depression is not simply feeling bad, it is a complex physiological, biological, emotional, and spiritual issue that takes multiple approaches for healing. And it is possible to heal. It is possible to learn about your patterns and cycles and learn to witness them, and to step out of the downward spiral earlier in the cycle. If you struggle with depression, please get the support and guidance you need.
Within Chris’s article are a list of resources and ways to support someone who is depressed/suicidal. At the very end of her article I also added a book list. Whether you are someone who dances with depression or a friend/family member who loves them, please share your stories and resources in the comments, and know you are not alone, that you are not to blame, that you are precious.
For the Raven I saw Flying Free in the Redwoods
(an account of my experiences suffering from depression)
By Chris Cura
I was at a 3 day retreat, part of a 9 month leadership program. One day a ropes course group came in to do some team building activities; most of them physical. The last exercise was to gather into a circle, one person on the inside. That person was instructed to become stiff as a board, close their eyes, and then fall backwards into the arms of the persons behind them, the group would catch them and then slowly pivot this board-like person around or across the circle, and eventually bring the person to the center upright again. It was an exercise in trusting this group of people you didn’t really know, and in the process learning about yourself. Learning how you would react. Would you cringe in discomfort or actually laugh as some people did as if it was a kid’s version of a carnival ride?
People volunteered to be the board-like person, until everyone had had their turn… except me. I was hesitant to say the least. The group waited and looked to me once they realized I was the last to go. After a moment of silence the facilitator said, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ll do it.” I said. I didn’t want to be cowardly.
I moved slowly to the center of the circle and stood still. I closed my eyes, and began to cry. I don’t know how long I stood there with tears rolling down my face, the group stunned into a deep quiet. Eventually I let myself, no, I willed myself to fall backwards, and these strangers, standing in this utter silence caught me and slowly, gently, moved me around the circle, tears still streaming from my face. When they brought me back to center I stepped back into my place in the circle. I felt the need to explain, since I had changed the whole dynamic of the game.
“I suffer from major depressions. A depression feels like falling backward into a deep dark hole, knowing no one is going to catch you.”
After a pause the facilitator replied, “I understand. My mother is bipolar and suffers from depression. This is the one exercise she cannot do.”
THE EXPERIENCE OF DEPRESSION
Depression is one of those experiential things in life. Like many spiritual experiences we can describe it or if we are poetic use metaphors to explain, but until you have had the experience, you will not really understand. I get that. Even so, I am going to do just that, describe symptoms and maybe use metaphors and similes to try to help you understand, and hopefully give you knowledge of how best to help someone who is depressed. I am writing this so you have a clue to the suffering, so you can judge a little less, feel a little more compassion, and perhaps be of service. I do not presume that my experience of depression is identical to anyone else, but have read enough to know there are many similarities. But my experiences and opinions are what I have to offer.
Who am I to talk about depression? My depressions started in high school, and hit hard my junior year of college. I was eventually after a few major depressions and bad reactions to medication, diagnosed as “ Bipolar II with a Rapid Cycle”. That means I had manic episodes, but they were short, for me usually 8 to 24 hours. The “II” vs.”I” meant I did not have psychotic episodes during these times. Also I was never violent to anyone (but myself).
Often during my manic times, I was super productive, and my mind and tongue were very quick. Occasionally I would touch upon euphoric states or experience “flights of ideas” but these periods were brief and led into driven uncomfortable states. Manic states are not “good” vs. “bad” depressive states as I have heard some people assume. Yes there can be creativity and euphoria , but for me they were mostly a nervous system irritability, like your brain and body being on an uncontrollable constant drip of espresso. And even on those rare occasions when the manic episodes felt good, energizing, creative, and productive; the crash afterward was never worth it.
My manic episodes though real and usually uncomfortable were not the major issue for me, my larger issue was the depression. Though the depressions could also just last for a few hours, more often they lasted for days, and they would sometimes last for weeks or even months. They would come on slowly, or they could hit in an instant, like a wave crashing over me. I could be fine one day, and wake up the next morning struggling to function. Winter was the worse with the added SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and by end of most years I felt suicidal. There are people who suffer solely from clinical depression (single incident or reoccurring) and others who have bipolar disorders (and bipolar disorder is split into categories), and others with SAD, etc. The illnesses have differences, the common experience is depression. I am not a mental health professional or researcher; I am just a person who suffered from depression for over 20 years.
I am also an anomaly; I healed. I healed from a mental illness that I was supposed to suffer from my whole life. For that I am incredible grateful and it gives me the opportunity to write now from a witness state without fear of being pulled back into that hell (though I write this under a alias for fear of being stigmatized.) Being bipolar with a rapid cycle also gave me unique opportunities to view what was going on in my mind as I went in and out of the depressions.
I was on medications for years, which helped, but I was hard to medicate. I didn’t respond the same as most people, therefore psychiatrists were constantly adjusting of types of medications and doses for me to use. To assist in adjusting the medications I for many years kept a daily graph of my mood swings, noting if things felt emotional (caused by a situation) or bio-chemical, if I was just feeling good or if the feelings had a manic overtone or behavior associated with them. On my chart I had 5 levels of depression; the 1st level was for things like unexplained emotions or mental processing issues, the 5th level being suicidal. The graph may seem obsessive and in part it was, but part of my psyche’s defensive mechanism was to forget. If I was depressed Monday through Wednesday, if you asked me Friday how I had been, I would answer just fine because my mind had already started blocking out that a few days before I was feeling horrible. This graphing activity gave me years of experience of stalking my mind and my emotions and my depression symptoms.
First let’s start with language, because the way we have come to casually use the word “depression” causes some misunderstanding. Most often I hear the word “depression” used to mean “really sad.” I had one friend whose mother was a nurse, who coming from the medical world, would make my friend clarify when she said she was depressed. “Are you sad? (an emotion) or depressed? (a bio-chemical condition).” I looked up the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of the depression: 1) a state of feeling sad. (OK so the dictionary has that definition, too). 2) a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.
I think we do a disservice to people who suffer from “clinical depression” by using the word to mean “sad”, depression is much more than an emotion. It has also mental, physical, and energetic/spiritual aspects. And using it to dramatize our emotion of sadness can blind us to all those other symptoms and aspects of clinical depression. It can also lead us to forget that depression is a medical illness, not a fleeting state.
SADNESS or IS IT?
But since I and the dictionary brought up sadness, let’s start with the emotions of depression. Yes there is sadness, a deep sadness, but emotions have energy. Or speaking from an energetic perspective, emotions are energy, and they have movement (if we allow them to move that is). Deep depression ends up feeling almost like the absence of emotion. Grief, anger, and sadness move through us and can even explode and then dissipate. In depression, your emotions, no, you along with your emotions are imploding. You and your emotions are being sucked into a black hole. So sadness doesn’t even feel quite like the right word for what you feel when you are depressed, because it is a sadness that doesn’t move. If you let that one sink in, “a sadness that doesn’t move”, the use of the word hopelessness in the above definition doesn’t need much explaining.
A couple weeks after my mother had died, I sat on the beach and cried. Afterward, I was amazed at how light I felt, it was cathartic. This was a new feeling for me. In depression, there is definitely crying. I remember being in public and starting to cry, hiding in a public bathroom crying, sitting alone crying, sitting in my car in a parking lot for over 20 minutes crying, waiting until I had enough energy and focus to drive home. Crying and crying for no reason, so deep in the depression the mind was not even engaged enough to create stories about the reason why. And after the crying stopped? It was not cathartic. There was no light feeling, there was no lightening up of the pain, there was no light. Only the shame of crying in public. Only the fear of having no control of my said “emotions”.
So sit with this for a moment. Think about being in the store or sitting in a lobby waiting for an appointment or getting into your car after filling it with gas and you begin to cry. Just crying for no reason, and you can’t control it. You can’t bite your tongue or jut out your jaw to rein it in, just crying unable to stop. Can you imagine for a moment how disconcerting that would be? How embarrassing that would be if it happened in public? Imagine not being able to stop the tears? Can you imagine how out of control you would you feel? Any woman who has experienced strong PMS can probably imagine how this may feel, suddenly having your hormones hijack your emotions, and feeling out control. It’s kind of like that.
In the beginning stages of depression the mind is engaged, and it is telling stories. It, of course, doesn’t know they are stories, it is the mind’s reality. Like most of our minds stories really, except the depressed mind’s reality has become really morbid. I have heard our natural mind being described as a clear ball that is covered with veils by our experiences which then changes our view, perception, and interpretation (our stories) as we view the world through those veils. Depression doesn’t visit the mind as a translucent veil; it comes like a thick dark fog in the forest on a moon-less night. The depressed person’s mind is literally unable to see anything but the negative in its world, including itself.
For someone who is not depressed that constant negativity is hard to handle, it just plain crazy (yep, remember depression is a mental illness not an emotion). So for compassion sake, see if you can imagine what it is like to see nothing positive in your world, absolutely nothing, and have no hope that there will ever be anything positive.
If you are with someone who is depressed and they are stuck on the negative, pointing out their negativity most likely will not help the situation or change their view. Nor will arguing that their view is unrealistic, or crazy. Remember you are in the sunshine or maybe under cloudy skies, they are in a dark fog and that is all they are capable of seeing. That fog puts them deep in a world of self-judgement, adding your judgement to that heavy load will not help them. I would suggest better yet, try to trick and divert their thought cycle; break the neuronal pattern. (After all a depressed person’s ability to focus is already compromised, I say why not take advantage of that.) Point out something beautiful in the vicinity. Without invalidating them, just simply change the subject. Talk about something mundane about yourself or something that happened to you, just don’t expect them to completely follow what you are saying. At a low level of depression I would ask people to tell me about their day, something in their world, it gave me something to grab onto and the external focus would bring me closer to the surface. (Plus it was a hell of a lot better than talking about my day seen from my perspective.) Again, this is in the beginning to middle stages of depression, deeper into the dark hole, talking to a depressed person will drain their energy and make things worse. It takes energy to listen and to process language.
Oh and by the way, saying “just snap out of it”, doesn’t work, it doesn’t lift the fog, it doesn’t correct the imbalance in serotonin levels in their brain; it just hurts. It hurts because the person can’t snap out of it, and just adds to their load of self-judgement. When the black hole pulls them in deeper that self-judgement simply becomes self-loathing. I think everyone who has suffered from depression including me has had someone or many people say that phrase to them. “Just snap out of it” is more about your frustration of not being able to fix the situation or not wanting to touch the ugliness of it, then wanting to help. So perhaps instead it would be more honest to say, “I’m sorry, your depression is just too hard for “me” right now, I can’t help you.”
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WHO IS DEPRESSED
Depression feels like a complete loss of energy.
So how can you help, when someone is losing their energy; all their energy. First don’t drain them more: don’t instruct, don’t demand, don’t overwhelm, don’t dance and laugh thinking your joy will be contagious.
Ask questions of what they want or need, but don’t demand answers. You may have to figure out it instinctively or intuitively or by simply observing their responses to what you do even if those responses are in slow motion.
If you are in a good space and good at holding your energetic vibration, just sit with them. Just be in the room, make an internally unsafe environment a bit safer by your presence. Remember it is not about you, don’t get sucked in to the darkness, maintain your light.
Silence is OK and often preferred, sound and particularly language takes energy to interpret. Play soothing music, you can try it. But be observant of whatever you do. Is what you doing making the person feel more at ease or more agitated or are they losing energy, is it making them more hollow?
Even in cyclical depressions like mine, that often would last only a few days, while I was in them I would forget that they would go away. They had a sense of eternal darkness about them. I clung to the words of one of my therapist as she spoke to me over the phone, “It will pass. This is what I know about you. This will pass.” But while in a depression even those words can easily be forgotten. If I mustered up the strength and courage to call a sympathetic friend, I would ask them to say just this one thing, “Tell me, it is going to OK”. I was asking them to give me a thread of hope.
I spent most of my worse depression days and nights alone. More gentle touch would have been nice. Stroking my arm, or a soft hand on my cheek or over my broken heart would have been comforting. Gentle touch can silently beckon someone back into their body. But I would not ask for touch even if I wanted it. When you are that deep into the black hole you see yourself as despicable, who would want to touch you? But as a friend you can ask if it is OK or simply slowly gently do it and watch for a response of permission. Don’t take offense if they pull away, touch just may be too much for their nervous system or their psyche to handle; it is not about you.
Someone safe to hold me as I fell backwards into the deep dark hole? No, that seemed like too much to ask for – but if you are in the position and feel comfortable to offer that, please do.
You can express love verbally or better yet energetically, but don’t blame yourself if they are just too deep in the dark forest fog to take it in.
Mood stabilizers and anti-depressants saved my life. They had side-effects, especially the ones before Prozac and its relatives. I hated the medications; I felt they took over too much of me and I lost track of who I was. They had physical side effects and mental side effects. I am still dealing with some of the effects of the medications a decade after being off of them. And, they saved my life.
Now if I was to suffer from depression I would first seek out an acupuncturist, natural herbal treatments, appropriate meditation techniques, and a shaman/energy healer. But if the depression still did not lift, I would accept that I have a genetic predisposition to depression, and I would take the medications because they might be the last resort that would save my life.
DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE
I walked over twenty years with a thin red line running a few feet away from me. A thin red line running parallel to my life just to the left of me. On my darkest days I moved close to it, I would edge right up next to it. That line of suicide was both my fear and my comfort. It was always an option if I just could not stand the pain anymore, the ultimate rescue from this inexplicable internal hell.
Because my depressions were so frequent, I can’t count the number of times I felt suicidal to varying degrees. I know each year when I made it to another birthday I was surprised. I know I stopped making life plans because I figured I wouldn’t have much of one. I know at least twice I was at that point of ending the pain by killing myself; the second time I entered a state of complete peace with the decision of taking my own physical life. Both times circumstances intervened.
As a kid, I remember my dad once saying suicide was cowardly. I don’t think so. Moving past all the religious viewpoints of suicide bringing eternal damnation, I think about our wiring as animals. Look at the incredible physical hardship, pain, and suffering people will go through to survive. Our most basic fear is based on our physical safety. It is part of our biological wiring to “survive”. Taking that into consideration, what amount of pain is a person in that that pain causes them to take an action that is in opposition to their most basic primal instinct of staying alive?
Sunny Dawn Johnston, in her book The Love Never Ends, coming from her experience as medium says that those who commit suicide receive extra time in a healing space. They experience the same unconditional love as anyone else that transitions. I find that comforting. If you have lost someone to suicide, I suggest reading her book, you may find it comforting too.
Recently, I have been contemplating the Buddhist concept of basic goodness or primordial purity. My understanding of this concept is that we are at our core simply love and compassion. That everything we do is in an attempt, usually a failed or misguided attempt, to fulfill the love from which stems our desire to be at ease, or to fulfill that compassion from which stems our desire to be free from suffering. And twisted thinking as some may see it, I recently came to see suicide not as self-punishment, but as an act of compassion, an act to end one’s suffering. From my perspective now, I see crossing over that thin red line as the result of a deep desire to escape the bondage of suffering and to fly free again.
I don’t judge anyone who takes their own life. Yes, it hurts the people they leave behind; that is not their intent, and may not even be in their mind’s view when the dark fog is so very thick. It’s not about you. A depressed person brain is not working correctly; their mind is not thinking coherently, it is not making sense. The black hole of depression has its own logic. They may see themselves so negatively at that point, that their departure is their gift to the world. Or they may be so removed from their physical body that it is not an issue leaving it behind. Or they simply cannot tolerate the pain any longer.
HELPING SOMEONE WHO IS SUICIDAL
What to do if you think someone is at risk of committing suicide? I would, of course, say intervene if possible. You may be able to engage them, at least once, by asking them to “promise” not to hurt themselves and let them know you are coming to be with them. (They may still have some ethical connection to “promising” something.) Tell them you love them. Move quick. Call 911 if you think it necessary. And then please don’t blame yourself if any of this wasn’t enough; it’s not about you. If they don’t call anyone for help, it’s because they were clear on their decision; it’s not about you.
IF YOU ARE SUICIDAL
Please call someone to talk to who can show up for you with compassion, hold your hand, be with you.
There are numerous Suicide Hotlines to call; don’t hesitate to call whether you are feeling suicidal or supporting someone who is suicidal.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide Resources Online
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
imalive.org (IMAlive is a live online network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis. A place you can “chat” if talking to someone on the phone is too overwhelming.)
DEEPENING UNDERSTANDING: MORE SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
CONFUSION, MEMORY, and TRACKING
A lot of the symptoms of depression involve the brain decrease in its ability to function. I am fairly intelligent. (Though I have to admit the depressions and the medications to treat it did some lasting damage to my mental capabilities.) For example, my first couple years of college, I decided to have the highest grade in all my classes, including those classes that were part of a selective honors program. I was smart but knew that there were probably students smarter than me especially in the honors group, so I decide I would just put in more study time than they were apt to. The plan worked, I succeeded having the top grade in all my classes.
So say you are fairly intelligent, and you notice your brain is NOT working right. The wrong words are coming out, and no, you haven’t had a stroke. Your boss asks you a question about a project you are working on and you draw a complete blank. You suddenly have no idea how to spell a simple word, and feel ridiculous asking a co-worker a third time, “How do you spell ‘keep’?” Or you start getting lost. You are driving to work or to your home, the same roads you take 5 days a week, and you look up and think “where the hell am I?” And you have to struggle to figure out how to correct your route. Yes, these were some of my symptoms of depression. Can you imagine how, for a fairly intelligent person, having your brain stop functioning correctly could be disheartening? That probably could have also seemed alarming and really scary to me, had I not been depressed and wasn’t expending so much effort in trying to function and maintain an image of normalcy.
One of the reasons I did well in college was I had a really good memory. During or after a major depression my memory would sometimes be greatly affected. My sisters will still sometimes tell me of significant events of our childhood and all I can say is “OK, if you say so” and take their word for it. After one major depression where I ended up on disability, I came back to work and could remember no passwords or number combinations. Facilities at work and at the gym had to cut off my combination locks, because I had not written down the numbers and they were nowhere to be found in my brain. After that event, I used very systematic passwords, and wrote down things that in the past I would just trust to my excellent memory.
Deeper into a depression the concentration gets weaker and weaker. It becomes harder and harder to track conversations. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what people were saying, including my therapists, but after a couple sentences, I couldn’t hold onto the thought path. A friend, who had suffered from depressions, was very conscious of that. I remember us talking one day, and her gently saying “you’re having troubles tracking aren’t you?” It was said with understanding, because she had been there. Plus I’m sure she noticed the blank look on my face.
So if you are with someone who is depressed please remember, their brain isn’t functioning at its highest level, it is just not working right. Don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat yourself, or it seems like they aren’t listening (they maybe just can’t track the words), or if the person has to take what seems like an inordinate amount of time to answer a question. Your frustration will only add to the weight of their self-judgement.
OTHER MIND STUFF
One of my symptoms, a warning sign of an onset of depression was rapid random flashbacks. Nothing traumatic, just random mundane snapshots of scenes throughout my life. I would be working on a spreadsheet at work, and a slide show would be overlaid in my mind’s eye; making a left turn in Santa Barbara one year, walking down a sidewalk in Redondo Beach some other year. None of the psychologists or psychiatrists I had seen had heard of this particular symptom. It was like the visual part of my brain just started randomly throwing out flashes of files. I called it brain vomit. But I also knew when it started it was time to put other strategies in place to help me cope with the oncoming depression.
I add this information to let you know, the depressed person you are with may have symptoms of depression that just are not in the book. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real symptoms.
Indecisiveness is a trademark symptom of depression. Having to make a decision when you are depressed can feel excruciatingly hard. Going to a grocery store when I was depressed was one of the most difficult tasks I had to do. Do you realize how many objects there are in a grocery store? Do you realize how many decisions you make when you are grocery shopping? OK, think, if every decision is hard and you are making 20, 30, 40 decisions to buy a week’s worth of groceries, how overwhelming and arduous that one task is.
When I was depressed just the decision of what to eat for lunch could bring me to tears. Part of the strategy a therapist had me put in place was to buy some vegetarian frozen pockets I liked at the time and to have some in the freezer at all times. If I was depressed, no choice, I would eat one of those.
So you want to be compassionate to someone with depression, and you notice indecisiveness, then don’t ask, suggest. Don’t ask what they want to eat, suggest something to eat. “I’m going to make you a turkey sandwich for lunch, OK?” If the depression is really bad, don’t ask or suggest, just bring them food. Don’t get offended if they don’t want it, you lose your appetite when you are depressed. So just encourage them to eat.
If you know the person well and are willing to spend the time, volunteer to run an errand for them, or do their grocery shopping for them. Stores are really hard to handle when you are depressed.
SENSES AND MOTOR SKILLS
Talking of food, one way I would realize I was getting depressed was my sense of taste would change, would become more dull. Actually all my senses would become dulled, my vision, my hearing, my sense of touch. So the world became less engaging. The black hole pulls you away from experiencing life’s richness. It turns a color photo into a faded out-of-focus black and white one.
I also would become clumsy, as in more clumsy than I normally am. My depressions affected my motor skills, and it would take more concentration to do tasks like the dishes. Yes, and that means more frustration, and if you don’t have the energy for frustration just more hopelessness and self-criticism.
It was during a rapid cycle back and forth I was able to witness what I call by the musical term the Molto Ritardando of the Brain (meaning to go much slower, gradually slow down.) I watched as things that normally would be subconscious came into view. The instructions for movements we take for granted. Sorry to be so graphic. but I clearly remember sitting on the toilet observing my brain tell my right hand to reach for the toilet paper, grab on, break it off, etc. I watched the instructions play out for every little thing our brain tells us to do just to take a pee.
I had a stick shift VW bug at the time, and the shifting would become that kind of task too. I would tell my hand to reach for the gear shift and move it from 2nd to 3rd. It would do it, and I was so disconnected from my physical body, part of me was amazed my hand and arm had responded to the directive.
I experienced that the brain is literally slowing down its processing functions when it is depressed.
ENERGY – LACK OF MOTIVATION
One of the indications of depression is a lack of interest or motivation. I think this comes from not the negativity or lack of self-esteem that accompanies depression, so much as the lack of physical energy. Depression is a form of physical exhaustion. On my bad days, I spent most my day in bed. I would literally have to focus and encourage myself for up to two hours before I could muster the energy to get up and shower.
I remember hearing an interview with a psychologist who said how he remembered encouraging his depressed clients to get outside and take a walk, knowing the endorphins from the exercise would help relieve their chemical state. Then he experienced a depression himself, and realized that why so many of his clients didn’t follow his advice, was because they couldn’t. He found himself, too tired to go for a walk, too tired to get up.
So here is a way you can help your friend who is depressed, ask permission to do chores for them. I would have been so grateful for someone to clean my home for me. Or see if you can get them to just get outside and sit in nature, you may not be able to. If they can go for a walk, great, but be close by so they feel safe (and they can find their way home). Be quiet on your walk, because there is already a lot of a stimulus outside for their tired brain to process.
And then there is the sleep. At the beginning stages of depression, I would sleep and sleep a lot. It was from fatigue but also gave a retrieve from the bleak waking world. But if the depression got really bad, at level 4 or 5 on my graph, I would have trouble being able to sleep. It was an insult to injury. It seemed so unfair, to lie awake in hell, and be denied the escape of sleep. When you are already physically fatigued, not being able to sleep obviously compounds the issue.
There is physical energy, but there is also the energy body. When I was depressed, I was separate from my body. From somewhere far within, I would look at the world through my eyes and it was like looking through glass windows. Often I would be so “out of my body”, disassociated, I could not feel physical pain.
HELL IS IN THE MIND (OR AT LEAST IN THE BRAIN)
Let’s take a moment to review the symptoms and experiences of depression I have shared. Sit with each one and think of how it would be to experience it:
a sadness that doesn’t move
a mind unable to see anything but the negative
inability to track conversations
difficulty making simple decisions
the brain slowing down
the senses dulling
physical fatigue to the point of not being able to get out of bed
OK, now add them all up at the same time and try to experience them all at once. No don’t! I don’t want anyone to experience that even for a minute. But I think you get my point. Do you get a sense of the suffering? Do you now understand what hell depression is? Whether it is a spiritual crisis or a chemical imbalance in the brain doesn’t matter when you are in a depression, it is hell and it is incredibly painful and escape feels hopeless. It feels like the implosion of your very soul.
HOW DEPRESSION CHANGED MY LIFE
Depression killed my dreams.
It killed my self-confidence.
It killed some brain cells.
I changed my educational plans, and then my career plans. I gave up on music, it took more physical energy and focus than I could muster. I gave up on being in a relationship – I would not want to put someone through that. For many years depression turned my life into a day by day survival.
I know now I was more fortunate than many that suffer from depression and in many ways. In college my junior year I had a friend in grad school that had already lost two friends to suicide. When she recognized the depth of my depression, she insisted and walked with me to get professional help. My first therapist was really good and directed me to a good psychiatrist. This set the bar for what mental health professionals I would choose to work with in the future. In my over twenty years of depression I was never hospitalized, because I finagled out of it, not wanting it to show up on my medical records and effect future employment options. Other than a couple times when I had to go on disability, I was able to continue to work and support myself. I would go to work when I was ill to save my sick days for the days I couldn’t work due to depression. I had an understanding boss during the really horrendous time while the medications were being worked out. He gave me simple assignments on bad days, because he said he knew I would more than make up for it on the good ones.
I became really good at strategies for self-care and working with my brain as it was in the moment. Though at the time I wouldn’t have called it self-care, it was just what was necessary to keep functioning and to disguise from the outside world what was happening in my internal one. I became an excellent stalker of my mind and emotions. And I am anomaly, I healed.
The fact that I healed, and that now I can actually enter states of peace, and joy, and love, fleeting as these states may be, is amazing to me. I understand for many who suffer from depression that will never be their experience. That saddens me, and at the same time it also makes my present life a miracle.
So much gratitude to Chris for sharing her story… Please feel free to share your thoughts below as well as any other resources. The list below is from a search on google and amazon.com of recommended books. Blessings, HeatherAsh
When Words are Not Enough by Valerie Rasking
What To Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed : A Practical, Compassionate, and Helpful Guide for Caregivers, by Mitch Golant, Susan K. Golant
I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, by Terrence Real
Reasons to Stay Alive By Matt Haig
Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hansen
Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning by Eric Maisel[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]