Most people who come to counselling or therapy feel depressed.
Whether or not they have an official diagnosis; they feel sad, hopeless and bad about themselves and their lives. Often depression comes hand in hand with anxiety, an experience of nervous tension and panic (I have written more about anxiety in a separate article- here).
There are 728,000,000 other places on the internet (according to google) where you can read about depression, so I don’t think there is a need to give you the official party line and list of symptoms here. I’m a lot more interested in writing a little about our particular perspective on depression and how our approaches may help you move forward.
The many forms of depression
Depression comes in many forms. In its lower grade forms, it is for many people a fairly constant experience, a kind of background drone in their lives. A persistent lack of joy, spark and energy. A nagging doubt about the point of all this- that’s never quite addressed. Of course depression can also take on more acute forms and become completely debilitating.
As John Welwood points out in his book Toward a Psychology of Awakening: “By framing depression as a mental illness to dispose of as quickly as possible, the psychiatric profession and the culture at large make it difficult to approach this experience with curiosity and interest, or to find meaning in it”. Indeed, at EarthMind we tend to steer away from diagnoses- which can be rigidifying and limiting, but rather we tend to see depression as an existential outcry, an opportunity for growth.
There are many components to depression. Some physiological- which can be addressed with herbs, diet, lifestyle changes, exercise and biofeedback (and also anti-depressants of course). And while it can be vital to address this side, these methods only address a limited part of the whole. In order to not only heal, but grow and flourish, we need to find out what the obstacles are that prevent us from living fully.
Most people who suffer from depression have lost (or never known) a sense of faith in the basic goodness of the world and themselves. This loss may be the result of specific recent events (loss of a loved one, job, relationship, hopes etc.) or it may be a general experience of defeat and failure that has been present since childhood. People who suffer from depressed feelings tend to turn their anger and bitterness inward and blame themselves for whatever has happened to them.
This results in shame and self-hatred, the idea that there is something wrong with us personally and that we are powerless to have any control over our lives. This experience is so painful that we don’t want to face it. We begin to turn away from our pain and reject it. Now our pain begins to congeal and become more sticky (I have written in some more detail about this process in my article Pain x Resistance = Suffering, see link below).
No solid ground
From a Buddhist perspective, clinging to anything, hoping that something will provide lasting relief and solid ground beneath your feet is a recipe for disaster. As it turns out, nothing is ever exactly what we hope or believe it to be. We may achieve the major career success we had been striving for and discover it doesn’t really give us lasting fulfilment after all. The new dress/iPhone/car/whatever that gave you that quick dopamine hit when you bought it, quickly fades and loses its appeal.
As normal everyday unenlightened humans we are constantly trying to find something solid and dependable among the shifting sands of reality. Something that we can rely on. We try and build stories and identities that offer us some security, rather than opening up to the fact of impermanence. Agreed, the idea of impermanence is pretty terrifying. But it also offers us the only chance to really live.
People who suffer from depression tend to spend a lot of time on ‘what if-stories’, going round and round in their heads, ruminating over all the things that have gone wrong and could still go wrong, and probably most definitely will go wrong… The fear of letting go of the illusion of control blocks us from experiencing the joyful parts of impermanence. The constant flow and flux of life, which gives it a fresh and creative flavour.
Depression as an opportunity
To me depression represents a message that you are no longer satisfied. No longer content with believing in your stories and your boring old identity, no longer happy to comply with a culture of materialism and achievement, with doomed attempts to cling and control. So together we can work on loosening up those stories, broadening your experiences, gently letting in the pain and seeing that you are not destroyed by it. Together we can work on distinguishing your pain from your narratives and judgments about that pain, and help you find the freedom to fully experience life as it happens in the moment. To find a sense of joy even though life is beyond your control and inevitably painful and chaotic.