So, you’re depressed. What’s next?
We all experience depression for many reasons, and there are plenty of situations that are in and of themselves depressing — such as conflicts, difficulties, injustice, illness, loss, and upheaval. These things should evoke some depression.
In the face of troubles, something in us should drop, lose energy, and experience a sense of despair or hopelessness every now and then.
To not feel depressed about deep troubles may be a sign that we’re not really paying attention.
Depression can be very troubling, it’s true, and we should be vigilant about how long we maintain a depressive mood — but depression has a very important purpose, so it’s not something that should be avoided as if it’s the plague.
Depression has a purpose, which is to tell us that something is wrong.
Our job is to find out what that something is
I created this depression inventory because my brain gets an A+ in depression (my form is Early-Onset Recurrent Major Depression with Dysthymia — and a side of fresh fruit!), so I keep a pretty close watch on my depressive tendencies.
I’ve found that by taking an inventory of what’s going on around me, I can pretty quickly pinpoint whether my depression is situational (which means I can make lifestyle changes) or more serious (which is a sign that I need to check in with my doctors).
If you tend toward depression, this inventory (and your doctor’s guidance, of course) may be useful to you.
The Depression Inventory
Notice that this inventory is not merely personal, because depression can be a natural and healthy response to a rotten external environment.
It’s important to be able to identify the difference between depression that’s internally generated, depression that’s externally generated, and depression that’s a combination of both.
The Personal (Are you taking good care of yourself?)
Are you eating well, or often enough? Some depressed people become food-phobic or food-centered, and their meals aren’t regular or particularly nutritious. Low blood sugar or spikes in blood sugar from a poor or irregular diet can exacerbate a tendency toward depression.
Are you getting enough, or any? Exercise has been shown time and again to be an excellent mood elevator and a way to break a depressive cycle. This article suggests ways to exercise when you’re so low that you can’t even find the energy to get moving.
Are you getting at least seven hours of restful sleep each night? In his book The Promise of Sleep, the father of sleep research, Dr. William Dement notes that of the three: diet, exercise, and sleep, only sleep is positively correlated with increased longevity and reduced prevalence of disease. This free HelpGuide article on How to Sleep Better has many excellent tips.
Very few of us treat our sleep as the most important aspect of our healthcare efforts, yet researchers are continually confirming Dr. Dement’s advice (most recently, it was found that you should keep your bedroom as dark as you possibly can make it, because light at night is being linked to depression).
An excellent and soothing book for people with sleep problems or insomnia is W. Chris Winter’s The Sleep Solution. He combines decades of strong research with a warm and friendly tone, and he offers ideas that truly help.
The Relational (Are you surrounded by sweeties, or … ?)
Your mate or lack thereof
Is your relationship working? Do you feel loved, respected, and welcome in your relationship? If not, your depression may be trying to tell you something. Or are you alone and feeling isolated? Loneliness and a sense of disconnection can lead to depression.
Your family relationships
Is your family a healthy place to be, or is it full of unrelieved tension and unsaid words? Family conflicts can feel depressing and entrapping.
Are your friends supportive and restful, funny and dear? Or do you have to tolerate a lot of “frenemy” conflict and turmoil from people who really don’t have your best interests at heart? This study on “Fickle friends” suggests that frenemies are not just depressing, but are actually bad for your health.
Is your work environment healthy and emotionally well-regulated? It has often been said that “People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers.” How well is your workplace managed? How are you treated? Do you look forward to getting to work each day, or do you dread it? My book The Power of Emotions at Work can help you create a healthy and livable workplace so that you can protect everyone’s mental health.
The Sociological (Is your social environment healthy?)
Your financial situation
Are you experiencing money worries, or are you concerned about friends and family who are? There’s a reason times like these are called “depressions.”
Are you unemployed, or is your current employment unstable? Both can lead to depression.
The condition of your community
Are you engaged with and hopeful about the future of your community, your town, and your county? If not, social disenfranchisement and hopelessness can lead to depression.
Your political situation
Are you hopeful about where your town, county, state and country are headed? Do you feel comfortable with your political party and its direction? If not, political powerlessness can lead to depression (and for some people, to repetitive outbursts of frustration and rage).
Some ideas for working through depression
If you’re already exercising, eating well, sleeping well, getting treated medically for depression, and taking good care of yourself — but your situation is depressing you, it’s important to look outside yourself for support.
Therapy, sure, but therapy is not the only answer.
When you’re surrounded by, well, assholes, or your financial or political situations are unsure and loaded with trouble, then your depression is probably trying to tell you that something is wrong.
So how do you work through your depression when, honestly, things are terrible and your depression is actually the correct emotion to feel in the situation?
Entertaining distractions like games, TV, movies, texting, web surfing, sports, masturbation … all of these can give you a nice time out and, in many cases, excellent positive input and a sense of pleasure and peace. Distractions are awesome!
Keep an eye on the amount of time you spend on distractions each day, but don’t shame yourself about it; just take note. Sometimes, distractions are the only things that can keep you going when you’re surrounded by trouble.
If you notice yourself using distractions all the time, be gentle with yourself and ask if the time you’re spending on distractions is actually keeping you from dealing directly with the depressing situations in your life. Maybe this is true, but maybe your distractions are keeping you afloat because you’ve got no real power, and it’s time to move on, but you can’t just yet.
Distractions can be awesome! Love them, observe them, and treat yourself well around them.
Expressing yourself artistically, or viewing the artistry and craftsmanship of others, is a special kind of healing activity. Something about writing, singing, painting, building, dancing, and creating can evoke a sense of timelessness, sacredness, and transcendence.
Expressing yourself artistically can also give you a sense of autonomy and personal power, both of which tend to be squashed in depressing situations.
If you’re feeling totally awful, you can even channel those awful feelings into your art and see what your awfulness is trying to tell you. Doing art with emotions is actually the genesis of the empathic practices in my books, especially Burning Contracts and Conscious Complaining.
Art can help when almost everything else fails. Art heals!
Connecting activities are especially important for people who are experiencing relational and sociological depression. Creating or joining an interest group, volunteering, caring for youth or animals, giving or receiving bodywork, having good sex … all of these can help you reconnect to the positive aspects of humanity and community.
In depression, we tend to withdraw, which can be a really good idea when our depression is a response to rotten relationships or miserable social environments. But it’s important, when you’ve identified that your depression is a response to your environment, to reach out for healthy relationships, healthy groups, and positive social engagement.
Good people, healthy groups, and hopeful civic action exist. Don’t allow your depression to color the entire world with the palette it created from your current rotten situation.
Healthy community and healthy connections heal!
Sacredness and Transcendence
Depression can strip the meaning from life, and it can lead to a sense of despair and hopelessness. All of the suggestions above can address depression, but if you’ve come to a place of hopelessness, you’ll need contact with something larger, older, and deeper than yourself so that you can engage with the sacred, soul-making work of wrestling with deep questions of purpose and meaning.
For many people, sacredness and transcendence live only in the realm of religion and spirituality. But the pull toward the sacred, the transcendent, the larger purpose, the deeper meaning — these live fully in the human heart and mind. Certainly, these qualities play out majestically (or horrifically) in religious or spiritual traditions, but these traditions don’t own sacredness, nor transcendence, nor purpose, nor deep meaning. These qualities belong to humans, and each of us has full access to them.
When you’ve lost your sense of purpose and meaning, reach behind and beyond yourself — to historical thinkers, to the grandeur and mystery of nature, to great writers, artists, and poets, to philosophers and dreamers, to beauty and to intensity — and take your place as a deeply feeling person in a world of sacred, profound, absurd, and transcendent ideas and experiences.
Depression can lead you into the dark night of the soul — and art, connection, sacredness and transcendence can lead you through that night and into the dawn of new ideas, new possibilities, and a deeper understanding of human nature, conflict, beauty, injustice, trouble, love, meaning, and perhaps, even assholes.
Thank you for working to understand and honor the vital wisdom your depression contains.