Does DEPRESSION have any BENEFIT??
Is DEPRESSION Really an ENEMY??
One of my clients today sat sadly curled in a fetal position. Tears flowed. Blame. Rage. Betrayal. Confusion. Disbelief. Fleeting suicidal thoughts followed by momentary murderous thoughts. Fight or flight. Total senselessness. Total groundlessness. Exhaustion. Most of these, right now in the acute phase, will pass by afternoon's end. Shortly thereafter, depression may follow. It wouldn't be unexpected. Or unreasonable.
Much has been written about depression, its causes, its different forms, wonderful holistic cures, conscious compassionate talking-therapies, hypnotism and amazing medicines. I have been down the Dark Alley myself many times and am grateful for ALL the resources available.
There is less written about the BENEFITS of DEPRESSION. My client blows her nose, drinks some filtered water and reaches for a piece of dark chocolate. It is too soon, the pain too raw to embrace the benefits of depression with her today. Yet under her puffy eyes and running mascara I see the value it could have in her life. And I reflect on the value it has had in mine.
As an Artist, and a Life Skills Coach (1), it took me years to appreciate the intensity, hue and variation of all the colors on my palette. Sapphire blue, daffodil yellow, emerald green, and poppy red caught, and held captive, my dancing eyes. I had no time, or interest, in the browns and grays. They were not "happy" or "energetic" but dreary and depressing.
In looking back I see my preferences somewhat mirror the society in which I live. Sunny California where everyone is tan and fit and lovely, drive bright shiny cars and live in houses with lots of windows, hot pink is/was the new black and everything drips with bling-bling. Born and raised in this environment, I managed to fit right in.
But what happens when the biggest, brightest, most popular does not provide the kind of comfort and security that motivated the journey to begin with?? The mirror has two sides and if all the shiny is on one side, there is going to be some dullness on the other. If we unconsciously (or consciously) seal ourselves against the darker parts of life, we will see illness, loss and depression as an enemy.
WILL I EVER BE THE SAME??
My client, rung out and exhausted, clutching a large furry pillow, looks to me with big round questioning eyes. "Will I ever be the same?" she asks genuinely.
I wait a moment while holding her gaze. "No," I say quietly, slowly, "you won't ever be the same." I let her sit with this thought. She stares out the window not really seeing what is before her.
This client, like me so many years ago, bought into our culture's value system (or lack thereof) without much independent evaluation. It starts at birth with our own parents often doing the same. We think we are "living" when really so much of what we do is "follow conditioning:" grow up, go to school, fall in love, get a car, get heartbroken, go to college, get a job, get an apartment, get married, get a house, have a baby, etc. (2) We believe in "happy all the time." (3) The formula leaves little room for infidelity, birth-defects, cancer, bankruptcy, war, death, etc. We somehow believe that if we follow the script we will be spared the pain of being thrown off balance by life‘s darker underbelly.
Casual conversations often include references to "balance" in life. The feeling of having none, the desire to have more, or the exasperation of trying to hold onto it. Deeper reflection often uncovers how little understanding of balance we really have. If we did, we wouldn't fight depression so much; we would accept it as part of the symmetry of life.
"I guess I knew that," she says a few minutes later.
"Yes, you did," I say with a small reassuring smile.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS
Although depression is most often uncomfortable (4) I have learned to honor its visits instead of slamming the door in its face. Not my favorite guest, it always leaves me with more insight, more compassion for myself and others. I write more. I paint more. I meditate more. Its presence pushes me forward by making me stop. Slow down. Reassess. Listen. Distill what I have learned. When I was in the midst of depression, wanting to be alone, frequently withdrawn, often immobile, consumed by despair, it was hard to imagine there might be a mystery at work sculpting me into a form that more resembled my authentic self.
Other countries around the world, other cultures address the mysteries of depression in a more holistic way. And, to be expected, they have fewer issues, not as many pills, and less anxiety about melancholy. Depression is often associated with maturity, Saturn, and the souls desire to have us function with more wisdom, focus and purpose in our lives.
"How do you think all this will change me?" She asks coming back from her reverie.
I smile. "You know that is your choice." She smiles too, accepting the simple truth.
THE BENEFITS OF DEPRESSION
If "depression is anger turned inward" doesn't it make sense to examine what made us angry to begin with?? Were our boundaries violated?? Were we betrayed?? Do we have unrealistic expectations of someone else? Did we not get what we wanted?? What steps can we take to understand, and lessen, the affects of anger?? Do we need to protect ourselves better?? Do we need to make better choices about the people we are with?? Have we made mistakes in the past, and without knowing a way to correct them, more anger is piled on top?? Is our soul letting us know something is unacceptable?? I strongly believe in anti-depressants, but not as a mask to avoid self excavation.
My client is a wonderful human being that I have known for years. She did not deserve abuse at the hands of another. None of us do. And it will take a while to heal, going through all the stages, including possibly depression. But I often wonder if we don't unconsciously bring on these situations that create a framework for the toughest of life's lessons. I have every confidence that she will survive the mistreatment, that she will be less naïve, make wiser life choices, find her own balance, and begin to appreciate the silver lining of severe loss.
We stretch and go for a short walk along the beach. We talk of solutions, sunsets, and salad recipes. We throw rocks off the pier and dig our feet into the sand. When we return she gives me a long heartfelt thank you hug, picks up her purse to leave then stops before a large painting hanging over the fireplace.
"You're right," she says, "I never noticed how much black and navy are in your paintings. I always thought they were just full of bright colors."
"It's the dark colors that make the bright colors stand out," I reply.
Still puffy-eyed, she winks and smiles. She is going to be okay.
Notes from BENEFITS of DEPRESSION
(1) I am a Life Skills Coach, not a therapist. I concentrate on the tools necessary to move forward. Most often this includes dealing with past unresolved issues. For these, my clients work with licensed professionals in the appropriate fields.
(2) Not everyone chooses all the steps, or in that order, but that is not the point.
(3) I believe "happy" comes in moments; "contentment" is an overall sense of joy and well being.
(4) Debilitating depression (not addressed in this writing) needs immediate medical/psychological attention.