- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Depression and recovery
Depression, in my experience, is about loss; and most usually it is perceived as irretrievable loss. It can be the loss of a person, a thing, an aspect of identity, role or of something more ephemeral...such as status, credibility or integrity. The loss is the most important aspect in understanding the experience of depression and has been written about in many different ways by many more important and influential people than I. But I hope by writing this piece, that those that read it might get a little lift, or maybe just one idea; to help themselves or someone they love and care about.
The reason the loss is so important to get to grips with, is because, I think, it accounts for most of the 'symptoms' of depression. And therefore can help with the steps in recovery towards wellbeing.
When we lose something, we stop what we are doing and begin to look for it. We go back to where we were when we last had it and ask those around us to think and talk about what was happening just before and after the loss so that we can remember the vital information required to find or acquire the thing that has been lost. We also talk a lot about the feeling of loss and the agony and anxiety of what it might be like if we can't find the thing that is gone.
The same is true for someone who might be described by the clinical term: depression. They stop, often for long periods of time; go back to the past, before the loss and during the time of the loss; talk about both the loss and the time just before the loss; recall the feelings associated with the loss; and experience the agony and anxiety of the loss. But this can go on for months and years.
The experience of being in a state of loss for years is exhausting. Many people feel increasingly unable to achieve physical and mental tasks. And this is understandable given that they are spending so much of their time in the loss state - going over and over what happened and feeling all the horrible and intense feelings of agony and anxiety. As a result, many people reduce the number of things and people that they interact with, becoming compelled, day after day, to go through what happened, what was lost and what it felt like...as if it might in some way bring it back.
But what happens is that the gap between the then (when the loss happened) and the now, draws ever wider - time will stop for no man. I think the depressed person needs time to stop...and almost needs to go into hibernation to mourn the loss. But the "busyness" of life means that few of us are truly able to take account of the small losses in our life, never mind the larger ones. The farther away the loss gets (in time), the further the distance between the person who has experienced the loss and others around them...and then the isolation sets in. This is another loss and something that at that stage, you have almost no resources to deal with. Many people in isolation become angry, avoidant or paranoid; feeling they are outcast or different or abnormal...all these intense and horrible feelings on top of the agony and anxiety of the loss.
So what can you do to 'recover' your 'self'? Well, the problem for someone who has been in a loss state for a long time, is that the 'self' that you had when you experienced the loss is different from the 'self' you have now. And, hard as it is, there is no way back. There is only forward to the present.
I think that the task in recovery is to begin to get to know your 'self' as it is now. To take on the task of exploring the whole of your 'self' as if it were a new land or unknown territory. It is to move from the loss state into a learning state. And what is so very hard about learning is that we need to have energy to explore and to try new things - very hard when you have little or no energy at all. When we think about learning we think about a teacher or mentor and you might find that you have the experience of seeking some advice or 'help', from someone who is an 'expert' in these things. As a therapist and clinical psychologist, I would say, choose someone who is interested in you and who will help you uncover who you are now. It is helpful to think with someone else about how the loss occurred (afterall you are very good at thinking and feeling this in detail), but you also need to know what else you are good at now...and eventually what you can enjoy and achieve now...
There is, however, much that you can do for yourself. You can become an observer of your own 'self' - not a critical or biased observer - a dispassionate and objective one. Start to really notice the ebb and flow of your feelings - especially how much energy you have and when you feel interested or engaged.
You may feel that this is so little that it hardly ever happens...but it does, and it will start so small that you have to practice to notice it - you need to get really good at really listening to your 'self'. You want to live in the present, enojoy things again, contribute more, achieve more and be more content...and you can.
Every time you notice that you are interested in something or that you have a little energy for something - do it again. If this is eating a strawberry, or hearing a piece of music, or warming your hands, or feeling the wind in your face...whatever it is and however small, reach for it again...allow your 'self' to have what it needs. Drop by tiny drop you can increase the flow of this feeling and you can make it into a rolling tide of interest and energy.
Note down the things that help increase the tide, and enlist the help of those that you love and trust, to focus on these things, in the here-and-now, that are part of the 'self' that you are reclaiming. You will take steps to recover the gap between the then and the now and slowly you will be able to help the loss take it's place, alongside all the things that you have achieved and have planned - and it will stop overshadowing and squashing your 'self'.