Depression is the mental health issue of our times. We all know the numbers. Depression is soaring worldwide in and the United States and rates of prescriptions for antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds are skyrocketing.
Those amongst us lucky enough not to be chronically depressed often don’t realize how the experience of depression is realized from inside the depressive’s experience.
Most of us have had some kind of situational depression, due to a job loss, breakup, death, or something else awful happening. Feeling bad for weeks or months or years after an event like that is normal; mourning is very depression-like, a lot of the same feelings are involved; sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in almost everything, isolation, and in the worst cases, suicidal thoughts.
Chronic depression is kind of like that…except it never really goes away. It may wane and wax, and it’s always there, tugging at us. Your depressed friend, spouse, whomever, may at times seems happy, laughing, joking, socializing, having fun.
And…inside there is a constant pulling downward. Those of us who live with chronic depression know that it’s part of our inner environment and it underlies even the most happy of times. It’s like the Terminator, “I’ll be back.”
And that “constant pulling downward” inside us is the symptom that the medical profession calls “constant fatigue.” It’s like an extra weight that pulls from our soul outward to infect every muscle in our bodies, every thought in our brains, and every feeling in our hearts.
Imagine living on Jupiter where the gravity is about 2.5 times stronger than here.
Imagine what that would do to everything you do. Every movement, every step, every raise of your hand takes almost three times the work it does right now.
Even lying down would be harder. That’s what the inner experience of depression’s “fatigue” is like. Everything is harder. And, here’s the thing, it extends beyond the physical; this is true for everything, from feelings to thoughts to movement.
Your feelings “weigh” more; your thoughts are heavy and slow and awkward; your feelings are, well, yuck. This aspect of depression is like having your own personal black hole that sucks in anything it wants. That provides we depressives with our own personal gravity well.
Just imagine waking up this morning and finding that your weight went from 150 to 450 overnight. Your body looks the same, but suddenly you weigh three times what you did last night. Imagine how that would impact your every movement, your state of happiness, and your overall outlook on life; it would suck!
Everything easy is now hard. Everything challenging is now crushing. Everything hard is now impossible. And, you have no idea if this is going to change anytime. How would that alter your outlook on life?
I have been dealing with this kind of depression for most of my life and I have found the cocktail of elements to make it easier for me; medication, meditation, and exercise. And, even today after learning to deal with this pernicious disease for the past 20 years, I can tell you: the days when my depression is high my exercise is *way* harder.
Why and how this happens is still mysterious, to me and the medical field. It is one of the hardest of depression’s symptoms to fix, often lasting long past the worst of the actual feelings of depression.
In combination with the depression’s other symptoms, it causes an almost impossible-to-deal-with feedback loop. Depression feeds on itself. Being depressed is incredibly depressing. And there’s the whirlpool at the drain.
How do we depressives break out of that loop? It’s different for almost every body. For me, I have learned that sometimes it just takes time, that the low swing diminishes (even if it never goes completely away) and that taking the longer view sometimes does allow some relief in those high-gravity moments.
And I have learned that, in some strikingly surprising ways, my depression has made me stronger. I know that I can face it and not just survive but thrive; that my depression is not me, it’s just something my physiology does; that my brain and emotions lie in those times and believing them is part of the cycle; that there *is* joy in me and it will come back, too.
It has also made me more compassionate and emotionally aware.
And my depression and the persistent inner examination it causes combined with my 30 years of meditating and the persistent inner observation it engenders, taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in this life: Our feelings and our thoughts are, simply, often lies. Just because we think it or feel it doesn’t make it so.
It’s a really difficult thing to accept. Once you do, there is enormous freedom and diminished drama and trauma in life.
To paraphrase Hunter Thompson, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone…but it’s worked for me.