Depression is a terribly debilitating condition and in this chaotic world of ours with its topsy-turvy values, lifestyles that have become increasingly inorganic and artificial and a media constantly feeding us doses of gloom and doom, it is, very sadly, on the increase. How does it affect us? It drains us of our life force. It makes us feel bad about ourselves and dislike ourselves. When depression comes over us, we live in a world where the glass is always half empty. If severe, it can compel us to hide away from life and many depressed people drink or take drugs to try to numb the pain.
We need to know that there are many different kinds of depression and they occupy many different levels on the spectrum. For me, they fall into five main categories:
The first category is what we call a ‘clinical depression’, which is the result of some faulty wiring somewhere in our brain (often due to something having gone wrong in our early childhood). This can verge from our experiencing continual low grade despair, to feeling especially ‘sad’ when the sunlight goes, to having a serious depressive illness such as bipolar disorder.
The second kind is the result of tragic things happening to us in our lives, such as a big financial loss, being made redundant or losing a loved one.
The third kind is how we feel if we never bother to do anything remotely meaningful in our lives, that is, if we just live on benefits and never try to find work and live like the Royle family, a sitcom formed around a family that has never asked serious questions about life but spends all day gawping mindlessly at the television.
The fourth kind is how we feel if we live a totally topsy-turvy and destructive and violent kind of life, where we treat others disdainfully and earn our living dishonestly! I would imagine there is a very high incidence of depression among ISIS members.
My last category of depression is a natural part of what happens to us at certain phases of our spiritual journey and is the result of a more spiritual part of ourselves beginning to awaken. If we go into a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ crisis, for example, we may enter a very despairing and bereft place inside ourselves, where we come face to face with our many shortcomings as they parade themselves before our eyes and we get to see all those negative parts of ourselves which, up until now, we might not have wanted to see and have suppressed (and may well have projected out onto others.) However, it is only when we can see what kinds of dragons exist within us, that we can do something about confronting them.
I have written a long article about this kind of depression – which is essentially about despair – called ‘The spiritual path as a tough and beautiful journey‘. It is on my website. My point is that we cannot transform our lives if we do not at times go through phases of despairing of our current lot, as this despair gives us the impetus to do something to try to change it. Sometimes, these different depressions all collude together and therefore the reason why we spend all day doing nothing is not because we are necessarily lazy but because we are too clinically depressed to do anything. Conversely, sometimes, loafing lazily around all day without any meaning to our lives or living a violent kind of life or being in a relationship with a violent person, conspires to upset the brain chemistry, and this makes us clinically depressed. However, it can also be that a serious life tragedy becomes an integral part of how we begin opening up spiritually, where, in reaching ‘rock bottom’, we experience certain key insights and we emerge once more into the light having learned to see the world from a whole new perspective.
If we feel depressed, we might ask ourselves what category or categories we feel we fit into. Certainly, if we constantly feel very debilitated, we should go to our GP and if we feel that deep-rooted issues may be at stake, perhaps ask him to refer us to a psychiatrist. I say this because many GPs, who are not experts in this field, and only have a few minutes per patient, tend to be over fond for writing out prescriptions for anti-depressants, which not only may not be required – our society is all too fond of pill pushing – but merely addresses the symptoms while covering up the cause. And all depressions have a cause, which when unlocked, often diminish greatly.
There is often a strong connection between depression and creativity and many of the greatest artists, scientists and writers have gone through long periods of being very depressed. Churchill’s ‘black dog’ did not prevent him being an effective war leader or living a highly creative life where he also received the Nobel prize for literature. So our depression may have much to teach us. Indeed, many very eminent people who have bipolar disorder, are able to live good and productive lives. If we feel depressed, what can be very helpful is that we try to surround ourselves with loving and supportive friends, try to make an effort to do things that we love doing, and, yes, even try and help others, as this gets us out of the unhealthy place of morbid self-introspection which is so easy to get locked into and yet emotionally is so counter-productive.
If you think your depression is severe enough to see a psychiatrist, make sure your psychiatrist is a human being kind of psychiatrist and not the type who pathologies everyone and is only interested in seeing what is ‘wrong’ with you. A good psychiatrist will assess the seriousness of your condition and unless he feels it absolutely essential, will probably not put you on medication. He may suggest you do Cognitive Behaviour therapy or EMDR or may even send you to someone like me.
How do I support people who come to me feeling depressed? Firstly, I try to assess what kind of depression they are experiencing and how deep rooted it is and I will explore with them what it is that so saddens them. Maybe it is a belief that they should be something they are not. Maybe it a sense they have that they are not ‘good enough’ or are able to live up to the many false images society tells us we should live up to! Maybe, it is due to some deep unresolved trauma in our early childhood. If we have experienced living in a war zone or have been in a battle as a soldier, we may suffer from traumatic stress disorder and this can make us very depressed. There are many, many reasons why we get depressed, all of which relate to our general ‘character’, our family background and our life experiences. I also believe depression can be the result of some unresolved ‘past-life’ trauma, the hidden memories of which, are carried over into our current incarnation.
Whatever kind of depression or whatever its cause, I will do my best to help a depressed person reconnect to what has truth and beauty for them in their lives – if they are an artist, to their painting, if a sports person, their sport. Some people I will take for long walks in nature and I will do processes with them to help them open up to its healing embrace as I believe nature is a great healer and so much of our pain in life is because we have learned to become disconnected from our own nature with the result that the artificiality, separation or alienation we experience, comes and ‘presses down’ on us. I may teach a person mindfulness meditation and suggest they make an effort to listen to uplifting music. As my style of psychotherapy is very connected with helping people open and heal and gradually evolve their hearts, all this is very relevant. Three things for me are most important. First, a person has to look at and explore their hidden or their shadow side. ( ‘Going on is going back’ Lao Tzu tells is in the Tao te Ching.)Secondly, they need to learn to open up more to the good things of life – life’s abundant or ‘light’ side – and realise life’s essential blessedness, and lastly, they need to learn to live in a more balanced and holistic way. Taking regular exercise, finding a work that is fulfilling and choosing healthy relationships and a healthy diet can work miracles.