Working With Clinical Depression (part 2)

Questions to Answer: What is your depression narrative? Do some writing about the story of your depression. How do you judge yourself for being depressed? Do you blame yourself, or do you project blame onto others, or both?

How we internally react to our depression is also crucial. As a depression patient myself, I notice that I typically get reactive to my depressed moods. At the slightest hint of a depressed mood, I will typically tighten up and armor up. I think that depression means I am weak, that I cannot handle my life and my responsibilities – so I hate it. But my reactivity and hate (instead of helping) only fuels my depression, making it deeper and tougher to work with.

Because this is true, working with depression is typically counter-intuitive. In essence, fighting depression doesn't work. Depression will not be intimated or scared away. Getting mad at yourself and the world because you are depressed only deepens and strengthens the depression. This has the net effect of placing me at war with myself – and when that happens, I lose.

So what's a more useful reaction to depression? Let's start with an analogy: working with depression is like falling into quicksand – the more you struggle, the worse things get, and the faster you sink. On the other hand, if you can just slow down, become mindful and grounded, and place your arms and legs away from your body, then you begin to float, then you can very slowly begin to inch your way out of the quicksand.

Here is another analogy I use with my patients: working with depression is like being in a Chinese finger trap – the harder you pull, the more you panic, the worse you are trapped. Just as in the quicksand analogy, the solution lies in relaxation and acceptance of the present moment as it is. The solution lies in making friends with your depression; in making your depression an ally in your evolution. In the end, I had to make friends with my depression, I had to "invite the demon in for tea" (to borrow a Zen phrase), and only then, once I had the courage to stay and connect to my demon of depression (without adding or subtracting), only then do I have the chance to dissolve it or transform it into a more useful emotion.

Exercise: After relaxing for a few minutes with your eyes closed, in your mind's eye, call forth your depression and instruct it to take a shape (e.g., an animal, a person, a thing, etc). What shape did it take? If you could speak to this creature "Depression" – what would you say? If it could reply, what would depression say in return? If you could touch your depression, what would it feel like? If you could smell and taste your depression, what would it smell and taste like? After doing steps 1-4, have you noticed any change in your depression? Has the depressed mood increased or decreased? Is it as solid and heavy as it was before, or have things shifted a bit somehow?

After making some room for depression, indeed after inviting it in for tea, the depression typically decreases in intensity, or is dissolved altogether. This occurs because the questions you asked of your depression – they are mindful and curious questions. They were not blaming, judging, or insisting – only curious and grounded. And in response, the depression must weaken, for you are no longer fueling it.