Photo by Luis Hernandez
The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking. – Albert Camus
When depression hits, it hijacks your thoughts and feelings. It whispers seductive lies into your ears; lies that gradually start sounding like the truth. I know how that feels, because I have struggled with it too. If on the other hand, you knew the lies depression commonly uses, then you can ignore or replace them with your own inner truth. And every time you do that, you have healed a little bit.
So, here are some common ‘depression deceptions’ to watch out for:
1. It’s a chemical condition. So I can’t really do anything about it right?
I’m a psychiatrist and so I hear this one a lot. And it dismays me. As a society, we have gone from one extreme-thinking that everything was related to your mother-to the other extreme-now everything is a chemical condition that is beyond our control. Both are too simplistic. We are complex individuals with unique and rich stories. There is no one answer that will always fit all of us.
Yes your brain is made up of electrical impulses and chemical substances that change a million times in a day and make up your thoughts and/or emotions. And yes, often times, severe clinical depression requires medications. In fact, they can be essential and life saving in some situations. But, and listen to this very closely, even when they work well, medications alone don’t keep you from getting depressed again. What they do, is give you enough relief to then work on your self, and change the things in your mind and life, so that hopefully, you don’t feel that depressed again.
In fact, some forms of therapy, such as Mindfulness based cognitive therapy, has been shown to be even better than medications at lowering the risk of relapse (as long as you’ve gotten over the worst hump).
The human mind is very powerful but much of it is amenable to change. It’s a tough process, but so worth the effort.
2. Anyone with my childhood/job/marriage/health/finances would be depressed!
Each of us lives in our own heads and so we only can feel our own pain. Yes we can empathize with others, but we can’t fully feel anyone else’s joy or pain as intimately as we can feel our own.
This can lead us to feel trapped by the pain of our own life circumstances.
I used to feel this way as well. My depression would tell me “Your mom committed suicide and your dad is a narcissist. It’s not possible for you to ever be happy”. The worst part was, I believed it for a long time.
Since then, I have been fortunate to feel my own strengths, to learn about the brain, to read books and meet amazing people who have overcome great odds, proving to me over and over again that the human spirit is greater than the sum of past events.
You have great inner strength and wisdom within you. Whatever may have happened in your past is only one part of you. Don’t let it dictate your whole life.
3. I’ve tried everything. Nothing works for me.
Do you feel like you have tried every single thing to help yourself? And nothing is working?
If that’s the case, maybe you’re trying too hard. Sometimes chasing happiness makes it more…..elusive, like a butterfly that will only come and softly sit on your shoulder when you can simply be in it’s presence without chasing it.
Try just surrounding yourself with people who seem genuinely happy. Not the Polly Anna kind of superficial happy. But the folks that exude a sense of deep contentment and peace from within. Don’t compare or force happiness to come to you. Just be in its presence.
4. I’ll be happier once I lose weight/get a raise/buy a home…
I wasted lots of my time in my 20’s hoping that if I just worked desperately toward achieving this or that, I would live happily ever after. Well, I did achieve most of those things, and it did make me feel excited briefly, but soon I had gone back to my usual state of mind. Feeling confused, I would replace it with another “goal” and chase after that, hoping that this time, the happiness would be deeper and long lasting.
And one day I was explaining this theory to a close friend, and she said simply “What’s wrong with now? Why not just be happy now?”
It blew me away. Because she wasn’t telling me to not reach for my goals, but rather that I was missing out on the possibility of NOW.
This very moment is alive with possibility. Whenever you begin to worry about the future or connect your happiness to some elusive goal, take a moment to bring your awareness back to this moment. Use your senses to really see, hear, smell and touch your immediate surroundings. And think of one thing you are grateful for today. Maybe it’s your morning cup of coffee, the hug your son gave you or that your friend called to share a joke. Whatever it is, if you truly loved it, spend a few moments being genuinely thankful that you had that TODAY.
5. I’ve screwed up a lot. I hate myself. I’m not worthy of happiness.
This is a tough one, because when we don’t love ourselves, that’s where the work must start. No foundation, no building.
Whatever you may have done in the past, it’s gone. That moment can never come back.
However, every new breath you take now is a new chance at life. It’s totally fresh and alive for you to shape as you like. And if this one doesn’t do it, that’s fine, your next breath is again a fresh possibility. And the next. And the next.
Until you take your last breath, you have millions of moments to start over and become the person you want to be. It’s up to you what you do with each one.
6. Most of my life is okay, except for that one ‘X’ thing
I once read a story that goes something like this.
A professor puts up a big white board with a black dot on it, and then asks his students to describe what they see.
Most of them come close to scrutinize the board and blurt out the answer excitedly “The black dot! There is a black dot on it!”
Finally, the professor says “It’s interesting that most of you didn’t notice the whole white board in front of you, but rather chose to focus on that one small black dot”
This is what happens when we focus solely on the negative things. I’m not saying your difficulties are just dot sized. Not at all. All I’m saying is: Don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful expanse of white in your life. Because it’s there.
Does your depression/anxiety hijack your mind too? Share your thoughts in the comments section.