Last week we talked about SAD: “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” This is a form of depression that researchers believe is induced by the lack of exposure to light in the winter months. There are a few things that can be done for it, one of them being light therapy, which I talked about last week.
But depression is also a stage in the process of grieving a loss. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross – the originator of the “Grief Process” – believed that it was the fourth stage of the process. If you’re not familiar with her grief process, I’ll outline it here for you:
As a quick review, DENIAL is simply a state of unawareness. I am truly unable to face what needs to be faced. When a person is told they have cancer, the reaction is often first denial: “I can’t have cancer,” they think. “That’s a disease that happens to other people, not me.” Or, in terms of eating, it’s my inability to see the overweight guy in the mirror staring back at me (this was me in 2002). I think I look fine, that there’s no issue, that I’m just a “husky guy.”
Then ANGER. Anger has several root causes that must be ferreted out if we’re to be able to process it properly. Do you remember them from my article a couple of weeks ago? Here they are again:
Finding the cause of your anger is the first step to understanding it better, and ultimately being rid of it.
Next there’s BARGAINING. The cancer patient bargains with God, or the doctors, to cure her/him, often making promises in order to secure what they want. Or I bargain with my food plan, the one the guy I paid $1,100 to put together for me (yes, that’s what I paid back in 2003 for mine). I think I know better than him, can do better than him, can play with it and still get stellar results.
Bargaining often doesn’t work, and so there’s DEPRESSION. All of my own attempts to solve the problem have failed. My very best thinking hasn’t done a thing. As a matter of fact, it often sets me back, because – after all – I should have been leaving the thinking up to the experts all along. Following the doctor’s advice. Following my weight loss coach’s advice. Doing what I’m told, instead of trying to solve the problem myself which, thus far in my life, has never worked anyhow.
So I’m sad. Depressed. In a funk. What do I do to get out of it?
I’d like to distinguish between 3 types of depression that I have come in to contact with, two of which I have personally experienced.
Depression Due to Situational Factors:
I have had times in my life that have been exceptionally hard. This is not a statement asking for anyone’s sympathy, rather a statement that’s simply true. I haven’t necessarily had it worse than others, and, as a matter of fact, I believe that many others have had it way worse than I ever have, however that doesn’t take away from the fact that circumstances in my life, at various points, have been difficult. Sometimes exceedingly so.
So I have been through some tough times. I realize today that my depression was, at various points, due to situations I had found myself in. At times unable – seemingly – to make an adequate living, to take care of those I loved. At times unable – seemingly – to do the things I wanted to do, to accomplish the goals I wanted to accomplish. Frustrated. Stuck. Feeling hopeless and helpless, at a loss for where to go, and what to do. I sometimes felt paralyzed and immobilized by this.
I lived many years of my life like this, and even with the best medical intervention – in the form of medications galore – nothing seemed to alleviate it longer-term. So my depression, it seemed, was the result – at least in part – of the situation(s) I found myself in.
Depression Due to Chemical Imbalance:
Although my doctors often prescribed various medications for depression, bipolarity, OCD, etc., etc., nothing seemed to work longer-term. There was, it seemed, a bit of a placebo effect, however it soon wore off and I found myself in a funk again.
There are those people out there, I suppose, who suffer from genuine chemical imbalances. These people can benefit from taking medications that regulate their Serotonin and/or other neurotransmitter levels. I personally have not seen much benefit long-term accrue to people who take these medications, however I am not a doctor so I really have no opinion as to their efficacy. I don’t know enough to be able to say beyond what I have observed.
Depression Due to Internal Dissatisfaction:
This is where some will disagree with me. I wanted to title this section “Depression Due to Spiritual Imbalance,” however that might create the wrong impression for some, especially coming from an ordained minister. My ordination is with a group called “Spiritualist,” however, and we don’t demand that you believe anything other than what works for you.
Each of us has a part that we can neither see, feel, nor identify exactly where it is, yet it’s there. It’s that part that Abraham Maslow identified at the top of his “Hierarchy of Needs,” that need for “Self-Actualization.” This is the part I call our “Spiritual” part. On a Shamanic path I have been involved with in the past, they’re final teaching in a program about overcoming addictions is called “The Teaching of the Hungers.” In it, they try to help you identify what it is you really enjoy doing, and encourage you to reach out for that thing rather than act out addictively.
Many of us are depressed because we are scared to take the time for ourselves to reach beyond where we are. In his particular tradition – Christianity – Augustine of Hippo, said this: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Whether or not “God” is a meaningful term to you, the point can be taken that our hearts, minds and souls crave something larger than ourselves. What is yours looking for? Are you seeking after that, or more destructive behaviours, perhaps like overeating?
I personally believe that most of the depression in the world today is of the latter kind, due to our internal dissatisfaction. Sure, tough times come, but they go also, and often our depression remains, and medications, therapy and other medical interventions seem to do little to alleviate it. This is my experience, anyhow, and I have worked for many years now with lots of people who suffer from depression and have discovered the same thing about themselves.
My belief is that depression should be first addressed with a good reality-based therapy such as a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or – for those severely depressed with self-harming tendencies – a good Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy I have also found useful. There are good workbooks out there for all of these. David Burns has 2 good ones for CBT (“The Feeling Good Handbook,” and “Ten Days to Self-Esteem”). McKay, Wood and Brantley have an excellent resource for DBT called “The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook,” and Windy Dryden has a good one for REBT called “Reason to Change.” All 3 of these together make for exceptionally potent tools in the battle against depression.
All 3 of these therapies have one thing in common, however, and that is this: to beat depression, you must take action against it. There are things you must DO to get out of it. Thinking your way out will not help. It will only make it worse. Your mind cannot solve a problem that it created for you. You must ACT your way in to right thinking: I’ve rarely seen a depressed person be able to THINK their way in to feeling better.
So if you’re depressed, what is it that you’re really looking for? What are your “hungers?” What can you DO today in order to change how you feel? It may be as simple as getting out of bed instead of staying under the covers. Then when you’re on your feet, take another action. Move. Exercise. Take a shower. Eat. Journal. Meditate. Do something. Finally, clean up, get dressed (dress nicely), do your hair (and makeup if it applies), and get out there and do something for someone else. You can’t help but feel better if you follow this course, no matter how little you may want to do it. You JUST DO IT anyway.
Depression is a normal stage of grieving. It’s normal to be depressed when you realize that you can no longer eat the foods you used to, the way you used to, as often as you used to, if you want to lose weight and keep it off. That’s acceptable. What’s not acceptable is to refuse to do something about it, because that will take you backwards, back in to the food, and the result will only be further weight gain.
If you need help, reach out. I’m happy to help you. I also have access to a wide variety of professional resources that can help. But it’s up to you to make the call, and take the action.