I have had clients ask me, “Do you think I am depressed?” “Is there hope for me?” “Will I ever get over this?”
Depression is one of the most common and debilitating of the mental health conditions in our society. It is also one that is stigmatized and often viewed as a sign of weakness. Depression effects our mood, memory, attention, relationships, can lead to isolation and withdrawal, and even lead to the use of substances as a temporary feel-good measure. It’s a feeling of anguish, dread, and heaviness. The world becomes flat and colorless. When a person feels themselves to be in a prolonged depressive state, resilience can feel lost.
As we begin to explore this in therapy, clients share feeling a sense of sadness and dread, but they are not able to differentiate exactly what that feeling is about, where it comes from, and why it is. They just know they are not experiencing joy or happiness in their lives and they are looking for help. First, let me applaud the inner resilience it takes to ask such questions and to seek out support. This should be an indicator to a person experiencing depression that they have something within them that is yearning for a better way of living.
Now, I will endeavor to share a little more about my thoughts on this matter. Depression creeps up slowly on us and it is often not until we feel ourselves in the dreaded pit of despair, that we realize we are in this stuck place and in that, hope can feel unattainable. Depression spans a broad continuum from moments of sadness to periods of grief and mourning to states of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness. At any time in life, we can place ourselves somewhere along this continuum and only hope that we have the coping abilities to manage it and grow from our experiences.
So, what is this sadness and how is it a valuable, adaptive emotion? Sadness serves a purpose and it informs us. As other emotions, such as anger and fear, it is a signal that something is off or wrong. We have suffered a loss, we feel disconnected, or we have been emotionally injured. Unfortunately, many of us have learned as children and from our society, to suppress it, distract from it, and avoid our sadness. In doing so, we don’t get our needs met that are underneath that sadness. Over time, we become disconnected from our needs and the sadness can linger, turning in to a sense of helplessness, believing we cannot do anything to help ourselves. What follows is hopelessness and dread. A person suffering from depression will find themselves giving up when facing challenging circumstances. The negative thoughts persist, “there’s nothing I can do.”
How can therapy help with depression? It calls on gentle and empathic exploration of the painful hurts from our past experiences in which the needs you had were not acknowledged and thus, were not met. The profound sadness within alerts us that something is wrong and rather than reinforce the depression through withdrawal and isolation, which stems from hopelessness and shame, one can get a better sense of where the sadness comes from and what it needs.
In the therapeutic process, a client can gently connect with that lingering and unacknowledged pain that informs them of their unmet needs. When we connect with the hurt, we can connect with the need. Compassion for that need is normalized and validated. When we become more clear on what we are needing, we can then reach out for what that is, be it compassion, comfort, safety, love, or simply acknowledgement and validation. This can then lead to more fulfilling relationships and a more developed sense of who you are. It is knowing what you are needing when you feel the sadness and knowing how to get the needs met.
If you are feeling the desire to live more consciously and to be keenly aware of what you are needing in life, I offer to support and facilitate this exploratory and enriching journey with you.