Challenging Our Believes About Depression – The Birth of Empowerment and Hope

Since I have started working on putting the beginnings of this blog together I have noticed that at times I am able to look at depression from a different perspective.  When I am in depression I am looking at it through a state of mind that is certainly not positive, and feels dark and limited.  It is filled with negative emotions and limited use of my mental and physical abilities.  So if my mental and physical abilities are able to fluctuate then I am potentially more capable than I am currently.  That is great news!  That means that my brains’ and body’s functionality is not totally damaged or destroyed!  That means there is hope!  If there is hope for me then there is hope for you too!

To quickly express what this different perspective is, I’ll just say for now that when I am deeply depressed I am looking at life from the bottom of a deep, dark, and lonely well, and that when I am in a better state of mind, like I am at the moment, I am looking at depression from way up top over the well.  I am looking at depression from a distance.  I know how I am able to have this tremendous change of perspective, and I it is something that I will eventually share with you.  But it is new for me and I need to understand it better before so that I can explain it to you.  So let me try to use this broader perspective to look at Depression to challenge what we have been told, have been telling ourselves, and have been thinking and rumination about for years.

Using The National Institute for Mental Health’s (NIMH) definition of Depression which you will find here I am going to pick out the key phrases that they use and we will take a look at each one further and see what we can learn, or possibly unlearn about it.  Note that there are subclasses of Depression and that I’m going to be using their definition of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) for the purposes of this discussion and simply refer to it as Depression.

The NIMH definition for Major Depression states the following:

  1. It is an illness.
  2. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities.
  3. It is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally.
  4. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.

The NIMH states that the causes of Depression as follows:

  1. Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
  2. Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain.
  3. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different.  But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred. They also cannot be used to diagnose depression.
  4. Some types of depression tend to run in families. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression too. Scientists are studying certain genes that may make some people more prone to depression.
  5. Some genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors.

In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.

So the first statement in the definition of Depression is that it is an illness.  So what is an illness?  The —————- defines “illness” as.  From my lay perspective, there are two broad categories of illnesses.  Those that are infectious diseases and chronic diseases.  Infectious diseases occur where a foreign chemical, energy, or organism is attacking and damaging your body or your mind in some way.  The way to prevent infectious diseases is to avoid the source of the disease, preventing the source of disease from reaching us, and by eliminate the sources of disease.  In modern society we prevent infectious diseases primarily through avoidance,  quarantine, vaccinations and inoculations, and antibiotics.  Generally we want to attack and eradicate damaging things that are foreign and dangerous to our bodies.  In the case of chronic illness, we are generally talking about some kind of disturbance of the body/mind that can often be “managed” with medications, therapies, nutrition, exercise, etc.  Depression seems to fall into the “chronic” category of disease, and to me that means that we have the hope of managing our illness, diminishing it’s effects, or even possibly eliminating it all together.  This gives me a sense of power and hope.  I feel power because there are many things that I can try and have tried to manage or eliminate this illness.  And I feel hope because I understand that I am not fated to live out the rest of my life in misery, and neither are you.

The second statement of the definition of Depression states: “It is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities.”  So all of these symptoms are not the illness itself.  We all have various combinations of symptoms which manifest with varying degrees of severity, and even change of time.  Here again I find hope, because if the symptoms of my Depression were always the same it would seem like nothing could ever change.  But the fact that these symptoms do change in variety, intensity, and duration means that at various points in time my body/mind is able to effect these changes. All I have to do is figure out how and start to make adjustments.  Again I have gained a perspective of power and hope.  We all know that this is easier said then done.  If someone had the magic formula for gaining this kind of control over our mind/bodies they would probably be the richest person on the planet.  But there are many things that can be done on this level and that is why we are here reading and discussing this blog.  Also we should all take a moment here to take a deep breath in and let it out and really pay attention to this idea that we have hope.  (Did you breath?  Don’t continue on until you take that deep breath and then let it out.)  We are worriers, and we will not quit fighting this Depression.  The war is not over.  The war is not over until we win or we quit,  and we are not quitters!

The third statement says:  “It is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally.”  No shit Sherlock.  Why the hell else would I be sitting here in my pajamas writing about this?  Everything that I said in the last statement is applicable for this statement as well.  We all have experienced changes in our ability to participate and sometimes enjoy life.  It may have been years since you smiled or laughed.  During this last six you bout of severe depression I probably smiled of laughed in the tens of times as opposed to the thousands of times that I do now in a month.  I actually used to try to practice smiling because they say “Fake it until you make it”.  When I tried to smile my cheeks would hurt and they would twitch.  I swear to you that I really thought that my smile muscles had atrophied so much that I was no longer capable of smiling!  I believed it, but it wasn’t true.  At least three out of the six years of this last major depressive episode were wasted away as I looked at everything around me as if looking though a small grey window.  There were no colors.  Everything looked grey.  The sounds were muted.  I felt like I was on the outside looking in and I had no way to communicate or interact with the real world.  I was doped up on antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.  I either felt profound despair or I felt nothing at all.  So if you are currently feeling the same way that I did, then I hope that you can at least understand that there is still hope.  After living most of my adult life of 25+ years in varying degrees of depression my capability to smile, to laugh, and to enjoy life was not destroyed.  I had just lost my ability to access it.  So You with a capital “Y” meaning You, or who you are is not gone.  Depression is interfering with your ability to be You, but you are not Depression and Depression is not You.  Can you take a deep breath and just let that last sentence stay with you for a moment?  Please? Thank you.

The fourth and last statement defining Depression is: “Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.”  If you are a multiple episode person like me, and are currently feeling deeply depressed, please realize that you have gotten out of depression before and you will get out of it again.  This statement proves that this is possible.  Can you please take a breath and acknowledge that it is possible?   I’m going to pour out everything that I know in this blog.  Something’s gotta help!  And for those of you who are suffering from Depression for the first and hopefully last time, please take a moment to let it sink into you that if career depression veterans like me can come out of it, the you can come out of it and you will come out of it too!

So we just went though the NIMH’s definition of Depression and beat the hell out of it!  This is not a disease that has burden us for the rest of our lives.   It can be managed.  It may be able to be eliminated.  And it can clearly be put into remission, meaning the absence of symptoms.  We’re going to break depression!

I will tackle the NIMH’s statements about the causes of Depression in my next post.

Breathe easy.  There is HOPE!