3498 10151887404766243 379876580 n Series of articles to help you understand and beat depression
By Michael Schreiner

People dealing with depression live in a dark abyss. Much of the advice they get from friends, family, and others in their lives is cringeworthy. It can lead them to feeling more hopeless than they already do. This advice is usually along the lines of "You've got to buck up" or "Things really aren't that bad.
If you are depressed it's for a reason. Solving your depression is not as simple as flipping a light switch or taking a pill. Sometimes adjusting to environmental conditions is impossible because they don't fit your nature . You will feel like you have a disability. You will survive, but you won't really live. What if all of a sudden your memory came back and you remembered there were people living directly above you on dry land who breathe air just like you? You change your environmental conditions, the way you relate to the world, and you don't feel like a freak anymore. You feel like yourself. You take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and yell at the top of your lungs "This is living!" .


People who are depressed are trying to breathe underwater. Imagine that the underwater folk realize your plight and decide to get you a bunch of scuba gear so that you can live in their kingdom with them. At this point you have woken up from a coma because you were underwater so long. You remember nothing about your life above the sea. You will always be considered the outcast freak who for some reason cannot breathe on his own, and your quality of life will be pretty bad. You will feel like you have a disability. You will survive, but you won't really live. Depression is a strong signal that your lifestyle does not fit you. It's the most visible symptom of the unconscious internal conflict between what you want for yourself and what society and other people say is best for you.

As this series will delve into, much of depression stems from maladaptive thinking and skewed perceptions. But it also comes from living a life that does not fit you. What's really depressing is that most people do not realize it and keep trying to figure out a way to breathe underwater. They don't try to change any of their actual conditions; they just want their depression to go away. Taking medication is a lot like using scuba gear. It might help you breathe but it will do nothing to change the fact that you are still in the wrong environment.
 It's egocentric and wrong to blindly assume that our way is the best way. Emotions are symptoms of a person's engagement with life. Most people want to be happy. But happiness, just like every other emotion, is transient and is only possible because you are turned towards life. When you authentically relate to others your engagement is as likely to elicit emotions popularly considered negative as positive.
Emotional states are not permanent, as anyone can attest who has been in love and then fallen out of it, or been extremely happy only to have the object of their happiness taken away, or been furious only to gain perspective and a new outlook on life. An open orientation of turning towards people and life can be permanent, an emotion cannot.
When you are depressed you are no longer plugged in. What once seemed colorful turns to shades of gray. What once seemed interesting becomes mundane.
When you try to choose which emotions are okay to feel and which are tabu, one outcome is to stop feeling any of them. When you turn towards life, you open yourself up to the bad but also open yourself up to the good.
People who become depressed are more worried about how others respond to them.
They fear rejection and tend to regard small social slights as global proof of their deficits. Fear of rejection usually acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will find what you are looking for, either by focusing exclusively on a small part of an encounter, perceiving rejection where there is none, or acting in a way where the other's rejection of you is an assured outcome.
High rejection sensitivity and low self-concept go together. When you need external sources to validate you as a person you are always at risk for low self-concept because the validation might stop. Our culture thrives on external sources of validation. Since you were a kid you have been judged based on your outward behavior rather than who you are as a person. Think about that for a second.
When you don't feel lovable and your self-concept comes from external sources a black hole is created that can never be filled. Your intimate relationships are not fulfilling because friends and romantic partners are incapable of giving you what you really need. And that is self-love. It's the feeling in your bones that you are worthy of the admiration and love that comes from others.
Increasing your self-concept is a long journey of self-discovery. It's not going to change in a day or a week and it takes courage to face your past, your present, your Self, and your relationships. Building a thicker skin and being less sensitive to rejection is a little bit easier and behavioral psychology can help you get there rather quickly.
If you have high rejection sensitivity, your goal can be to purposefully embarrass yourself at least once a day. Say something outlandish in the elevator. Approach someone from the opposite sex at a bar or restaurant with the goal of getting shut down. This is called paradoxical intention and it works incredibly well.

The Self
This person usually has low self-esteem and a generally unfavorable impression of his abilities and intelligence. He will set unreasonably high expectations that are impossible to live up to for long and that invariably lead to disappointment. He usually sees himself as morally deficient, worthless, or flawed. Evidence to the contrary is glossed over or flat out denied. As you can see this type of person is his own worst critic. Self-fulfillment and a feeling of efficacy are basically unattainable.
Present Reality
Just as he has a negative concept about himself, the depressive usually has a negative concept about his interactions with others, his accomplishments, his job performance, and the world in general. When things go well he will attribute this fortuitous happening to forces outside himself, believe he got lucky, and generally lack the belief that they can keep up. He is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When things do go badly he will attribute them to his own deficits and mistakes, and as proof of his worthlessness.
He views most of his interactions with others through this same lens. For example, after a conversation with a coworker about an important upcoming project, an outside observer might not view anything in the conversation as out of the ordinary. There may have been some tension or conflict, but there was also cooperation and collaboration. However, the depressive will leave the encounter focusing on what he believes went wrong, ignore the positives, and view the entire encounter in a negative light.
Future Expectations
As you can probably guess, he is usually not hopeful about the future improving. He believes that his present suffering will continue indefinitely. He does not feel equipped to deal with challenges or new experiences. He feels trapped and that there is no reason for optimism. Most healthy, happy people bounce back rather quickly from conflict or setbacks and believe that 'tomorrow is a new day'. The depressive views current suffering as proof of future suffering and a self-fulfilling prophecy is created.
This cognitive triad of beliefs is a ticking time bomb for depression. The good news if you feel that you fit the descriptions given here is that outcomes for depression using CBT have been rigorously studied and are generally very favorable. Since most of these issues are errors in perception, therapy that focuses on creating a more accurate picture of life, emphasizing the positives, and learning skills to deal with setbacks in a healthy way usually effects significant change. Many people suffer unnecessarily, and while changing perception is only one piece of the puzzle, it is an important first step in helping people find relief and start to enjoy life.

The resistance between the stages of mobilization and action is retroflection. This occurs when a person turns his stored up, mobilized energy back upon himself instead of out into the environment. Like all of the resistances, retroflection often serves an important protective function for a person and is even necessary for survival. 66dc9819f15650d754b60200c0bfa088

   Retroflection is not only constrained to violent actions obviously, but to all actions that involve connection with others in your environment. One of the reasons we avoid action is because of the threat of non-being. Once you have reached the stage of action there is no going back. The arrow has left the bow, and for better or worse that action will have consequences. Many people feel psychologically safer to stay in the phase of mobilization because they do not have to risk the possibility of things not turning out the way they hope. They speak about the projects they will undertake, the trips and vacations they will go on, the new job they want, or their desire to change careers or go back to school. But none of these goals ever come to fruition. They might be highly mobilized but are unconsciously blocked from the necessary phase of action because of the existential anxiety that accompanies non-being.
The person who spends most of his life stuck at this resistance is usually highly concerned with self-control. He has never learned how to let go or cut loose. He might fear his own emotions and exaggerate in his mind what the consequences will be of feeling something deeply like love, rage, or intense sadness.
Let's look at what boredom is. Anyone who has been bored, which is everyone, knows it is a pretty unbearable state of being. We resort to all types of diversions to try to avoid it. Boredom is a lack of interest, a lack of feeling, and a lack of connection towards life and people. When you are bored you are not plugged in. It's no accident that people who feel bored often try to solve their dilemma by going to sleep. This is an attempt to eradicate consciousness because the conscious state of being bored is so unnerving. The parallel in depression is committing suicide. Death is often referred to as the eternal sleep or eternal rest. A common expression when we are free to do as we please is to 'kill time'.
Erich Fromm makes the connection between boredom and depression brilliantly when he says "Boredom is the average state of melancholia, whereas melancholia is the pathological state of boredom that one finds in certain individuals" .
The next time you feel bored, instead of trying to escape the state by working, drinking, socializing, or sleeping, try looking deeply into yourself to see what your boredom is telling you about the structure of your life. The way to beat boredom or depression is to find the conditions that make you feel authentically fulfilled and connected. This connection might be to life, people, nature, a cause, your job, your spirituality, or anything else you can think of. Your boredom or your depression are telling you something important about yourself and you've got  to listen instead of avoiding the issue.
A loss of energy is one of the central features of depression. When people are depressed they find it hard to get out of bed, or interact socially, or get their work done, or take care of their children, or take care of themselves, or do the laundry, or answer the phone, or any other of life's myriad activities.
Depression is a state of having given up. It's hopelessness about life and your place in it, your relationships, and how you feel about yourself.
In order to beat depression you are going to have to change many facets of your life. You're going to have to change your perceptions of the world, how you relate to others, and how you behave. But changing can seem overwhelming.
One place to start is exercise. Again, it's a sad irony that the activities with the best chance of lifting you out of your depression require the most energy output. One thing science has shown us about depression is that the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin show up in smaller quantities in the brains of people who are depressed.
Exercise is one of the fastest ways to give you the energy to start making all the other necessary changes in your life. But it takes dedication and perseverance. You need to exercise strenuously for at least thirty minutes a day. This means that by the end of the workout you will be sweating profusely. An exercise bike or treadmill will do the trick, or just go jogging.
In order to overcome your depression you need to get to know it on an intimate level. Sun Tzu, in 'The Art of War', said "Know thyself. Know thy enemy. A thousand battles. A thousand victories." The exercise we will talk about gives you the chance to be victorious.
When you know your depression inside and out as a living, breathing, talking being its power over you diminishes. We usually try to avoid conscious awareness of the parts of our lives that cause us the most psychological discomfort. We hope that by ignoring them they will go away. Honest confrontation is much more effective.
There are several benefits to externalizing your depression and treating it as if it were its own entity. The most obvious is that you get to view it lucidly. Equally as important is that by creating distance between yourself and your depression you automatically rid yourself of some of the shame and guilt that seem to follow all mental health issues. These feelings have often been in place since childhood.
When you separate yourself from your depression you get to regard it as deficient, worthless, and unlovable instead of yourself. Have you ever heard the expression 'It's hard to see the forest for the trees'? Gaining perspective usually means taking a step back. Parts of your life that are shrouded in darkness will become clear when you create a profile and personality for your depression.
You want to know your depression inside and out.
Depression creates distance between you and the people you care about. Presenting your depression to them shows them exactly how and why distance has occurred and simultaneously moves you all closer together. They will better understand what you are going through and so will you. They will side with you to beat depression instead of feeling separated and confused about what's happening to you.
Where authentic human connection is depression is not. Depression wants to rob you of your most important relationships. It wants to hold you back from forming new ones. It wants to keep you emotionally and physically isolated. It wants to make you appear uninterested and boring. The more it can keep you from spontaneously interacting in the moment with the people you care about the better chance it has to win.
The first thing to keep in mind is that self-love is not narcissism. In fact it's the furthest thing from it. That's because loving is a state of being and does not require objects in order to exist. A loving person will love himself, his wife, his friends, his kids, his work, his culture, and anything else that comes across his path that is worthy of it. If one of these objects is taken away he will still be a loving person. His love does not require an object. Those who are narcissistic are not loving and therefore spend all their time and energy trying to get accolades from the environment to make up for it. They believe accumulating enough objects of love will solve the central issue. But since deep down they do not believe they are worthy of love a black hole is created that can never be filled. That's why however many accolades a narcissist gets will never be enough.
Fighting through the neuroses that have been in place since childhood in order to get to know parts of yourself that are hidden is a decision to love yourself. And having the courage to open yourself up to new relationships characterized by honesty and increasing closeness is making the decision to love yourself and start authentically loving others.
One way to dramatically increase levels of connection with the people you care about is by deciding to stop treating them like possessions. They become people who are worthy of love for no other reason than that they exist. When someone feels he or she is loved by you not for the psychological or material functions they fulfill but simply because they are, you are on the path that all the great spiritual teachers across time have shown us.
Increasing authentic human connection opens you up to more risk. First of all you risk that people will not like the real you. If you have always secretly felt unlovable this is an especially risky proposition. You also risk creating a better life for yourself only to one day lose it. The people you care the most about will one day die, or they might move on with their lives, or they might change. The more you love them and authentically connect to them the more it will hurt when they leave.
The gain is worth the risk and life is way too short to not experience true feelings of love and to know that you are loved authentically. Not because of what you do for people, but because you are a loving person who is worthy of it in return.

blue key You started your life physically connected to another organism. While you lived in the womb for around nine months you knew nothing of loss, sorrow, or loneliness. Your biological state of being made you feel connected because you were connected. Even for the first two years of life you did not have to worry much about being a separate entity. If you came from a relatively stable family mother and father took care of your every physical and emotional need.
Existential isolation is a feeling that usually occurs unconsciously but it's very real. As a conscious being you can never go back to that state of connection in the womb, and you are doomed to wander the earth as an existential vagabond. No one can truly know what you are thinking except for you. No one can truly know what you are feeling except for you. No one can know the underlying motivations for your actions except for you. All your joys, every sorrow, all your triumphs, and every defeat are ultimately yours. As much as you would like to share the most important moments of life with others it's impossible in an existential sense because you do not share a brain or a body with another organism.
This feeling of isolation that nags at the edge of consciousness is painful and people resort to all types of life solutions to try to ignore it. We don't have many sources of community left in our culture to help combat the feeling of isolation. First let's talk about family. Most of us do not have an extended network of family members who live and work close to us. We chase jobs and opportunities and end up living far away from good friends or family members. Many of us do not see our own siblings more than two or three times a year. We live in material comfort but not always with the human comfort that is so important to mental health.
Many don't put much stock in religion anymore, at least not in the religions to which they have been exposed. Not only do they lose the community that a religious institution usually provides but also grapple with questions about their existence alone. They have to deal with the feelings of isolation and loneliness that go hand in hand with the ultimate isolation from life in the form of death.
You might work five days a week at a job you do not feel connected to, around people you do not feel connected to, producing a product that feels relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile you probably do not spend a significant amount of quality time with the people you care about during the week since you are working so many hours at your job.
No wonder depression runs so rampant in our culture. It's exhausting to convince ourselves that the life we have been taught to want provides for the deeper existential needs when it clearly does not in many important ways. The need to live a connected life and avoid feelings of isolation by forging deep human relationships with those around us is simply more difficult here. It's probably why Westerners are always shocked to see programs and documentaries where people living in relative poverty appear very happy and report feeling contented with their lives. It's because they are, and a major part is the sense of community they feel from working and living together the way people have done since the early days of our cave ancestors. They wield the most powerful weapon there is against the painful feelings of existential isolation that are central to being human. Connection, which we talked about in the last chapter, is essential to happiness and mental health.
The best way for you to effectively combat existential isolation is by letting people in and forging closer bonds with the people you care about while creating new relationships. It's a little bit harder to connect in our culture because of some of the reasons mentioned in this chapter but you can do it with a little bit of work. Of course maturing as a person and increasing self-concept means knowing how to avoid destructive relationships too. Sometimes it's better to disengage from abusive relationships in order to preserve your sense of self. You also have to make sure that you are not connected to family members in an unhealthy way in order to avoid becoming your own individual.
Here is an idea for where to start in case making the first step towards more connection is anxiety provoking. If you have ever had an interest that you did not pursue for one reason or another find a meetup group online in the city where you live and start going to meetings. There are numerous websites now that offer forums for meetups of all kinds. You'll have a chance to rekindle your zest for life by pursuing a new interest and get a chance to meet a new group of people who are also there to engage with life.

Read full series on depression "Blue"

Read our full series on depression 'Blue'.
Read our full series on depression 'Blue'.
Read our full series on depression 'Blue'.


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