Depression: Inability to Experince Joy and Hope

It’s hard to know what it’s like to be depressed, until you experience it.

Because it’s really not a state within the range of our normal existence.

It’s your mind getting overloaded with stress and pain, so much that it is not capable of its normal, innate functions.

Imagine a carriage, or a buggy, with a load way beyond its capacity. It’s so heavy, that its wheels are sinking into the ground, no longer perfectly round. You can tell the frames are bent from the stress, on the verge of collapse.

This is your mind, depressed. It takes a lot of energy to move, even an inch. And you really don’t want to move. You want to sit there.

Depression is one of the most cruel forms of human afflictions. It’s possible, even if difficult, to be hopeful, to have a positive outlook, and to experience joy under most other circumstances, including terminal illness, financial difficulty, or relationship problems. But depression robs you of this very fundamental of human capacity. If you are depressed, there is no joy, no hope, no laughter. You feel tired, you stop caring.

You lose the will to live.

It’s not enough for a person to take care of his/her physical needs at all cost. Our minds have its own needs. Like body needs water and food, mind needs stimulation. And rest. While our physical body affects our mind, it is our mind that drives the body. Like a car and its driver. If the car was not functioning properly, you adjust your driving to compensate, but you may still be able to keep going. If the driver is not functioning properly, you have bigger problems. You may not drive properly and get into accidents. You may get lost. You may become a danger or a threat to those around you.

Depression is the opposite end, the reverse of what we are meant to be — happy and fulfilled. The other extreme from being the best person you can be.

In fact, since it is no longer within the “normal” plain of your mental state, it may be apt to consider your depression a different person. It’s not who you are, at all. Perhaps it’s a version of you, but one that is so distorted and disfigured that there is very little resemblance of who you actually are.

You are no longer you, when you are depressed. You become a different person, one you’re definitely not meant to be.

But this happens to many of us, more often than we realize.  Much of the time, it is our own poor habits that allow hurt to build up inside and cause depression.  But then, of course, there are some hurtful things that enter our lives that are completely out of our control, like abuse or loss of parent early in life.  Stored hurt never heals, no matter how long it’s been there.  To heal, mentally, means to let it out, one way or another.  The process of healing is an entirely another discussion, so for now let’s focus on recognizing when we’re starting to slip.

It takes a bit of training to recognize depression. That is part of the reason why I’m describing it to you. There are perhaps other places over the web that can help you self-diagnose. Sometimes depression manifests in physical symptoms first — headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, lethargy. Many illnesses have their root cause in ill minds.  Even if you don’t feel depressed but if you have some kind of recurring or chronic conditions, you can bet that there is an unhealed wound or stored stress in your mind somewhere.

Our systems have weak links, vulnerable spots. For example, when I get ill, often my hip joints ache badly. I may be getting the same virus my family gets — and they may complain of nose-running, fever and headaches. When that same virus gets to me, I get achy body first. That is where I am vulnerable. You see how the cause is the same but the symptoms are different?

The same thing applies to depression. It manifests in many different forms. Seek out testimonials in those who have gone through it and identify symptoms that are consistent with yours. Learn to look for signs, and explore beneath the surface.  The symptom simply points out your weak link, not the true cause.  Once you gain awareness, it’s not hard to trace it to the source, in yourself and others.

The good news is that you can recover from depression. It’s hard to imagine when you are depressed, that a different state of being exists. I noticed in myself that when I’m depressed, I tend to feel like I’ve been depressed forever. I don’t remember being happy and joyful. And I fear that that’s all I am going to be, ever.

Your depressed self is not really you. Remember this, and don’t listen. This is one time when it’s not good to listen to yourself, because the one speaking is not real you. Learn to recognize this, and don’t let this compromised version of you drive you to do things that you don’t normally do.

Depression can be cured, and there are many ways to go about it. Here are my thoughts on some initial things to try, suggestions from my personal experience:

  • Rest. Don’t keep driving the car when the driver’s vision is impaired.
  • Talk to someone. If the depression is severe, you’ll need to see a professional therapist, but a friend who’s a good listener can do a lot of good to minor depression. Don’t censor yourself — whine, moan, complain. Just pour out your pain.
  • Listen to music. Music that you can identify with, in that state.
  • Sleep. Your mind shuts off when you’re asleep, at least mostly. This can help your mind to recover.
  • Eat good food. Treat yourself.
  • Avoid making decisions. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but this is one concept that’s hard to recognize until you see it when you are depressed.  You are not in the normal state of mind. Particularly, avoid major decisions — taking a break is different from quitting, breaking up, moving or ending your life. Suspend and put things on hold, but don’t let a sick version of you make decision for the normal you.  This is very important.  I’ve heard of a number of divorces that I strongly suspect were driven from a depressed mind.

You don’t go to the ER if you just catch a common cold or minor flu. Similarly, minor forms of depression can be self-healed with techniques similar to dealing with such minor physical illnesses. Like our body, normal mind have self-healing mechanism. You just need to stop the hurtful activity and let your heart heal on its own.

If your depression is beyond self-healing, then it’s time to seek help.  As with other types of illnesses, my inclination is to use milder, non-chemical-based treatments first before using more powerful forms of healing.  Again, the idea is to aid the built-in self-healing mechanism, not take over — assuming that the symptoms are not so severe that you don’t need immediate intervention.  (if you do, you’re probably unable to make that call yourself)

How to treat depression is a varied and sometimes controversial topic, so let me just share my experience.  Medication isn’t the way to go for everyone.  I know people who are helped by it, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it as the first course of action.  In addition to psychotherapy, alternative healing arts such as acupuncture, herbs, nutritional therapy, Chinese medicine and homeopathy have the potential to heal depression’s root cause.  These are better approaches to try at first, simply because they are milder and gentler on your body and mind.  I want to make it clear that I’m not saying psychiatric medicine isn’t effective.  I’m simply suggesting to view it as the last resort after milder forms of treatment fail, because of their potency.  Plus, psychiatric medicine is a temporary relief — never a cure.  You’re just suppressing the symptom, which can sometimes make true healing more difficult.  You’d want to use it when you are certain that that kind of drastic measure is what the situation calls for.

I realize that some people are depressed because there is imbalance in their brain chemicals, which may call for medicine.  But a lot of people acquire depression because of life events — stress, trauma, grief, and so on.  If that is the case, it’s better to go about treating and healing that wound, or at least try to, first.  Depression is the symptom, the results of those unhealed wounds.  Just treating the symptom doesn’t really cure the cause.  Curing the cause is always the ideal course — even though it’s probably more labor-intensive, costly and time-consuming in the short run.  A regularly-scheduled talk therapy tends more expensive than medication, for example.  But once you treat the cause, you don’t have to live with it any more.  You can move on.

Of course, that is the ideal scenario.  In reality, you may have to get back to being functional immediately, to go back to work or to hold the family together.  In that kind of situation, obviously medicine may help.

Whatever methods of healing you choose, choose one you’re comfortable with and can believe in, with healers/therapists/medical professionals you respect and trust.  That is your best bet, a place to start.

I can write a whole another thread on how to live with and deal with people who are depressed.  Let me just touch on one basic point — allow them to be.  Don’t try to cheer up or give them “kick in the butt” to get them out of their funk.  Let them be their sulky, mopey, pathetic version of self — in time, hopefully their mind will heal on its own.  Trying to help them get out of that state before they’re ready is not only futile (even if it appears to work in the short run), it can contribute to deeper depression.

Well, this is a primer of sorts on my understanding of depression.  While this is the complete opposite state of what I’m trying to promote with this site — being who you are meant to be — I feel compelled to share my experience on the subject, as I have personally dealt with it and gained some insights.  If our goal, the self-actualization, is the top, this is the view of the bottom.  But the good news is, you can climb up from this bottom and reach the top.  It’s very possible.

One final note on this topic:  I do realize that I’m an amateur, lay person and am not qualified to give advise, medical or otherwise.  So do keep that in mind — this is all based on one man’s personal experience and his relatively small exposure.  Obviously, a practicing therapist or a psychiatrist or others in similar professions can offer better advise from their far deeper experience and training.

That said, I think my personal insight still has a value.  There are great truths to be discovered in those who have personally experienced afflictions, that even those who are treating it (but have not gone through it themselves) can miss or fail to understand.   Whenever I’m researching an illness, I always look for two sources — the professionals and the survivors.  That approach gives me a more complete picture.

So I am going to share my thoughts and experience on this issue, as I see it as one of the major roadblocks in our quest to realizing our potential.  To understand your obstacle, is the first step to overcoming it.

This post was included in the Carnival of Improving Life, 15th Edition.  Check out other entries on how to make your life better!