Depression: Can We Do An Inventory?
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
If you looked up and looked around and noticed that you’ve been depressed for a while, maybe even quite some time, then let’s take a look at how you might’ve gotten here and some ideas for getting out.
Disappointment and loss
One of the most common ways that depression starts is from a series of disappointments, or loss. This might be the loss of a loved one or a pet, this might be the loss of a job or a friend moving away. Did you recently experience a miscarriage? Maybe you recently interviewed for a job and found out that you weren’t chosen. These disappointments and losses can stack up over time. Are you noticing as you think through this these experiences that maybe you haven’t fully emerged from the grief or sadness? Are you avoiding living and engaging with other people? Are you just showing up to work and going through the motions?
Depression therapy can help you cope! Let’s explore the top 3 losses or disappointments and create a customized plan for working through those.
In this case we’re going to define trauma in a relatively broad way. Sometimes trauma might show up in the form of your house being robbed, an earthquake, or a car accident—sometimes referred to as “shock trauma”. Other times trauma might show up as a humiliation at work, being singled out and bullied in high school, or feeling like a failure when you try new things. Trauma can also mean various kinds of abuse in childhood or as an adult: sexual, emotional, physical abuse or neglect—sometimes referred to as “developmental trauma”.
Some of you might want to judge whether one type of trauma is worse than another type of trauma, but what I’ve seen as a therapist is any of type of trauma can cause anxiety, depression, isolation and avoidance. And once you’re on that road it can be difficult to live a full and loving life following your values.
Trauma therapy is the way to address any of these circumstances so that you can heal and create positive beliefs about yourself, others and the world.
Major health problems
Thirdly, a common cause of depression that we’re going to learn about today is major health problems. Does it seem to you sometimes that people don’t have to think about being healthy, they’re just born with resilient bodies? In actual fact, it really does take some effort to have a healthy body. We need to eat right, get sunshine, exercise, drink water, and get good sleep. Do you or did you have magical thinking that any time there was a problem with your health your doctor could magically fix it? The doctor could give you a pill or a procedure and it would take very little effort on your part to get yourself back on a healthy pathway? What I’ve learned over the years about staying healthy is that it takes skill, courage and intention to preserve a healthy body.
Serious health problems are created directly and indirectly by behaviors such as smoking, drinking, using drugs, overeating, under eating or eating poorly. A combination of childhood traumas and these types of behaviors have been found in research to be good predictors of chronic illnesses such as lung, heart, liver and kidney disease. Doing things to maintain a healthy lifestyle like eating healthy, exercising and managing your stress can provide protective factors against major illnesses and depression.
There was a time in my life when I wasn’t making much money in order to work on an internship. In order to save money I was trying to eat as cheaply as I could. This meant I wasn’t buying many vegetables. Or more specifically I was buying $1 tacos at a fast-food restaurant about five days a week. After about three weeks of this, I found myself sitting in my living room crying for no reason. I could’ve continued on this path, but I decided to head to the grocery store and buy a few vegetables to have with my meals during the week. My mood continue to improve over the week as I improved the food & fuel I was putting in my body.
The three pathways out of depression
So, if the way into depression is avoidance, withdrawal and attachment to self-defeating rules then the way out must include approach, involvement and making intentional choices concerning life situations (and detachment from unworkable rules).
Let’s talk about approach or acceptance as the first way out of depression. Throughout our days & nights, we can have a mindless, steady flow of thoughts, emotions, memories, images and physical sensations which we experience privately. Some people experience this flow from an observational mindset, without getting attached to anything specifically. They’re able to use their intuition to decide what they really need to pay attention to and they seem to easily let go of everything else. Others have a sense that they have to pay attention to absolutely every thought, emotion, image and physical sensation and there’s no easy way to decide what’s important or not— it all feels important and in need of attention.
By accepting the flow, you can reduce your need to numb, control or avoid any of those private experiences. You can do this by learning and practicing mindfulness. From that point it’s much easier to move in your chosen and valued direction.
The second pathway out of depression is living intentionally. Do you feel like you’re on a never-ending carousel ride and they never swing out the arm for you to reach for the brass ring? Did you think you knew what the rules were for life and happiness, but you’re coming to the time when you thought life would work out and it feels unsatisfying?
When do you take time to reflect on your life and the choices you’ve made, so that you can decide what’s working for you and what might need some modification?
Working with a therapist, can help you take those times to reflect and make some new decisions. It might be time to point yourself in a new direction. It’s definitely time to live with intention!
The final pathway out of depression is approaching rather than avoiding. Obviously, it takes less energy to withdraw, take a nap, and focus on your suffering. If a friend hurts your feelings, do you approach that friend and let them know how you’re feeling about the situation? Or, do you sit back and wait for the situation to just get better on its own, or for the friend to notice they need to apologize? What if they are completely unaware that they hurt your feelings? Being an approach-oriented person will stop your cycle of depression. It is not easy for anyone, and it gets better with time.
It’s time to start imagining a better life. What are some ways that you could improve your health (including spirituality, diet, exercise or drug and alcohol use)? What are some ways you can improve the relationships in your life? What changes do you want to make in your work, student, or volunteer life? Let’s reassess your recreation life, that includes hobbies, creative pursuits, and play.
Write some things down and reach out to a therapist to have the accountability to begin pursuing a life worth living. Sometimes we need to learn and practice skills to approach certain situations and a therapist can help you role-play and rehearse the skills for use in your life.