“Depression” is a term thrown around casually these days, and it’s fair to say that the vast majority of us can identify times in our lives when we’ve felt depressed, down, or “blue.” Depression, however, is a serious mental health condition that warrants attention and awareness, because when left unchecked, it can have devastating effects on our lives and the lives of those around us.
Depression’s Life Force
It helps to conceptualize Depression as an entity, separate from your “True Self,” that takes up residence in your being. As a separate entity, it develops a life force, a survival instinct, and its own voice. We all have little “voices” inside our head that we learn to recognize as thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Depression is very adept at blending in with the thoughts that are generated from our True Selves. However, unlike the voice of Truth, the voice of Depression is designed to keep Depression alive and thriving, so anything you might do to weaken it or drown it out (i.e., your efforts to improve your mental health) is met with resistance that can take the form of getting louder, heightened intensity, or new tactics. It can be very clever, overwhelming, convincing, and seductive, to the point that you may believe it is actually your own voice, coming from your True Self. One of the most effective ways to counteract the temptation to succumb to this voice is to learn to recognize it.
Recognizing Depression’s Voice
There are three distinct qualities that distinguish the voice of Depression from the voice of Truth:
- Depression uses absolutes, like “always” and “never,” to give you the impression that things cannot change.
- Depression uses destructive rather than constructive language, attacking your character and eliciting shame.
- Depression uses words and phrases that isolate you and make you want to withdraw.
Each of these qualities is designed to feed the life force of Depression, blinding you to your Truth. Once you are able to identify the voice of Depression and distinguish it from Truth, you will have laid the groundwork for learning to replace these thoughts and beliefs with your Truth.
Depression wants you to believe that your current life situation, state of being, or emotional experience is static. It tells you things like, “You will never amount to anything,” “You are always going to feel miserable,” and “No one could ever love you.” These kinds of absolutes breed hopelessness, which is the bread and butter of Depression. The fallacy in these types of statements is that change is guaranteed in life. Emotions change fairly rapidly, in both intensity and type. People’s life situations may or may not change, but our attitudes toward and ability to cope with those situations certainly can change over time, particularly with the help of a mental health professional. And as you come to understand and accept your intrinsic value, you can learn to receive love and affection from others. So, when you are feeling hopeless about the possibility of your life and emotional state improving, look for the underlying statements that contain absolutes, and recognize that these lies are uttered by the voice of Depression.
Depression wants to tear you down rather than build you up, so it attacks your character and worth instead of focusing on a behavior or event. If you do poorly on a test, Depression might say, “You’re an idiot,” or “You’re a terrible student,” when the Truth may be anything from “You didn’t study enough for that test,” to “That was a really hard test!” If you snap at your children, Depression might try to convince you that you’re a terrible parent, when the Truth may be that you are a loving parent who is stressed or tired or struggling in some way and made a mistake and responded harshly. Depression may convince you to interpret being turned down for a date or a job as proof that you are worthless, completely disregarding the multitudes of other possible reasons for these “rejections” that have nothing whatsoever to do with your character or value as a person. The key here is to separate the behavior from the person, accepting the idea that a person’s actions don’t define the person or determine their worth as an individual. This is not to say that actions don’t have consequences, or that we should not feel regret when we make mistakes or errors in judgment. This is where the constructive language (which builds you up and comes from the voice of Truth) comes in. Admitting to yourself that you “screwed up” gives you the opportunity to learn from it, make amends, and move forward with the intent of not making that mistake again. It also means you are among the ranks of the merely human – we ALL screw up in life. If you take the statement “I screwed up” and add one little word: “I am screwed up,” the meaning changes drastically! The first statement is constructive and (if you really did make a mistake and aren’t taking the blame for something that is not your responsibility) truthful, while the second statement is destructive and shaming. So, when you feel shame or worthlessness, look for the destructive lies that Depression is feeding you.
Depression thrives on loneliness, detachment, and a sense of differentness. It may tell you that nobody understands you, and/or that no one could possibly understand you. Similarly, it may tell you that you are the only one feeling this way, getting you to believe that everyone around you has an idyllic life and/or is handling life better than you are. Another tactic it uses is to convince you that telling someone how you’re feeling will burden them or bring them down with you. Likewise, it may whisper to you that you’re no fun to be around and will spoil everyone else’s good time, so you shouldn’t engage in social activities. Remembering that we are conceptualizing Depression as having its own life force, isolation is a surefire way of keeping it alive and thriving. We are all wired for connection – being in relationship with others – and making those connections and speaking about your struggles is one of the most effective ways of reducing the power Depression has in your life. Whether with friends, family, leaders in your faith community, or a therapist, connecting with trustworthy people and talking about your fear and anguish allows you to see that you’re not alone and you’re not a burden. You will be surprised – shocked – at how many people say, “Me too!”
As you learn to recognize the voice of Depression you, which I recommend that people do under the care and guidance of a mental health professional, you will begin to uncover your Truth: the intrinsic value you possess just by virtue of being you; the unique gifts and character you bring into the world; the hope you can garner from the knowledge that change is possible. The voice of Depression will eventually fade – perhaps not into nothingness, but at least to a level that is easily manageable – and the voice of Truth will speak “loud and proud” into your life.