“When I am depressed, I get narrow and pointy. Everyone feels it. It is tangible.” He then hid his face from his girlfriend, as if to protect her from catching it.
One of the more powerful statements I make to my clients regarding depression or any strong emotion is: “You cannot control your feelings.” You’ve tried that, right? “Stop being depressed!” “Stop being angry!” “Stop being anxious!” “Stop being insecure!” How well did it work for you? It didn’t, right?
We can control our actions, our responses. We can change our thinking patterns over time, and with lots of practice. But we cannot control our feelings.
“One incidence of depression stands out for me more than the others because there wasn’t an identifiable trigger. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I woke up one morning after spending two amazing days with my family, and I felt…heavy. Not only in my body, with aches and pains, but also in my spirit. I told myself, ‘snap out of it.’ It didn’t work, of course. ‘Choose to be happy,’ they say. I wish it were that simple. Depression isn’t something I was choosing, or wanted to feel. I began feeling separate from my family, from the life happening around me. Among other dark thoughts, I started attaching significant meaning to insignificant things my husband had done or not done to mean he wasn’t attracted to me anymore. A small part of my brain said, ‘this may not be true.’ However, I didn’t start feeling better until I finally spoke my fears aloud. My husband didn’t understand, but he listened, and he cared. Turns out that was what I needed to begin feeling better. Saying the thoughts out loud made them lose much of their power. By sharing with him, I was shining a light on the darkness that was overcoming me. I wasn’t alone in my head anymore.”
The symptoms of depression make depression worse. What that means is: depression lies to you. Depression says, “You are alone.” “No one cares.” “You’re not important.” “You have no right to feel this way.” Depression encourages you to isolate, stay in bed, or lash out at those around you. Naturally, doing these things makes you feel worse, separates you from loved ones, and reinforces the dark thoughts and despair.
When we give in to the symptoms, we become more depressed. We cannot choose our feelings, but we can choose our actions. Do not misunderstand me; not giving in to the symptoms is HARD when you feel depressed. Getting up, showering, exercising, talking to a loved one, sharing, engaging in a hobby, volunteering, petting a dog, getting outside, scheduling a counseling session…they are not guarantees of immediately feeling better, but they help. They are a start. There is an expression used in DBT (a therapy used to treat depression, among other things) that says, “Just don’t make it worse!” And since those actions are ways of not giving into the things that make depression worse, it is a huge step in the right direction. Getting started is often the hardest part.