Depression - Part of Our Recovery Toolkit?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Yesterday, I posted on why depression can be useful when it comes to relationship break-ups. Depression is one of the worst conditions on the planet, but it is also part of our natural selection toolkit. When things go wrong in our lives, depression helps shake us out of our denial and misplaced optimism. We see reality for what it is, and rebuild our lives accordingly.


    In response, Rob found this approach “more productive and helpful than those over-simplistic CBT, ignore your thinking and do it anyway, type ideas.” But what’s missing, he noted, “is the way to rebuild a fresh and hopefully better and more sustainable future life” while having to contend with depression.

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    I hear you Rob. Perhaps we can begin with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). I’m a big fan of this therapy, but I do have the same misgivings you do. CBT simply assumes that the way we think and feel is void ab initio. This is wrong on so many levels.


    Level One: Contrary to CBT philosophy, our thinking and feeling is totally valid. We may not like the state we are in. We may wish to change the way we think and feel. But we also need to acknowledge that, as horrible and incapacitating as our situation is, it’s okay to feel depressed. 


    You don’t have to give a reason. It’s just okay.


    Level Two: Contrary to CBT assumptions, our thinking may be more grounded in reality than the well-meaning people trying to help us. Yes, we have an unfortunate tendency to put the worst possible spin on events and to blame ourselves, and we do need to address these issues. But we can also make a strong case for “depressive realism” (see my previous article).


    Level Three: Depression can be part of our spiritual growth. I don’t want to make depression sound like a good thing, but depression does put us in touch with the types of thoughts and feelings we totally ignore in our Panglossian goody-goody mindsets. 


    Level Four: Depression can be part of the healing process. If you think of depression as the scream of psychic pain, then we need to be listening.


    By validating our depressions, we validate ourselves as human beings. For me, the rebuilding starts from there. But where next? 


    There are no easy answers, but I do think it is crucial to incorporate our depressions into our recovery. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Our brains are not standard issue, so following standard advice is only going to have limited effect. 


    Case in point, the self-help movement. Four main themes emerge: Some form of positive thinking, expressions of gratitude, good habits, and overcoming fear.


    All four are non-starters in the case of depression. Even when we get started, our depressions are going to push back. Perhaps we are not playing to our strengths. Perhaps depression IS our strength.


    Recall: In many situations, depression allows us to see the world far more realistically than our glass-half-full counterparts.  It gives us access to our deepest thoughts and feelings. It begs us to listen to our psychic pain.


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    If we use these gifts wisely, we slowly acquire a deep self-awareness. We learn to make good decisions. We gain a rare form of wisdom and insight. Crazy as it may seem, with these attributes, people may actually be seeking us out for advice.


    Depression, of course, is the most demanding and least forgiving teacher of all. The journey is a painful one, filled with frustration, hardship, and humiliation. And tears. Lots of tears.


    As I said, there are no easy answers. But we ignore our depressions at our own risk.

Published On: January 30, 2014