How One Man Fights Depression - 2
Talking about my deepest feelings has never been easy. Severe depression always made it that much harder to open up because I wanted to be alone and stop talking to everyone about everything.
Yet talking about the worst feelings - exactly the ones I wanted most to hide - was a key step toward healing. The first time I could talk to my wife about what I was really feeling when deeply depressed marked a turning point.
But I didn't just talk about how depressed and miserable I was. Those words were shorthand for something deeper that was hard for me to admit, even to myself.
So when I could finally get it out to my wife, I felt like I was coming back from the worst. It seems like such a simple statement, but it wasn't.
That was a start, and from there I could say a lot more. I felt the bond with my wife coming back, and she could begin to trust me again because she knew this was real.
As a result of my experience, one of the first comments I usually make to a deeply troubled person looking for help on this site is this:
Is there anyone you can talk to?
Most of us believe intuitively that opening up to a trusted friend or loved one - or to a therapist - is essential to healing. And we believe it because we've felt the power of expressing emotion.
But does it always help? From my experience, I've found that opening up can work, but it means more than just getting your feelings out.
I had a friend once who talked to me all the time about his depression, but that didn't do him - or me - any good at all. He kept coming back over and over again to the same misery, each time with a new and more intricate way of explaining what he felt.
He was going around in circles, and I was getting dizzy trying to listen and be supportive. His depression felt contagious and deepened my own problems. In the end I had to ask him to stop. I couldn't take any more, and all the talk about feeling didn't get him any closer to recovery.
That experience help me identify a few traps in this approach. I realized that I had fallen into many of them, just as he had. Here are some of the worst:
- Complaining: Talking about troubles and depression can easily turn to complaining. I often wound up going through the inventory of what I felt only to feel sorry for myself, to lament "why me?" or to convince myself there was nothing I could do about it.
- Venting: There used to be a popular form of therapy based on simple venting of emotion. Getting the pain out through a so-called "primal scream" was supposed to be a healing experience. While most people don't go that far, they may believe - as I did for a time - that pouring out anger, hurt or fear is a good thing in itself. I never found that to work. In fact, I usually felt worse afterward.
- Self-Absorption: Sometimes, I'd get so wrapped up - as my friend did - in detailing every form of agony I felt that I was dwelling only within myself. That was really a way of deepening the isolation of depression. I was putting up more barriers between me and the person I was talking to.
- Substitute for Action: What these traps had in common was that they led nowhere. After getting the feelings of depression out, I didn't do anything to help myself. Talking became an end in itself, and that moved me no closer to recovery.
I finally began to get somewhere when I realized - as I did when talking about my deepest fears to my wife - that even this powerful experience was only a start. I had to follow up by actively working with many forms of treatment and therapy. In that way, I gained skills to use in overcoming each major symptom of depression.
As I look back on that time, I keep thinking of the idea of confronting the intense emotions of depression. Confronting means opening up along with the willingness to delve deeply. I had to get a new perspective, understand why normal feelings had become so extreme.Putting what I felt into words meant I could name the moods, separate one from another and put boundaries around them. I felt relief when I gained this detachment and believed I could find a way to deal with each symptom.
Though I didn't think of it in this way at the same, the detachment resembled the effect of meditation and mindfulness - tools that later helped me enormously.
I came to feel less bound into fear and despair. That change was much more than a new rational understanding. It touched a belief I'd had about the inevitability of having to live with depression for the rest of my life, that it was just too powerful to get rid of completely.
I began to feel hopeful that I could do more than manage symptoms. I believed I could fully recover.
So what seemed like a simple piece of advice - to talk to someone, to open up - turned out not to be so straightforward at all. It took me a long time to do it in a helpful way. But once learned, it became the core of my effort to fight depression.
What about your experience? Has talking about your depression been possible - whether to a loved one or to a therapist? Has it been a step toward healing? A short-term relief? A dead end? Have you even had anyone you felt you could talk to?