When we think of depression it’s often in terms of everything appearing black. We think of great sorrow, self-recrimination, loss of confidence and guilt. These symptoms are certainly classic features of depression but we also have to remember that symptoms vary in terms of their nature and intensity and whether the person is slipping into or starting to recover from a depressive episode.
Holding back the tears during depression doesn’t really help. In fact a good bawl can be immensely therapeutic. There may also be a difference in crying alone or crying in the company of a trusted friend or relative. Crying in isolation isn’t harmful, but it may serve to amplify the sense of isolation and loneliness that accompanies depression.
In the company of someone trusted, crying is likely to be within the context of conversation. Being able to talk about one’s feelings provides an outlet for processing and understanding internal conflicts. Such conflicts often run deep and are complex and confusing. Talking helps the process of recovery and sharing this with someone who perhaps has a personal background of depression or crisis can help. For their part, the listener can respond with compassionate talk to aid depression recovery, and they will fully understand the need for tears during this difficult time.
Depression and humor may appear at odds and during bleak periods it’s true that the ability to find humor in anything is in pretty short supply. However, returning to comments in my opening paragraph, it’s important to remember that depression isn’t a fixed unit of mood. It is actually quite a dynamic process that can vary considerably, even over the time of day. Some people function for years in a state of despondency yet are perfectly capable of laughing out loud. Such moments may be short-lived, but they do exist, sometimes at the cost of masking the dominant mood.
I remember once speaking to a patient who was recovering from depression. She was in hospital and had several previous admissions for depression. One of the things that struck me was her declared fear of laughing in case relatives felt her depression was something of an act. Despite a suicide attempt that very nearly succeeded, her view was that people with depression weren’t meant to see the funny side of anything. We spoke at length about the people I’d met in similar situations, about the nature of depression, and the fact that, like her, some needed to be given permission to laugh. Even depression comes with its stereotypes that can affect behavior.
There are other ways of working through depression that can supplement talking. Keeping a log or diary can become a highly personal and reflective tool to help articulate and make sense of conflicting emotions. Some people craft letters to an imaginary friend, sometimes to a loved one who has passed away, and sometimes to a real person.
Emotions associated with depression often seem to strip away self-worth and our sense of mastery. Writing or talking about the things lost provides a vehicle for reminding ourselves of the important issues and can provide a way of gaining perspective and control. I’ve previously written about the importance of reassigning priorities during depression. Some readers picked up the issue of using lists to help organize thoughts and said how useful they found the technique. In the context of this Sharepost, I’d advocate holding onto the positives in life by writing down a list of the things (hobbies, music, reading, etc.) and the people in your life and then putting a tick against those you appreciate. These gentle reminders are food for thought and can be quite persuasive on the road to recovery.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.