Depression Part Iposted on October 17th, 2012 / by Bob Hamp / 11 Comments
This week we will feature a three part series on Freedom from Depression by our resident counselor, Bob Hamp. Bob is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and was in private practice for sixteen years before taking his job as the Pastor of Freedom Ministry at Gateway Church. These three posts will explore a helpful definition of depression, some issues related to our spiritual lives and depression; and finally, some tips on your journey to walking out of the downward spiral of depression. Please be aware that none of this is intended to be a substitute for working with a professional on your journey, and in no way is this series a comprehensive view or treatment model.
What is Depression?
Depression. A common term, also just as commonly misunderstood. In many ways depression is a bucket diagnosis into which we throw a variety of conditions. Like the human race itself, depression is far too varied to simply explain by a set of diagnostic criteria and treatment options.
In the same way, causes, conditions and effective treatments are also widely varied. What is helpful about using a term like depression is that it is a beginning point for a discussion. And the discussion must begin before each individual can find the help that they need. The most common mistake we all make relative to this elusive beast known as depression, is that we minimize it for a variety of reasons. We may minimize it out of ignorance when we hear that someone else is suffering from depression. I think more commonly we minimize it out of shame or as a symptom of the condition itself. We just don’t want to acknowledge that something may be wrong. And in many cases the more “wrong” things feel, the more we don’t like to admit it. It is easier to admit to a stomachache than to a condition which may indicate that something is wrong with our person.
One other reason that we minimize it is built into the condition itself. Depression itself in many cases stifles our self-awareness. Perhaps it is helpful to think of depression in terms of its opposite. The opposite of depression is not happiness, the opposite of depression is expression. Depression itself is the stifling of experiencing our full range of self.
This being the case, it is important to realize that the goal in recovery is not necessarily that we feel better, rather the goal is that we feel. As you will discover in these posts, one factor in depression is the avoidance of painful feelings. This being the case, sometimes the journey out of depression and into expression begins with the legitimate experience of painful things, so that we might restore the natural function of our feeling system.
Before we go down that road, let’s step further back and take a big picture look at this multi-dimensional condition that we know or experience as depression.
Depression is a chronic condition; that is to say that it is ongoing. Bouts of sadness or grief do not necessarily indicate depression, they may indicate sadness and grief. Life is filled with many legitimate reasons to feel sad and grieve. Normal responses to these do not indicate depression.
Depression is when we find ourselves in a chronic state that indicates a new “steady state”, or a new normal. Where our thinking, relationships and emotions used to operate at one level, we may find that these aspects of our life have become consistently lowered. Think of depression as an adjustment in the thermostat of your being. Your range of life has been turned down.
Not only is depression a chronic condition, it is a multi-dimensional condition. It is not simply emotional, it also cognitive, physiological and spiritual. And like every condition of the human soul, these arenas of experience weave a cause-AND-effect spiral. This circularity is an important aspect of understanding and breaking the cycle of depression.
Regardless of the cause of a particular season of depression, the body chemistry, emotional states and cognitive processes all play a role. Body chemistry can affect thinking. Thinking can then affect emotional responses, which in turn, again affect body chemistry. Each aspect of the person’s being then becomes a contributor and a recipient in the downward spiral of depression.
It is this cyclical, circularly causal aspect of depression that makes it so important for people to engage on every level as a part of their own journey of recovery. In our final post this week, we will look more closely at how to engage each of these aspects of your soul to cooperate with your own recovery process. For today, take the time to identify where you are.
Is your interest level in life and life events the same as it used to be? Are you sleeping or eating in ways that are consistently unhealthy and different from what used to be true for you? Are your thoughts more consistently negative, or even self-destructive? Do you find that your emotions are sad, angry, or in some way more consistently on the painful side of the emotional continuum? Do you have a range of physical problems, like muscle pain or gastrointestinal problems, that seem to be persistent and without an external cause?
Your answers to these questions can indicate that you are experiencing depression. If you see that you might be experiencing depression, speak to your doctor or a mental health professional. Also read these posts this week. I intend to take us all the way through from identification to intervention. Depression is not a permanent condition, and you can do something about it.