Taming the Black Dog
A guide to recognizing and coping with depression
The legendary wartime leader, Winston Churchill
suffered from depression for most of his life.
He named his depression the Black Dog
Introducing the Black Dog
1. Recognizing the Black Dog: When depression becomes a problem
2. When the Black Dog Moves In: The symptoms of depression
3. Fleas, Furballs and Muddy Pawprints: The impact of depression
4. The Black Dog's Owner: The origins of depression
5. Bad Dog!: Self esteem and depression
6. Give a Dog a Bone: Thinking and depression
7. The Training Begins - Top Dog: Reassessing depression8. Fetch!: Going for recovery
9. Out to the Vet: Choosing professional help
10. The Black Dog and the Black Hole: When there seems no hope and no point
11. New Tricks: Keeping recovery on track
Introducing the Black Dog
Like many of you, I have not lived an easy life. No one lives very long without suffering losses and enduring a lot of pain. Sometimes it is only too easy to give in to the Black Dog. I allow him to seduce me because he offers me the temptation of giving up, of saying "too hard" and absolves me of all responsibility to address, repair or change my life. I can even be enticed into believing that this retreat from life is a relief, a sanctuary or even a solution to all my problems. I might even start thinking this is a justified protest against the unfairness of life - "See how you've hurt me, now aren't you sorry?" - as if this will change anything. I can even believe that the Black Dog comes and goes as he pleases, that I have no control over when he visits or how long he stays.
But only for so long. Eventually I will have to face the fact that all of these thoughts are nothing but illusion, and that is all the Black Dog is made of. Once exposed, an illusion can never hold the same power it once did. I now know that, if the Black Dog comes, it is because I have opened the door for him, and if the Black Dog goes, it is I who have sent him away again. This little guide is aimed at making you the master of your Black Dog instead of its victim. It will take time and he has many tricks up his sleeve, but in the end he just needs someone to show him the way.
It is your life, and it is precious. Claim it back. There is hope, and there is always a way, even if you can't see it yet. You just haven't gotten to that part yet. Wait. Everything passes. So will this.
1. Recognizing the Black Dog
When depression becomes a problem
Most of us feel depressed from time to time. This is usually linked to changes, losses and setbacks that are just another part of life. These may include bereavement, job loss, the end of a relationship, physical changes or problems, tests of ability and worth, social problems, etc. Depression associated with such life events, though painful, is temporary and usually recedes when life returns to normal or a reasonable period of grieving has passed. However, depression that is ongoing and not linked to an apparent cause may be a problem.
Depression is one of the most over-diagnosed psychological conditions, and the one with the most false diagnoses. There is a big difference between being sad and being depressed. Here is how you tell the difference.
Losing or already lost interest in activities you used to find enjoyable
Overeating or lack of appetite
Oversleeping or unable to sleep
Less active and talkative than usual
Avoiding social interactions
No longer pleased with praise or gifts
Losing or lost interest in sex
Low in self esteem and highly critical of yourself
Less efficient at school, work or home life
Less able to cope with everyday routines
Having difficulty in making even trivial divisions
Having trouble concentrating
And sometimes do you find yourself entertaining morbid thoughts?
If you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms on a regular and ongoing basis, you may have a problem with depression that requires attention.
2. When the Black Dog Moves In
The symptoms of depression
It is very painful living with depression. The colour seems to drain out of the world, the nights seem unbearably long, but you dread the dawn and the day it will bring. Nothing seems to bring comfort; not love, concern, nor sympathy. You feel alone even in a group. There are many different metaphors used to describe depression, but the most common ones are being lost in a thick fog, pressed down by a heavy weight. Some describe a deep chasm, a black, endless tunnel or a barren, empty landscape, being bound or imprisoned. Whatever the metaphor, it equates to the same thing - the Black Dog.
What these views have in common is a sense of hopelessness, a pessimistic view about the future, and a deep and lonely feeling of isolation.
You are not alone
In fact, the World Health Organization has estimated that as many as 100 million people are depressed at any given time. About 1/5 women and 1/8 men will suffer from ongoing and persistent depression at some point in their lives. It is important to note that the first statistic refers to anyone who has ever felt a small amount of situational depression right through to those who struggle with deep feelings of isolation and hopelessness. More severe depression, which affects a person's ability to function is rated at about 15% of the population.
Clinical terms for depression:
Reactive or Situational Depression is bought on by changes to one's life and is attributed to an external cause.
Endogenous Depression is triggered internally by genes or biochemicals.
However, these two are not mutually exclusive. The terms are now more commonly used to describe the severity of the depression, as causes and triggers are usually a combination of several things, and not always easy to pin down exactly.
3. Fleas, Furballs and Muddy Pawprints
The impact of depression
Depression takes a toll on all areas of your life, but few so much as your interactions with others.
You may be:
Feeling that the depth of your pain is being trivialized
Feeling inadequate and a failure because you are depressed
Feeling guilty and ungrateful for being this way
Caught between wanting to be alone, and feeling rejected when you are
Feeling misunderstood or mistreated
But most of all, feeling alone.
One of the biggest difficulties in all of this is conveying to others what you are feeling, and having them understand. The key is in identifying the major difference between being unhappy (which is what your friends and family may think is the issue), and being depressed - when you are unhappy, you can seek comfort and allow yourself to be comforted.
When you are depressed, you can not.
This is one of the traps depression sets for you. The gap between what you are feeling and what others perceive can contribute greatly to your feelings of isolation.
For you: You no longer find pleasure in things, you feel flat and dulled
For others: Your lack of enthusiasm and negativity can detract from others' enjoyment of things and they may feel cheated
For you: You find it difficult to communicated because your feelings are confusing, painful and you lack energy
For others: Your reluctance to speak up can make others feel that they can't reach you and they may feel rejected
For you: You feel as though your energy has disappeared
For others: Your immobility may be seen as laziness or self-indulgence
For you: You feel unworthy, guilty and flawed. You grieve over the life you have lost (or never had) and have lost all hope. You do feel sorry for yourself, and feel you have good reason to.
For others: Your tenancy to be focused on yourself may be seen as selfish and others may look at your life and wonder what you have to be depressed about
All of these things make it extremely difficult to reach out and bridge that gap, but reaching out is exactly what you must do. If you do not speak up, no one will hear you. No one's going to read your mind, know by instinct or guess that you are depressed.
You can reach out by:
Talking it out: Right now your emotions are stuck. Talking to someone helps free them up, and it will help them understand.
Getting a reality check: You are having the experience of being inside depression looking out. Everything you see is coloured by that experience, and so everything is distorted. Talking to someone can give you a different view on the reality of a situation.
Getting support: There is no shame in asking for help with a problem you can't handle by yourself. There is no need to feel so alone, don't expect people to mind read. Tell them.
Important starting points:
What you can do ...
Feelings pass: Emotions change. You are not actually depressed every minute of every day, it just feels that way. This, too, will pass.
Life is just life: How it feels depends on how you feel. Reality may not be as it seems.
A problem shared is a problem halved: Accept that you are not quite yourself at present, that you may not have all the answers, and that you may need a hand with this. You are not alone.
What others can do ...
Identify the problem: As a friend or family member, you may be the first to notice early signs of depression. Try to encourage the depressed person to open up, and give them a safe and non-judgemental environment in which to express their feelings.
Encourage communication: The depressed person may be closed up for certain reasons - feeling ashamed or guilty, denying there is a problem, not wanting to be a downer, feeling afraid to reveal their fears, pain and emotion or fearing rejection and ridicule. Encouragement, understanding, patience and love will be required from time to time.
Be compassionate: No matter whether you think the depressed person is justified in feeling this way, for them it is very real and overwhelming. The depressed person cannot just "snap out of it". You are well, remember, be patient. Clarify the difference between being helpful and creating a victim mentality.
Hold your place: Compassion is one thing, but getting caught up in rescuing will not help either of you move on. You may end up constantly looking after the depressed person while they give up on trying to help themselves. You may need to provide the motivation that the depressed person lacks at present.
Keep things moving: Do whatever you can to keep the depressed person active and involved in life. You may need to be fairly pushy about this. Try to avoid getting angry, but now and then you may need to express your frustration. Assessing your relationship and aiming to improve it can mean changes all around.
Assess your part: Honestly assess whether your relationship with the depressed person might be part of the problem. Without guilt, ask yourself - do I need others to be dependant on me? Is the relationship equal, respectful and honest? Do I expect a lot from others?
Above all, see this current problem as requiring a team effort to work through. Encouragement, faith and hope from others, and honesty and hard work from you, the sufferer. This is a guide for that team.
4. The Black Dog's Owner
The origins of depression
So how did you come to have a Black Dog in your life? In most cases of emotional disturbance, there is seldom a single cause, but several contributing factors that build up over time.
Psychodynamic causes refer to the mind effecting your reactions and behaviours.
In early childhood, beliefs about ourselves are created by the way we're treated. Neglect, shame, lack of love or even being overprotected send strong messages about our worth and ability to handle life. Those beliefs in turn dictate the way we react to stressful situations. For instance, when criticised, you may react by getting angry, being passive, blaming yourself, or blaming others. And these reactions will be fed by the beliefs you hold about yourself. These reactions and beliefs can lead to patterns of behaviour that further undermine your self esteem as you grow older.
For example, getting angry, blaming others or being defensive can make you unpopular. Being passive may mean that you tend to be overlooked. Blaming yourself may mean that you don't gain any respect.
Behavioural causes refer to the reinforcement of negative behaviours.
You learn unsupportive patterns of behaviour (such as being passive) to gain praise or avoid punishment. Over time, this leads you to push down your own wants and needs in favour of conforming to the reinforced behaviours, and as a result, you will tend to be used since you have not set clear boundaries.
Physical causes refer to genetic causes of depression.
This means you may have been born with a certain brain chemistry or structure that makes you more susceptible to depression, but while chemical imbalance may be a contributing factor, it is unlikely to be the sole cause, and it is still unclear which comes first, chemicals creating mood, or mood creating a chemical change. Remember, a family history of depression may indicate hereditary predisposition, but it could just as likely indicate learned behaviour. After all, our parents teach us how to behave. At the very worst, a genetic factor may make you more susceptible to feeling depressed than others.
This is an extremely important point, so let's explore it. Let's say you have a genetic predisposition to depression. What this means is that life may bounce off others, but you perceive a personal blow. If you tend to react in a depressed way, you will perceive more and more "personal blows" and add to your depression. You may not actually have more hardship than others, it will just seem that way.
Let's explore this further:
Blacky and Happy are both puppies in a pet shop window. A crowd of people walk past and stare in at the pups. Blacky, feeling depressed, thinks it's awful and that no one will like him, so he curls up and tries to hide. Happy, being a happy little chap, decides it's all rather nice and wags his tail a bit, maybe even showing off his charms. One of the people in the crowd likes the look of the peppy little Happy and decides to adopt him. Blacky, having not been adopted, decides he was right all along, that life stinks and he got the short end of the stick.
Their expectations and perceptions of the same situation caused them to behave differently, and their subsequent behaviours caused different outcomes.
Blacky: Resisting, self doubting > Pessimistic with low expectations > Future rejection, increased self doubt.
Happy: Realistic acceptance, self supporting > Optimistic, hopeful, positive image > Desirable outcome, greater self-esteem.
If you tend to feel depressed, you will see things as depressing, respond with depression and look depressed, thus inviting depressing results. And so the cycle repeats. But if you start with a happy attitude, it can become a happy cycle. We'll deal with that in more depth later, but for now I hope you can see how the three theories fit together.
Psychodynamic - Attitudes from childhood colouring perception
Behavioural - Learned responses to events
Physical - Chemical predisposition to depressed responses
To determine why you have become depressed, you will need to examine several factors in your life.
Childhood: What sort of childhood did you have? Did you feel valued, loved, secure and respected? Did you learn independence and self worth? Issues during childhood that may have effected you include lack of affection (your parents may have been distant, too busy, undemonstrative or of the "children should be seen and not heard" school), abuse (violent, abusive or aggressive behaviour sends a message to a child that the world is an unsafe, uncaring place. If violence occurs one minute and then "love" the next, the child may be confused and unsure), smothering (if you were overly smothered and protected, you may not have learned true independence and be overly reliant on and affected by others' opinions of you), house rules (an overly strict or rigid household, or one based on social, religious or ethnic conventions may lead you to be obedient to an extreme, or rebellious in protest), or an anything goes household (this environment may not have provided you with a sense of structure and security).
Like anything, you won't fit the box perfectly. What is important is for you to assess what patterns of behaviour and responses to stress did your parents teach you?
Adulthood: If you were not well equipped in childhood to cope adequately with the many changes and challenges in life, adulthood can indeed be a painful journey. Your self tempest, low to start with, can be further undermined by poor coping skills learned earlier and not adapted to support you over time.
In contrast to a challenging life, and uneventful one can contribute to depression as well. You may experience loneliness, problems with your job or daily routine, a lack of stimulating interests or activities, alienation from spouse, partner or family, unemployment, retirement, too many responsibilities and not enough fun, or a lack of fulfilment or goals. Even normal life events can accumulate stress, and especially if you don't handle stress well.
Changes in your body can also leave you feeling depressed. These may include viral infection, overwork, hormonal changes, inadequate diet or changes in weight, operation or illness, disability, prescription drugs, recreational drugs (and withdrawal from), or ageing.
An Important Note
If you have not related to any of this yet ...
5. Bad Dog!
Self esteem and depression
Everyone on the planet is subjected to the stresses of daily life. Things such as money issues, work demands, relationships, health and daily needs like food and shelter are all things we have to deal with on a regular basis. So why is it that some people are able to breeze through challenges, while others go under? People will react differently to a problem depending on their attitude to what they feel they deserve and their expectations around life. We have already explored the idea that this view is greatly influenced by the messages you were given about your worth as a child.
For instance, if you were criticised, ignored, teased, blamed or abused, you will question your value to the world. You will not expect much joy in life. If, on the other hand, you were pampered, smothered or overprotected, you may not have learned how to be independent. You may expect a great deal from life and feel disappointed when you don't get it. If you were bullied or ridiculed for showing your feelings, you may place great worth on appearing tough and view life with cynicism. Having to conform and being pushed to excel may mean that you do not value your own opinions and feelings. You may see life as overwhelming.
However, if you were nurtured, supported, encouraged and loved, you will feel that you hold a valuable place in the world. You will be optimistic and realistic about life.
Negative messages about yourself will tend to create a pattern of behaviour that becomes entrenched as a belief, which in turn becomes a reality.. In other words, you will behave according to your beliefs about yourself or life in general. Positive messages work the same way, except this time they reinforce self worth.
What messages and beliefs in your life have contributed to your current reality? Let's go back to Blacky and Happy to see an example.
> Blacky spends a lot of time worrying about what other people think of him. He needs to be liked
> Feeling unsure of his worth, Blacky tends to judge others as better or worse
> Needing others' approval, Blacky is constantly on the watch for signs of rejection. He can't relax
> Blacky tends to take life's ups and downs personally and dwell on the pain instead of exploring options
> Blacky has trouble setting boundaries and saying no, so he often feels used
> Fearing disapproval, Blacky won't step outside his comfort zone or try new patterns of behaviour
> Caretaking of others may be a way for Blacky to gain value, but he will rarely be thanked for it, because it is a form of control
> Happy doesn't rely on others to feel good about himself, he knows if one person doesn't engage with him, someone else will
> Secure in his worth, Happy doesn't need to judge others and can appreciate them for who they are
> Happy is able to disengage from others' opinions fo him. He is thus free to be generous without fearing being hurt
> Happy sees challenges as part of life and problems in need of solutions. He moves on quickly so the pain has less effect
> Happy only takes on what he wants to and has no need to blame anyone else for his choice
> Happy believes that all parts of his character are what make him unique. He shows his feelings, accepts his mistakes and is true to himself
> Happy leaves others to learn and grow from their own experiences and respects their right to steer their lives as they see fit
Low self esteem is a major factor in your depression, it will tend to govern the choices you make, which will in turn affect the direction your life takes. A clear understanding of how this works in your life is necessary to making different choices that will disrupt this cycle of depressive reinforcement. So, what creates self esteem? As children, our parents and other caretakers are all-powerful figures, almost godlike. We rely on them for nurture, security and emotional care. They also teach us about life by example and we seldom question these teachings because, as children, we don't have the experience to make comparisons, we need our parents to be right from an evolutionary standpoint (it is built into us to trust them for our very survival), and we may trust in the process. We also need their love and approval for survival, and we are apt at winning it through various means. We copy them, comply with their instructions, learn coping strategies from (and because) of them, play their games, buy into their beliefs and seek rewards from them.
I child will respond most in the way that is rewarded and praised. This is called reinforcement.
People with depression will often have issues with compliance, dependency or passivity. This passivity may be disguised under an apparently assertive exterior in some cases, but will be revealed through unclear boundaries, decisions based on pleasing others, overreliance on others' approval and the need to excel.
If, early on, you learn to be passive, you may miss out on crucial growth through risk taking, decision making, problem solving and expressing opinions and emotions openly. Playing it safe may mean you end up as a spectator in life rather than a key player. The prices we pay for rolling over may include being "used", ignored, rejected, abused, and, not surprisingly, feeling depressed.
A note for the folks:
While much of this section has centered around your childhood and particularly the type of parenting you had, this is not to lay blame at the feet of your parents. There are a few things to keep in mind here. Your parents were also taught by their parents; that's all they know. You live in a time where you have the opportunity to grow beyond the limitation of the past. In other words, you can become big enough to accomodate another's smallness. While your childhood may have been tough, you have a choice as an adult to remain that wounded child or not. It is impossible to be a perfet parent, but your childhood can lead to an important dicision in your life - to be better.
6. Give a Dog a Bone
Thinking and depression
Of course, knowing the cause or causes of your depression and acknowledging that you have low self esteem is going to remain an academic exercise until you determine exactly how you do your particular brand of depression, and then change it. In other words, how do you think about having depression and about life in general? For example, if you believe your depression is entirely genetic/chemical in origin, you might think about that in several ways. You may think of yourself as a victim, feel helpless and overwhelmed that there is little you can do about this thing that has happened to you, dream about being rescued. Or, you might decide to accept that you have a problem and will need to explore ways of dealing with it. This may, for instance, involve medication, counselling, a support group or rethinking your life.
The two different ways of thinking can either add to the problem or help you deal with it. Often we have run unsupportive thinking patterns for years without realizing how damaging this can be.
Imaging how damaging it can be to tell yourself these things over and over, day after day, year after year:
I'm no good at anything
I should, I have to, I must ... I can't
There's no point
No one wants me around
No wonder you're depressed! Your thoughts matter!
Here are some common brands of depressed thinking:
Awfulising: You can feel awfully, terribly, horribly depressed, or depressed. Avoid adding to your discomfort in any situation.
Resisting the experience: How often do you fight being where you are, doing what you're doing, feeling what you're feeling? How well do you accept what is happening and work from there?
Waiting for things to change: Is your depression going to magically disappear without you doing anything different? If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.
Bogged Dog: There are things you can do, but nothing will change until you act. Do something - anything - as long as you make a start.
Choice: You have a choice about everything, you can even choose to let depression take over your life, or you can choose to build a life that's bigger than depression. Stay or move on, just know that you've chosen.
Exaggerating the problem: You may fall into the trap of looking back on a lifetime of insecurity, poor decisions, missed opportunities, etc. and deciding that it's such a mess there's no way you can ever start to make a difference. This thinking will overwhelm you. While exaggerating the problem can hold you back, underestimating the effort involved to improve matters can set you up for disappointment. What's taken a lifetime to build up isn't going to be fixed by one walk around the block.
Comfort zones: Ironically, over time, your depression becomes much less threatening than engaging with the world again. Your escape has become your prison. A tough decision has to be made to step out of your comfort zone and back into life.
Self talk: A dangerous mental trap is the tape that runs constantly in your head and berates you for your mistakes, tells you you're a loser, or gives you an endless list of rules about how you, others or the world should be.
It's all about expectation. How realistic are your expectations? Should others support you emotionally without you reaching out to them? Should your boss not fire you if you're not doing the work? Should your parents not complain if you mess up the house they've paid for? Should your lover stay just because you don't want them to leave? Should people not pass away just because you would be sad if they did?
Should others respect you if you don't respect yourself?
7. The Training Begins - Top Dog
By now you will hopefully have a clearer picture of how you came to be depressed, and how the Black Dog's tricky thinking adds to the problem. Now you can begin to assess how you are going to approach this problem in a new way so you can handle it better. What you have on your hands is a Black Dog that needs discipline, training, direction and new skills. You want the Black Dog to follow your lead, not pull you off track, and the only way to do this is to become Top Dog.
You need to ask yourself, who is in charge?
Do you rule your life, or does your Black Dog?
How much of your thinking centres around the problem rather than thinking of a solution?
Have you allowed your Black Dog to take over?
If Blacky is in charge, you will need to steer him back on course. This will involve adopting a more supportive view of the problem itself to keep you on track.
A problem is just a message telling you to do things differently
Learning any new skills involves time, effort and the occasional setback
If the old approach hasn't worked, you'll need a new one
You can handle any problem with the right skills
A problem handled well becomes a solution
Recovery involves four main decisions. You need to decide to want to get well, decide to risk discomfort to get well, decide to be prepared to make changes, and decide to begin and then continue. These decisions may seem obvious, but you are likely to stall on any one of them, because they can involve revealing and acknowledging that there are parts of you that are not always noble, and other parts where you have buried old pain. To make a commitment to recovery, you will need to apply a lot of self honesty and a willingness to move past that which has held you back thus far.
Until I face my own shadow, I will see it in my life.
In other words, you're going to keep tripping up on what you're trying to avoid. In positive terms, this whole process could be seen as simply a means of building up your emotional muscle so that your weak spots no longer cause you injury. Self honesty is the greatest emotional muscle builder there is. After all, if you keep tripping yourself up, how can any outside factor be of help?
Being honest with yourself may mean owning up to:
Wanting to be rescued
Blaming others/life for your situation
Wanting to be looked after
Being able to control others
Self honesty is not easy, but it results in great freedom. By identifying your tricks and removing them, you learn to value and trust your integrity. This is not about judging yourself as good or bad or catching yourself out! You have done what you needed to do to survive, this has been the only way you knew how to do it. This is about becoming concious, becoming real and, ultimately, becoming strong.
So let's look at the four main decision from a very honest view.
To want to get well
Often we say we want to do something, when what we really want is for it to be done for us, or for it to just happen. Recovery requires work. Are you ready to let it go?
Self honesty can be uncomfortable. Getting up and doing something - anything - can be uncomfortable. Choosing not to shut down or hide can be uncomfortable. Reaching out, facing old pain, and showing your feelings can all be uncomfortable. But your depression will only last as long as you avoid moving on and through these things.
If it's not working, find something that does. If it's over, move on. If it no longer serves you, let it go. How can you expect a different outcome if you repeat the same mistakes?
To begin, and to continue
Just reading this post will not create your recovery. Begin. No matter what, no matter how, do something. Then continue what you've begun. Once off won't do it. If you fall over, begin again and keep going. You can do it in time.
So, what sorts of things from a self honest perspective would cause someone to stay, by choice, in the misery of depression? Inaction means no risk of failure. You can be taken care of, get more sympathy, love or attention than when you're well, it's "interesting" than being happy, or your depression is less painful than the choices you need to make in order to fix your life. Things like leaving a relationship or other big changes. These things can be tough to face, but they represent barriers to your recovery, to being your true, authentic self and living life as you would want it to be. If you find yourself falling into any of these traps, consider how controlled you are by them. A true commitment to being well involves a decision to not remain where you are, to set a clear goal about where you want to be, and to do whatever is required to get there.
Are you committed?
Going for recovery
Training your Black Dog involves finding working solutions that enable you to handle him better, and so that he no longer keeps you stuck in the same place. Each of the key areas we have looked at thus far can be approached in a new way, to produce a different attitude, which leads to a different outcome.
These areas include:
The problem itself
Thinking and depression - childhood issues
Self esteem and dealing with life
Remember our comparison of Blacky and Happy's view? The aim is to clase the gap in your current perception of things and move you more in the direction of Happy's view.
The Problem Itself
You've probably been viewing your depression as if it just happened to you by chance, or through circumstances beyond your control.When we have a problem, the correct response is to take responsibility for it being in your life and to start looking for reasons for, and solutions to this problem. Take a look at your life given all the information you have gained so far.
Was your childhood perfect?
Do you have good self esteem?
Are you where you want to be, with who you want to be?
Have you chosen your direction in life, or have others?
Do you get back as much as you give?
Is your lifestyle healthy and balanced?
Are you able to freely express your feelings?
Are you able to say no?
Do you feel free of past hurts?
Do you look after yourself as well as you do others?
If you answered no to even half of these, wouldn't you say that it's not surprising you're depressed? So instead of taking the view of "why me?", you could look for solutions. Your depression has done you a favour in highlighting existing vulnerabilities, but now that they're identified, you can work on strengthening them. You are having an experience called depression. If you look at the thinking above, you may realize why you are having this experience. Attend to what this experience is telling you to do. Stop fighting where you are, work on it until you're somewhere else.
Stop thinking and talking negatively about yourself and start talking and thinking positively and realistically. If you want to stop being depressed, be wary of the self talk that will feed your depression. Ask yourself: "If I want to feel better, can I afford to keep talking to myself in a negative way? Is what I tell myself supporting or undermining me? Would I tell my best friend the same messages I'm sending myself?" Choose your thoughts with great care.Thoughts are the fuel for your emotions. Fill up with downers and you'll be running on misery. So how do you fix this? You can start by monitoring yourself to see what messages you send. If you don't like the station, switch channels. Challenge the thought and explore other options. Logic is one of your best weapons, so use it. And as much as possible, omit "should", "must" and "have to". Try replacing them with "could", "might" and "if I choose".
Childhood IssuesYou may very well have had a terrible and traumatic childhood that sill effects you, and that can be a huge barrier for you to overcome, but there comes a point where you have to grow out of your childhood, and grow because of your childhood. This means using your early trials as catalysts to become bigger and better than what you began with. Refuse to stay locked in to history. You can't change the past, but you can change how you view it in the present. You can choose not to engage with others and the world through wounds, recognize that, as an adult, you can choose to remain a child or not, and learn from your past. Do it differently, decide to give more love, be more patient, have more success. Decide to be better.
Some of your negative talk might also originate from your childhood. When you present yourself with an insult, it may be worth asking where it came from and finding practical solutions to overcoming it. Stop believing someone else's opinion of you, stop making these insults true, and learn to say "that's their problem" instead of swallowing every criticism.
And most of all, forgive the past. Forgiving is about freeing yourself from the effects of the past, releasing it, detaching yourself from old pain, accepting that what was can't be changed, but that what is can, gaining emotional closure and disengaging from the origonal hurt. Carrying shame, guilt, anger or fear from the past only keep you chained to the past. It's pretty strange to torture yourself more than those who caused the origonal hurt. Right here, right now, refuse to remain a victim of the past. If you feel this requires a ritual of some kind, then do it. You may want to write down all the painful parts of your past and screw them up, you may want to make a verbal declaration in the privacy of your own room, but whatever you do, let go of your hurt. Throw it away and turn around to face and embrace your future.
Self esteem means you care enough for yourself that you support your decisions, choices, responses and reactions. While this may be simple in principle, getting there will be hard, especially if you've had a lot of blows to this particular area. Understand that you will only ever get back what you give out. If you present yourself as worthless, you will be treated as worthless and fall back into that cycle we've been talking so much about. If you give out helplessness, you'd be treated like a child. If you give out guilt, you'll get back shame. If you give out resentment, how are you going to get back love? If you give out misery, are you going to uplift others? Are they going to want to be around you?
The biggest stumbling blocks to self esteem come in the form of overemphasis on others' opinions of you, allowing others or circumstances to dictate the direction your life takes, not setting clear boundaries, feeling that this is all you deserve and not seeking more, and that negative self talk we've just discussed.
Let's examine these:
1. Living your life to please others will never work. It is impossible to please everyone.
2. No one and nothing can make you do something unless you have agreed to it on some level. For example, if you were lied to, ask yourself what you gave out that says its okay to do that to you?
3. Agreeing to something you don't want to do is not loving, if you are doing it because you want approval or want to avoid disapproval, it is not a gift. A gift has no price tag.
4. If you place limitations on your life, don't be surprised when your life is limited.
5. You're going to live out what you tell yourself. We teach others how to treat us
Some solutions include viewing others' approval as a bonus instead of a necessity, take full responsibility for your own life, live it how you want it and not how others want it, practice saying no, risk rejection and set clear boundaries, examine your beliefs about what your rights, capabilities and expectations are and determine if they could be modified, and avoid "I am" statements that limit you.
Dealing With Life
Life is life. It's how you see it that makes the difference, and you've decided that life is hard. We've already covered this in the second section. But the biggest stumbling block here is that we expect things to be permanent. It's so obvious, and yet most of us still don't get it. Nothing can cause greater misery than trying to fight change. When we resist change, we expect that things should never break or wear out, money should always be there, people's feelings should never change, your job should always be there when you want, people should never leave us, get sick or die, we should not age, etc. Can you see how holding on to these expectations can only lead to disappointment, frustration, resentment and sadness if things turn out differently? The only thing permanent in life is change. See life as something that evolves like a story unfolding, expect change and learn to roll with it, reduce your expectations about how things should be, and remember that old idiom; when one door closes, another opens. Explore other possibilities.
Certain physical factors can contribute to feelings of depression, or can mimic it. It is a good idea to get a physical check-up to discount any physical imbalance. Factors may include hormonal changes like PMS, pregnancy and menopause, dietary imbalance such as junk food, overeating, dieting or a lack of certain nutrients can take their toll, lack of exercise where your mind runs down along with your body, burnout which causes poor sleep, diet and a flood of stress chemicals, prescription drugs, as all drugs have side effects, recreational drugs which may give a temporary lift, but will exaggerate an emotional state, illness, injury or disability, and ageing to lack of physical fitness, the chronic effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and the emotional changes of ageing. All of these can cause, exaggerate or mimic depression.
So how can you combat these changes which appear to be beyond your control? You need practical solutions. For example, become informed about your physical condition and how to improve it. If you are going through hormonal changes, see if you can regulate your lifestyle to cope better with them. If your diet is a problem, adjust it accordingly so that you are getting the right amounts of everything, and seek professional advice if necessary. If you don't get very much exercise, you might want to know that it produces the same chemicals which are stimulated by anti-depressant drugs. Going for a walk three times a week is a natural anti-depressant you can use to get things back on track. If you're experiencing burnout, you will need to rethink your priorities. Stress in the extreme can cause serious health problems and sometimes even result in hospitalization and death. Is it really worth your life? Take time for yourself, relax and rest. If prescription drugs are the problem, read the literature on them, find out what you're putting in your body. You may want to ask your doctor for a different medication or try natural methods. As for recreational drugs, you know the dangers, are you prepared to take the risk? Too much of anything still ends up being too much, and they won't help your situation improve one bit. If you are ill or disabled, ask for support, accept help, become informed and find ways to detach yourself from the situation. If ageing is a problem, you may need to rejuvenate your life. Go out and buy a new wardrobe of outfits, get your hair done, do something you've always wanted to do, and rethink your philosophy so that you value wisdom and inner beauty.
9. Off to the Vet
Choosing professional help
Recruiting professional help can be a valuable step in your journey out of depression, regardless of whether or not you are making progress on your own. If you are not making headway, a good therapist can be a source of empathy, support and understanding, create a safe, non-judgemental environment in which you can express your thoughts and feelings, be a source of motivation and hope, and assist you in taking those first steps to recovery. If you are making progress, however, a good therapist can support, encourage and strengthen your progress, provide deeper insights into patterns and sticking points from another perspective, support you through times of setback, assist you in exploring, understanding and releasing the past, fortify your self esteem, and guide you in life skills, stress management and relaxation techniques.
Social workers, doctors, nurses, priests or ministers of religion, crisis line counsellors and natural practitioners have all had, as part of their training, at least basic skills in counselling, listening, problem solving and support techniques. For deeper work, you may need a professional counsellor (provides all of the above, but on a deeper level), psychologist (explores the mental make-up and how this causes behaviour), psychiatrist (examine the role of the subconscious in relation to behaviour), or psycho-therapist (specialized therapies such as gestalt, NLP, body work, etc.).
So who do you choose?
Psychiatry tends to involve a long term commitment and explores your childhood in depth. Psychology can be both short and long term and will be more focused on the present. Counselling involves active listening, understanding and non-intrusive guidance. Psychotherapy is a broad field, incorporating from quieter to more cathartic techniques and can involve regular sessions or sometimes weekend intensives. The relationship between a client and therapist is a very intimate and special one. In order to heal, you will be encouraged to express a lot of your hidden feelings, fears, hopes and dreams. Therefore, a client/therapist relationship should involve trust, understanding, honesty, support, lack of judgement and safety. It's okay to shop around for a therapist that suits you, and it's important that you are comfortable with them. You have every right to ask questions and explore options to find out what's right for you.
You can work through depression with drugs or without them. In fact, even if left untreated, depression will often lift on its own. Your decision to take (or not to take) medication at the recommendation of your GP or therapist is best made only if you are fully informed. Ask questions. What will the medication do? What are the side effects? How long before the medication takes effect? What is involved in coming off the medication? What are the other options? Are there any precautions to take? If you are already on medication, do not simply stop. Consult your GP or therapist before ceasing medication, as you may need to be weaned off slowly.
You may also wish to work through depression without medication. If so, you will need to identify the factors in your life that have contributed to your depression, re-evaluate, change or remove as many of these as possible, be prepared to make recovery a priority over comfort for a while, be prepared to risk rejection, lack of security, etc. while making changes, become well informed about depression, personal development, etc. (this guide should help), be very truthful with yourself and others about patterns and issues, be open about your feelings and needs, and set goals for yourself and rewards for achieving them.
You may need medication if:
You are overwhelmed to the point of immobility
Your depression is clearly of a biological nature
Your mood swings are extreme
You need time out from your distress in order to gain a better perspective
For deep or persistent depression, a combination of medication and therapy may be the best option. The reason for this is that, while medication may provide a physical relief, the psychological or lifestyle factors that have contributed to your depression will need to be addressed for there to be long term improvement. Medication is best seen as a temporary option to give you some space and distance from the problem so that you may view it more objectively and attend to what you need to.
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is a sign of strength and determination.
You got into this situation because, up until now, you haven't known the life skills that would prevent this from happening. It is a strong person who acknowledges and expresses their vulnerability to others and a truly courageous person who is prepared to honestly face and change the elements of his or her life that are not working well. Now and then, we all need help. If your pipes are leaking, you call a plumber. If your wires are shorting, you call an electrician. If you can't work your computer, you'd ask someone who knows how to help you. Human beings are complex creatures, and sometimes we get so stuck inside ourselves that we need others to give us a new perspective. There is no shame in that.
10. The Black Dog and the Black Hole
When there seems no hope and no point
Nothing on the subject of depression could overlook the kind of despair that leads to suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts. This is a common aspect of depression. You can reach the point where you feel so stuck that there seems no way out, the pain of dying is brief, but the pain of living goes on and on. so alone and unloved that your leaving would be no big deal, that you are just a burden on theirs and they would be better off without you, or that those who hurt you might finally understand the suffering they have caused if you check out. But while reaching this state certainly means you are suffering a great deal, the reality may not be what you think.
When you have a cold, you sneeze. Sneezing is a symptom of a cold. When you are depressed, things look bleak. It is a symptom of depression. Your life isn't the problem, your depression is.
What you're perceiving isn't necessarily true. It's just how things seem to you because you are depressed at the moment.
The things in your life are being coloured by your emotions. You're not able to see good stuff, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.
And even if things are really that rotten, you'll have a better chance of dealing with it if you get your depression sorted.
It is not a good idea to make a permanent dicision based on a temporary emotional state, even if it has dragged on for a while. And you don't get more permanent than death.
Have I really explored all my options, sought the right help and worked on my problems?
What would be the real impact of my death on others, not the fantasized one?
Is there really no hope, or have I just lost sight of it?
If nobody cares, have I given them a chance to? Have I told them how I really feel? Have I asked for help in a clear and direct way?
If the ones I love were suffering, would I really want them to die to ease my burden?
If you are still seriously considering this decision, then remember that you are not well at the moment, and if you are not coping, you need help to deal with this. Tell someone. Ask for help. Call telephone counselling, a friend, family member, teacher, minister, counsellor.
Think again. Hang on.
You may have lost hope, but there is always hope of finding hope. You don't know what's next in the script, you're just stuck in the drama. Read on to the next few pages. Remember that everything changes, all things pass. So will this.
11. New Tricks
Keeping recovery on track
There's an old saying - "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well, since 'can't' is one of those words that limits us, we'll swap it for 'can'. You can teach an old dog new tricks. It might just take a bit longer. Learning any new skill involves time, patience, perseverance and learning from mistakes. Changing a lifetime of patterns is going to require a focused effort over a period of time. For a while, as is true with trying anything new, it may feel uncomfortable, silly or unnatural to be checking in on and correcting yourself all the time. And now and then, you might fall down.
Use your setbacks as tools! They will give you vital clues on how you got stuck and how to proceed. You don't reach the end of the maze without hitting at least some dead ends, but they tell you which is the wrong way to go, and eventually they show you the right way.
Am I rerunning the past?
Am I stuck on old hurt?
Have I had enough rest?
Am I in a rut?
What needs my attention?
What am I telling myself?
And as the old saying goes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again. This may feel like a drag, but remember that each small victory adds up to success, you are strengthening yourself against having to repeat this again, you are learning and gaining wisdom, and you are creating a respect for yourself that others will come to see, too.
Give it time, give it your best
You are reclaiming your life
And one day ...
... You might even thank your Black Dog ...
... After all, would you have grown so much without him?
but i am sure that this is gunna be helpful to some people
just like to add in, how i deal with my depression is, i just ignore it, i can ignore pretty much anything, and yeah, when i start getting super depressed, i just ignore and do something
yes it is bottling it up, and it's worked for me for the past 10 years or so, so it can't be doing THAT much damage to me........
but then again, i've had to bottle it up for the past 10 years, cause i've had noone in my life i can let it all out on, gotta remember, when i was 17, my mom kicked me out and i've been on my own since, no contact with family or nothing, i'll be 29 on friday
Yeah I have depression as well and most of the times I can zone out or ignore it pretty well but there are other times when it just consumes me. Telling me to "feel better" or "its alright" does not work at all, depression is not something that just goes away with a bit of support. For some people though they do not react to talk-therapy so it is all up to that individual to make changes. I know I am one of those people, someone can talk to me till they are blue in the face but I am a realist and when I can list things that put things back into a realistic approach no amount of "well things are good" or "just be happy" are going to change how I feel. It is rough but I am getting better at feeling better.
Pretending depression doesn't exist might work in the short term, but it's like seeing your car's oil light go on and just sticking some tape over it. The problem is still there, you're just choosing to ignore it. Your car will still run out of oil eventually. Acknowledge the problem and work to resolve or manage it the best you can. ^^