More than simply experiencing sadness, depression is recognized medically as an illness that affects how we think, feel and function. Information on its symptoms is readily available. It is like the flu that anyone can catch. The good news is that with early detection and proper care, there is hope for recovery. We know these facts about depression. Yet depression is more personal and intimate than just facts.
I have seen the agony that depression brings to once cheerful and lively individuals, both friends and clients. Being with them, I can feel their hopelessness and emptiness. They have a deep sense of fear that things would not improve and eventually they would lose their old selves. When they resort to cope through unhealthy means, it worries their families, friends and even themselves as they realise what they are capable of doing out of desperation. Thick layers of self-disappointment and self-loathing hang on them.
A client once told me that undergoing such emotional burden is more strenuous and exhausting than going to the gym. He had lost more than 6kg within months.
Yet, what if depression is actually needed? We catch the flu when we have been exposed to strong viruses and our immune system is low. It indicates that we have not taken sufficient care of ourselves and draws attention to what our body needs. Similarly, depression signals that we have not been taking good care of our emotions. Our needs and feelings might have been denied by self-imposed expectations:
“I cannot express my anger or my needs as I must be reasonable and considerate.”
“It is weak to receive care and concern from others.”
“Others’ needs are more important than mine, I should not spend time taking care of myself.”
“Emotions are redundant, they only get into the way of being productive.”
Our emotions are honest. They reflect our experiences and tell us what we really need. We fear when we sense threat, get angry when we are dealt with unfairly, become sad when we lose hope and feel happy when our yearnings are satisfied. Feelings are often tied to our needs. When we accept and own our feelings, we attend to our needs and are taking care of ourselves. However, our perceptions and expectations often lead us to judge our feelings and deem them unacceptable. To “keep in check” our feelings, we often bend, twist and box up the parts of ourselves that hold on to those feelings. Over the years, we end up repressing various parts of ourselves, not knowing when they will resurge again in the form of depression, with anxiety often tagging closely behind.
Accepting how we feel without judgement is simply embracing our humanness and attending to our needs. It does not need to determine the way we act. Our response is still a decision we ought to make and be responsible for, both towards others and ourselves. Nasty as it seems, depression comes like an overbearing friend, demanding us to admit our self-negligence. Its goal is merely to remind us to be kinder and understanding towards ourselves.
If you are currently struggling with depression, there is hope of a happier life. Use this opportunity to start taking care of yourself. Speak to supportive friends and family. Consider seeking counselling support. You are not alone even if it feels so. Many have gone through similar paths and understand the intense battles you are fighting, and they are cheering you on.
If someone you know is struggling with depression, understand that it is time for their needs and emotions to be attended to. They may appear to have changed, often becoming uncaring as they reach breaking point where they are no longer able to repress their feelings and the underlying needs accompanying them. Blaming them or asking them to snap out of depression would only add to their self-reproach. Instead, listen and journey with them. With support and understanding, they will bounce back.
Depression can in effect be a needed friend. It gives us a second chance to achieve a truly fulfilling life. Because we all deserve it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chew Hwee Min – Reflections of a counsellor
I am a budding counsellor and a considerably junior in life who is stepping into the world of human wonders and experiences. Join me in my struggles and celebrations as I experience and reflect on the fullness of life through my counselling work with clients. To me, they are brave giants facing their challenges head-on through counselling.