Three Stages Out of Depression

“Every depression is caused by something depressing that has happened, with no exceptions.”   –  George E. Atwood, The Abyss of Madness, p. 166   The title of this article is very alluring for someone who struggles with depression.  It promises that there is a way out of depression and that depression has a cure.  I do believe there is a way out of depression and that depression, on many levels, has a cure.  The cure may not be an easy one, but there is a cure.   Depression is the product of a lack of individuation.  Individuation is the ability to recognize yourself as a unique entity apart from others while still in relationship with others.  Individuation is the ability to recognize that your life is your own despite what others believe, believe about you, or have done to you.  Individuation is the ability to say to yourself, “This is who I am regardless of what has happened or will happen to me.”   Depression occurs when we believe, falsely, that our most fundamental need – human connection (see Change, Part I) – can only exist if we are or behave in ways that other significant people in our lives accept or accepted.  When we feel as if there is no hope in ever being what we believe other people in our lives want us to be we become isolated, hopeless…depressed.   To state that depression is the product of a lack of individuation is dangerous.  It’s dangerous because it puts the responsibility of depression on the depressed person’s shoulders.   And if there is one thing a depressed person doesn’t need while in his depression it is to believe that his depression is his fault.   I am and I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault.  I am saying that it is his fault in that I believe that depression has a level of choice to it, a choice to individuate.  I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault in that there are millions of factors that have gone into a person becoming the person he is which had nothing to do with him or the decisions he has made in life.  Life is complex.  But again, this gets back to choice.  Wondering and marveling at life’s complexity instead of trying to control it is a pathway to contentment.   Stage One – Depression   A big debate among clinicians who treat depression is how much of depression is a product of genetics and how much of it is a product of circumstance.  How much of it is a matter of “nature” and how much of it is a matter of...

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Honor Your Conflict

“Any person suffering from any level of despair has failed to form a narrative that effectively connects the present with the past and the future.” – Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 36   I hadn’t seen Dave in about five to six months. He first came to our Tuesday night group after discovering it online and contacting me. In group he unearthed some painful emotional stuff regarding his family of origin and then he took a hiatus. Dave needed some time just to work, get his financial life in order, and find his footing in a busy and competitive city. I would send him emails on occasion to check in and he would respond.   As friends on Facebook I would see Dave’s posts. They were usually cheery, as most Facebook posts are, with him at music festivals and the like. Recently, however, he posted a picture with a caption suggesting something tragic had happened to one of his family members. I immediately messaged him to let him know that if he needed a safe place to discuss the situation, I was available. He took me up on the offer but only after he had returned from his hometown where he helped deal with the situation.   When I met with him he admitted that it had been a very tumultuous past few weeks but that he had supportive people in his life and he was managing, if barely. He admitted that work had become difficult and being in the office each day felt like an eternity. He wondered aloud how he was going to make sense of his life now that circumstances within his family had changed so dramatically. This was not the way the story was supposed to turn out.   I wish I could share more details regarding Dave’s circumstances. It is a heartrending tale made all the more empathic by the hero of the story – a kindhearted, courageous young man who faces life’s challenges with determination and zeal. But, in the end, this is Dave’s story to tell, not mine. I must relinquish ultimate authorship to him.   As Dave spoke, I got a hunch that he was stuck in his grief not only because he had, or could accept, few alternatives for how this story was to turn out but also, and perhaps most importantly, he was hoping that many of the things that had happened to him and his family in his life hadn’t happened. In essence, he wished that the central and most formative conflict of his very being didn’t exist.   To be fair, how could Dave possibly contemplate something so arcane? When your world...

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