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Soulful Sundays: Depression

"Depression is your body saying, 'I don't want to be this character anymore. It's too much for me.' You should think of the word 'depressed' as 'deep rest.' Your body needs to be depressed. It needs deep rest from the character that you have been trying to play." -Jim Carey

An underlying precept of Chinese medicine is the constant interplay of the forces of Yin and Yang. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every up, there is a down. Where there is light, there is also shadow. Life and death are part of the same endless circle of energy. So on and so forth. What does Chinese medicine have to say about the number one psychiatric disorder on the planet - depression? Where there is joy, there is also depression. Perhaps.

We should start by defining some terms. According to the DSM-5, five out of the following nine symptoms must be present every day during the same two-week period for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) to be diagnosed: anhedonia, changes in sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, weight change, psychomotor agitation or retardation, suicidal thoughts, feelings of guilt, and decreased concentration. Depression, in the non-medical use of the word, is vaguely defined as melancholy or a feeling of sadness.

According to these criteria, MDD could easily be applied to a myriad of lesser-understood problems. Grief is one of them. A study done by the Canadian healthcare system looked at treatment-resistant depression in an attempt to cut down on costs associated with its treatment. They found that the majority of these patients were actually suffering from Complex Grief (GC) and began getting better once the focus of intervention shifted. Imagine that.

If you have never felt depressed, then you just haven't lived long enough. Sadness and melancholy are natural results of loss, just as bleeding is a natural result of being cut. To extend the metaphor, bleeding is the first step in the long process of healing from the injury. It lays down the necessary tissue to begin the repair. The emotion of grief is like blood. It rushes in to fill the void of loss and sets the stage for the next steps of integrating the experience.

What we think of as clinical depression might actually be a prolonged state of grief. We are either unable to transform our losses into healing, or we are constantly being cut (suffering repeated losses). Both represent the inability to return to balance. A depressive state sets in as a final protective measure to cope with the blood loss, so to speak. We go into shock to protect valuable resources, hoping that something or someone will come to the rescue.

The most important thing to do when we feel depressed is simultaneously the hardest. Admitting to ourselves and others that something is wrong- something needs modification, something has got to give, or else. We desperately just want to step off of the merry-go-round of our lives. Being honest about the help that we need and asking others is essential. Dealing with depression/grief is a bit like being inside of a pinball machine. We will tend to bounce around from one stage to the next as we struggle with letting go of our attachment to the thing that we have lost. What is missing is joy.

There are short-term remedies to depression like SSRIs, more money, a new relationship, etc. But the only long-term solution is a restoration of joy - finding a purpose for living and meaning for all of the loss. Suffering greatly need not crush our spirit. In fact, hitting the bottom of despair can actually make us more resilient than before. At least when we hit the lowest of lows we know we have landed on something solid. And from that solidity, we can push upward.

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