Contrary to a widely held view within the medical profession, depression is not an illness or a mental disorder but a defence against pain and fear, which we can use whenever we suffer a disaster that our life is not what we thought it was. It is an unwanted consequence of how we see ourselves and the world. When we lack a sense of inner safety and security, the resulting chronic anxiety can spill over into depression. Anxiety and depression are the defences that prevent us taking risks that would leave us open to further hurt.
It is typical that someone experiencing depression sees themselves as a bad person and unacceptable to others. Therefore, he or she has to work hard to be a good person in order to be safe and earn the right to exist.
If, on the other hand, you learn to see yourself as valuable and acceptable, then if you choose to do good it is simply because it pleases you to do so – you do not expect the world or anyone else to reward you for being good. You are no longer frightened of others, and so you no longer hate or envy them. You recall the pleasant things from your past and reconcile yourself to the hurtful things. Also, you no longer fear your anger and can deal sensibly with your own and other people’s anger. You are able to forgive yourself and so also to forgive others.
To achieve this you need to learn to judge yourself less harshly and relax the ludicrously high standards that you set yourself – and put in their place a few reasonable demands and some achievable goals.
A useful exercise when you struggle to find the words to describe your despair is to imagine or draw what you are feeling. This will often be a picture of isolation or imprisonment.
And what is the key to this prison? By understanding how you have interpreted events in your life you can choose to change your interpretations in order to create for yourself a happier and more fulfilling life. This will not only unlock the prison of depression but bring a new sense of freedom to be simply you in all your richness.
You may learn that you control little of what goes on in the world, but you do control how you interpret events, realising that they result from a complex interaction of many influences.
Making such changes in how you see yourself and your world can be difficult, but with the right kind of help and support they are achievable. Having the opportunity to express and explore these feelings with someone who you can trust to receive them with understanding and empathy, you will find that what seemed like a life sentence becomes a necessary and transformative experience from which you will emerge as a more resilient and confident person.