I make no secret of the fact I suffered badly with depression at the end of my 20s, and have been aware of it’s presence ever since. For those at that 28/-30 life crisis point then Liz Greens book on saturn returns is an excellent tool for getting through the crises of late 20s and their attendant potential for depression. I barely remember what is in it, just that it turned my crisis over the wrongness of my whole life, of my being an artist working as high pressured IT tech, into a new opportunity, an opening up of my life instead of the crumbling to ruin of it all. Rather than feeling I’d blown it all and hated everything I had built I saw what had to go and what could make foundations for a new way forward. The depression which was the peak of the crisis ensured I had to act, by ensuring I couldn’t act. Liz Greens book, and prozac, and Spike Milligans excellent book (depression and how to survive it) all helped me find a way out, a way to rebuild using the rubble of my life as hardcore for a new future.
Nowadays I recognise that little spatterings of depression are often a sign either of the need for change, or of the resistance to a change I’m trying to enact. BUT, and that’s key, I’m now understand that if I respond at my best to an incursion of sudden depression or futility I can turn it into a useful purging tool. I know the depression inclines me to inaction and doing something is hard, but i know the longer i let it lie the harder it becomes to do something, and so the sooner I act the less it will take. So I can use the depression to identify the things in my life i need to fix, and then crack on with fixing them. Each time my life ends up a bit better in the big picture/long run, even if it is hell occasionally in between briefly… it becomes a passing experience rather than a state of being which is so much easier to work with. Simply perceiving the depression as something that will, if I persist go away for longer than it comes back if i address it properly (rather than temporarily forcing myself to smile, which can also help but doesn’t fix my life in the long run).
A friend and I (who have both been there) had a conversation with other friends who hadn’t and tried to explain that one of the big issues with depression is that once you’ve been there it’s easier to slip back. We described it as if paths in your mind are worn like grass, it’s easier to be drawn into the pain and onto the path that is worn and easy going and then the lack of feeling that comes with depression can be appealing subconciously when all you are feeling is pain, but just because we are aware of that capacity that doesn’t mean we’re permenantly broken. Everyone has that capacity, we are more at risk, but also more aware so though we are more likely to come under attack our past experience lends us arms against it. CBT and positive thinking wears new good paths back to mental health and we know how to hook them up to our bad paths.
To combat depression in an ongoing basis what you have to be is aware and paying attention to your life so that firstly you build a good life that is right for you and what you honestly need, one which is less likely to trigger it; and secondly that awareness means that you recognise it from smaller and smaller signs when it shows it’s face and so can head it off with the adjustments your life needs faster and before it’s done harm or retrod the paths again. Those are the adjustments which it is there to tell you about.
In a sense depression can be a generous safety net of a psychological tool, it’s a messenger service that our life is not as we deserve it to be. Sometimes it’s easy to see why (bereavement or grief over some kind of loss) sometimes it’s less easy because we think we ought to be happy with all we have, but don’t realise that we’ve tailored it to an imaginary Ought rather than our own very personal Needs.
Once it’s been activated it is there, not always active but always accessible. This doesn’t mean we’re permanently broken, just that we’ve covered more ground, visited a strange and different land, a place which those who haven’t been there yet can sometimes roughly imagine with a description, just as we imagine a friends holiday, but postcards are nothing on experience… we have to read what is written as well as look at the pretty picture, even more so listen to a persons tales of how it was to really get a feel for it.
Talking about it can be one of the tools, one of the ways of changing our lives, and hopefully those we talk with hear us, and maybe even heed our warnings and take on board our suggestions for how to treat those returning from that life changing trip.