Breakdown or Breakthrough? The experience of Depression.
One of the most frequent reasons that fellow human beings come to see me, whether as a psychotherapist, a spiritual mentor, or energy worker, is because they are struggling to free themselves from an experience which is shared by every single soul on the planet, at various times: the appallingly dark and lonely place which is Depression.
It differs by degree, of-course. For some, it is a relatively temporary period of darkness, maybe six months or so. For others, it is something that is a lifelong struggle. For some, it is interspersed with periods of frantic activity designed to block it out.
No matter which it is, at the time, and while it lasts, it is one of the bleakest and most frightening experiences any of us can have. It is a time of feeling utterly alone, without help. Of feeling as if no-one could possibly understand. It is hard to believe that it could ever end, it feels so suffocating all-consuming. All joy is gone, all hope.
We look at the rest of the world going about its business as if everything is fine. People seem to be reaching for dreams, finding happiness, making plans, talking and sharing, getting on with their lives. Coping. We find it impossible to even begin to imagine how we could ever be like them.
Depression would appear to be one of the most debilitating and widespread illnesses of our Age, wouldn’t it? The medical profession, which is trained to put the emphasis upon symptom management and relief, will tell you that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain. It will therefore offer you either a course of antidepressants or a few weeks with a cognitive behavioural therapist. In the short term, these can be helpful. However, they don’t solve the problem. They help with the symptoms, but they don’t touch the cause.
I am in no way wishing to diminish the help that the medical profession is able to give. Rather, I want to point out that research shows that, if you measure the chemical imbalance in the brain prior to a course of therapy, or period of spiritual searching, or personal development work of any kind, and then measure those same chemicals at the end, you will find that those chemicals are in balance once again. The difference is that, in the latter case, you will have gained wisdom and insight and a degree of self-awareness and resilience which is a pretty good guarantee, providing you’ve done the work and seen it through, that you won’t get depressed again.
So, what is Depression? And how do you overcome it? Two pretty vital pieces of information, wouldn’t you agree? What I’m going to offer you arises out of my own training, experience, reading of research and spiritual growth. I make no claim to have a definitive answer, and it is totally fine for you to disagree with what I am going to say. However, it may help, so I’d like to at least offer it. So, here goes. Let’s come at it from a slightly different angle, if that’s okay?
Ever come across the term ‘Dark Night of the Soul?’ It refers to an experience not unlike that of Depression. It is an experience not dissimilar to terror. It is a place of feeling profoundly lost and cut off, but not knowing why. It is dark, bleak, full of despair, hopelessness and there is no joy. Most frightening of all, we find we do not know who we are. All sense of ourselves is gone. The who we were is no more, yet we do not know who we are now, or who we will become. It is existentially terrifying.
Now the reason I came at it from that angle is that, when you go deeply into the experience of Depression, rather than looking more superficially at the obvious symptoms, this is what you find:
• The sense of self is under threat
• Everything is being questioned
• There is a search for meaning, purpose and the true nature of things
• There is an overwhelming sense of loss, without knowing what has been lost
• Parts of the self which are deemed ugly or unworthy are seen as defining the person; it is who they are
• There is such a sense of failure, self-blame and often self-loathing
• There are suppressed feelings of anger which get turned in on the self rather than becoming the energy of change
• There is a searching for meaning and connection, a desire to make sense of the story, to find a context
• There is an exhaustion born of having had to pretend, cover up, be one thing in the world while feeling a quite different reality inside
We therapists talk a lot about the Real Self and the False Self. The False Self is who we have learned to believe the world requires us to be; the Real Self is who we actually are. The whole of us, including the perceived ‘unacceptable bits’ we have come to fear or despise. The person we came here to be.
Do you begin to see where I’m going with this? The experience of Depression and the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul are so similar you could even risk suggesting that they are one and the same. So I’m going to risk it.
Some years ago, a figure many of us will be aware of, Brene Brown, a researcher into vulnerability, and shame, had a major emotional breakdown when the findings of her research conflicted powerfully with the person she had constructed, and believed to be functioning successfully in the world. She discovered that, in reality, she had learned to be emotionally distant and shut down, to not trust others or herself with difficult emotion, and to pretend to be one person while actually being someone else.
Lots of people who come to see me are going through something very similar. They have been given the diagnosis of ‘a breakdown.’ However, I try to help them to discover, and experience, that is is not a breakdown at all, but rather a ‘breakthrough.’ It is the liberating process in which we gradually let go of the False Self and learn to dare to be our Real Self in the world. No more pretence. No more apologies. No more compromise. Our authentic self, in full alignment with who we really are.
The self we incarnated to be. The self we came intending to share with the world. The self whose energy will make a profound and lasting difference. Source energy, fluid love, in liquid motion, aware and conscious, connecting with others soul to soul, recognising and living oneness, because the full knowledge of who we really are is beginning to dawn.
So what am I saying, then, about Depression? Specifically, I’m suggesting that it is a message, it is a wake up call. It is highlighting how inauthentic we have learned to become, because that is what we have learned to believe that the world wants. We have learned to believe that simply being ourselves is either not enough, or will mean that others will not love us.
But do you see the con in that? Do you see the trick of the ego? Do you see the way we have learned to measure success? Do you see how easily we learn to compromise who we really are, and came here to be? And do you see how we are denying the world such a precious gift, if only we could step beyond the fear of being measured and compared and judged? Of ‘failing.’? Failing the world’s way?
If, instead, we can see the crisis as an immense push towards authenticity, and the remembering of who we really are, then at least we know what’s happening. It will still be scary, because there are big risks involved to the self we have become. Vulnerability is risky. But once we have pushed through, held our nerve and gone through the flames, and survived, I absolutely promise you that we will never, ever, look back.
Here’s to us, in all our magnificent truth and power!!
@ Janny Juddly 2016
The Therapist in my Pocket