By Nancy Virden (c)2021
Some explanations of depression and how to manage it seem dismissive. “Quit being so negative,” and “Don’t live in the past” are two examples. Another simplistic characterization of depression limits it to a chemical imbalance of the brain. You have probably heard comments like, “It is biological,” or “It is genetic.”
At one time, the idea that my depression was anything more than biology offended me. When a psychologist suggested that one of the reasons for depression is not letting go of the past, I felt angry. I had recently been discharged from the hospital for major depression and wanted to blame it on something. Looking inward hurt too much.
Ten years later and much more knowledgeable, full understanding of the causes of depression, especially mine, remains a quandary. As science advances in this category, we see the biology more clearly and can observe how the brain works during an episode of depression. On a therapeutic level, eye movement and even tapping one’s body can produce improvement.
However, resolving depression’s brain chemistry does not erase the past. It does not make us wise. Psychotropic medications are usually helpful and save lives, yet even they cannot affect our false negative beliefs. If we cling to what is familiar and do not address our unhealthy thinking, overcoming depression will likely be more difficult. Untreated or undertreated episodes tend to increase in frequency and intensity over time.
Back when the idea of blaming the world for my struggles seemed necessary, I was actually feeding depression. That is because blame, resentment, and bitterness do nothing to resolve issues and can make survival harder. Another reason for my depression is that I had placed my hopes for joy and happiness on the choices of another person, my husband. Having given him such power over my wellbeing, the lack of his love eventually cost my will to live.
I can point to circumstances out of my control that led to depression. Having been trained as a child to view the world as unfair and uncertain, a clear path to a negative belief system had been laid out for me. It still seems reasonable that I would not have known how to think differently about my marriage or my worth. That does not mean anyone or anything caused my depression.
I had choices. The most damaging one was to avoid talking about how I felt. Sharing very little of my inner difficulties with anyone deprived me of healthier perspectives. Certainty in my interpretation of events shielded me from responsibility. As a disciple of Jesus, the Bible exposed some of my need for change. Nonetheless, its truth had to run through unchallenged built-in filters.
Major depression probably should have come as no surprise. Yes, brain chemistry was haywire. My prefrontal cortex went on vacation. Fight, flight, and freeze mode ran on overload. Cognitively, irrational thinking offered no solutions. Interest in favorite activities died, energy waned, motivation to care disappeared. This was biology.
Intertwined with it all was the inability to handle life on life’s terms. No, I do not know all the ins and outs of why depression hits some people and not others; science does not know perfectly. Depression is not moral or spiritual failure, nor character weakness. A narrow view of depression’s causes leads to judgment, fear, stigma, and hopelessness. Fact is, suffering is not anyone’s choice. Knowing how to escape it is another message altogether.
In part two of this mini-series, we will look at some possible answers. -COMMENTS WELCOME
Today’s Helpful Word
Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
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Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speak only from personal experiences and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.
If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.
If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!
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