Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Disneyworld was opened to the public. A…
“I’m so frustrated that people don’t understand how I feel. I’m always trying to defend that I have a real illness”.
“…antidepressants are designed to sort the chemical imbalance which is usually the cause of depression and anxiety. But the doctor can’t measure which chemical is out of balance so it can be a bit tricky getting the medication right.”
“Every so often my brain chemistry just goes wrong and I need a chemical “tune-up” so I can remember how it feels to be happy”.
“My psychiatrist told me that I have a ‘genetic propensity’ mental illness. On of my uncles, one grandmother, and one great grandfather with schizophrenia. Both my parents have undiagnosed anxiety disorders. Both of my siblings are hypochondriacs.”
“I think it’s hereditary”.
“Who’s had the Genesight test?”
“I was born this way”
“I’m having a bad day, a down day. I’ve had a few good days this week but I am frustrated, because I don’t know how get rid of the bad feelings when they come”.
“I’m feeling ok and then suddenly I’m not. I can only hope to survive until the better days come”.
Can you identify with any of those ideas?
Do you think that you were born depressed because of your genes or that somehow your brain chemistry has got out of balance and that’s why you’re depressed? Do you think that you have good days and bad days and there’s nothing you can do but manage the ‘symptoms’ of your ‘illness’?
When we are depressed, it’s very hard to know what to believe.
That was my experience anyway.
I felt dreadful, but not exactly sick.
I hated that I had no motivation or energy, but I knew I wasn’t a lazy person. I wondered if my family history had something to do with it, but many in my family were productive and happy. I wondered if it was my personality or emotions, but that didn’t seem quite right either.
If the doctor tells you you’re sick and you need medication, you feel like you’ve got an explanation for
your experience and finally you’re taking action. But in diagnosing you with an illness and giving you a prescription, it’s possible that the doctor may also have given you a label which limits you and taken away all hope for ever living without depression.
And that’s why these ideas are so cruel.
It is undeniable that depression is a real experience and a very, very unpleasant one at that. Depression affects the way we think about ourselves, our lives and our futures. It can disrupt our sleep and our appetite. It sucks the joy out of life. It sucked the joy out of mine for over two decades.
But it’s not like diabetes. Or cancer. Or Alzheimer’s Disease.
Diabetics take insulin because their pancreases have stopped producing it. People with underactive thyroids take artificial thyroxine because their glands have stopped producing it.
There has been a malfunction in a bodily system which prevents it from working as it should.
Like diabetics, so the idea goes, people with depression need to take medication to keep their brain chemicals ‘topped up’ and ‘in balance’ because they cannot produce these chemicals themselves.
This is a myth.
All brain cells (neurons) produce neurotransmitters when they are in an active or excitable state.
It’s completely unproven that a lack of neurotransmitters causes depression. This was a very clever theory which suited all sorts of agendas but has now been discarded by most in the psychiatric profession.
There is evidence that some regions of the brains of depressed people are less active than in the brains of non-depressed people but this is correlated with the experience of depression; there is no known malfunctioning of the brain which causes depression.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, a tragically common brain disease in older people. Although the explicit cause of Alzheimer’s is not known, there are observable, irreversible changes in the brain structure which rob the person incrementally of their ability to remember, speak, walk and even swallow as different regions of the brain atrophy and die.
Unlike Alzheimer’s, depression has no observable brain malfunctions. On the contrary, the brain on depression is working quite normally, if not helpfully!
How about genetics? Haven’t scientists discovered something about making people susceptible to depression?
“We don’t yet know how many genes are involved in depression, but it is very doubtful that any one gene causes depression in any large number of people…no one simply “inherits” depression from their mother or father. Each person inherits a unique combination of genes from their mother and father, and certain combinations can predispose to a particular illness”.
But we simply don’t know. Yet.
The greatest tragedy of the idea that depression is a sickness which needs medical treatment is that it leaves you with no hope, especially if you are told that you are sick for life.
Along with the ‘relief’ that you might feel getting medical care for you depression, you might also be getting a side-effect of hopelessness and helplessness.
This is the cruellest effect of these ideas.
Holding these kinds of beliefs about depression holds you back from the possibility of ever living without depression. How?
Here are three ways:
These ideas keep you stuck in depression and that’s just cruel when there is ample evidence that there are actions you can take to move yourself from the pit of despair to a joyful life.
You see, that’s all they are, just ideas. Not universal truths set in stone for all time.
“Depression comes over me in distinct waves, which last from a couple of days to a few weeks.”
“Whenever I feel better, I start counting down to the next time the depression comes to pay a visit.”
“The last few days I’ve actually been feeling better. I’m really hoping that the depression is going away.”
When the depression ‘feels worse’, what’s really going on is that we feel worse.
We feel a drop in our mood that seems to come from nowhere.
If we believe we are sick, we will believe that our changing mood is because the depression is ‘doing that to us’.
We seem to have no control over why we feel worse some days and slightly better on others. On days we feel bad, we hope for a brighter tomorrow. We tell ourselves to ‘keep fighting, keep struggling on. Don’t let the depression win’.
Here are two final cruel ideas.
In fact, our moods are controlled by our thoughts.
Even when we wake up the morning feeling ‘blue’ (and I have many times), and there doesn’t seem to be any reason, something will have triggered it.
Could it be because the thought of what the day might bring fills you with dread?
Sometimes our mood drops in the evening when it’s getting close to bedtime. Why is this? Are you ruminating on your worries? Concerned that you didn’t achieve enough during the day? Worried that tomorrow will be more of the same/
Sometimes our mood drops for ‘no apparent reason’ during the day.
But if you look closely, you will always find a reason. And because there is a reason, there is an opportunity to change your mood.
Constantly pushing away your bad mood just makes you feel worse because it’s really hard to force yourself to feel something different through sheer will power.
This is why most depressed people hate the idea of ‘just thinking happy thoughts’. It’s impossible to think yourself into happiness.
So why try to think yourself out of a low mood? Why fight the mood?
Accept your mood. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it or you’re giving up.
This means you’re observing it like a scientist, wondering, asking questions, trying something new. Take some small action, like making a cup of tea. This will calm you if you are having an emotional reaction because it is distracting. Then sit down and take a moment to relax and gently think through what may have happened to cause your mood change.
Track your mood changes through the day.
Ask what might have caused that mood change. Did you have a certain thought? An emotional reaction to something that happened? What external and internal triggers can you identify that might have brought on the change in mood? A conversation or comment? Something you saw or heard? A person or incident?
Tracking your moods will show you that depression does not come and go without apparent cause or reason. Knowing why our moods change will help us take action in the moment and help us to be aware when such mood changes may be likely.
Refusing to believe the five cruelest ideas about depression – that we are ill due to a chemical imbalance, or that it’s our personality, genes or destiny – is crucial for depression recovery.
If you'd asked her 15 years ago if she believed life could be a wonderful as it is today, Vickie would have answered, 'I just don't know, but it doesn't seem likely.' Now she knows that if she can turn her life around, it's possible for you too. Ask Vickie how she can help you design the life you'd really love to live and say goodbye to depression forever.