To know the difference between depression and a plain bad mood, you normally have to have experienced both. It is a cruel twist of fate that when we are depressed and most in need of the support, love and comfort of others, we find ourselves least able to accept it.
Depression has been described as a prison where the sufferer is both prisoner and jailer. They not only deny themselves the smallest comfort but ensure they keep up a relentless campaign of self-punishment and hatred too. And it is this desperate sense of utter isolation and dislocation from the world that best describes the difference between depression and a simple case of ‘the blues’. The depressed person is “disconnected” from his or her social network. Their world becomes smaller as they cut themselves off, withdraw into their burrow, drop off the radar, recede into the background, switch to ‘radio silence’.
For those living with someone with depression, it can be a difficult and confusing time. Whilst a depressed person will normally still appear intellectually aware of their surroundings and the basic rules of life, they are somehow unable to interpret their experience of those things. It’s as if a virus has got into their software and corrupted how they interpret and respond to signals. It’s not their fault or their intention. It just is.
Inevitably, many such sufferers find they cannot describe their experience, because it is new and confusing for them too. Well-meaning friends and relatives reach out, try to buoy them up, tell them it will pass, or that there are others worse off. They reassure the sufferer that they are capable and deserving and loved. And somewhere deep within, the sufferer knows that there is truth in those words, but the dots just no longer connect.
How can you tell them that you are suddenly too scared to go to that family party, or shopping, or have your best friend round for lunch? How can you explain that you had ‘no choice’ when you resigned from a perfectly good job, despite having mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay? How can you say you felt in imminent danger or that your heart was about to explode out of your chest or that you couldn’t breathe? It doesn’t make sense. Not to the sufferer. Not to those on the outside. And pointing it out is the very worst thing you can do.
But, bit by bit the support, love and comfort of others tends to give way to comments that the behaviour is selfish, or indulgent or lazy. That they have no interest in helping themselves; they don’t take their medication; they don’t do any exercise; they don’t eat properly or do the things they used to enjoy.
So just for good measure they beat themselves up for being weak and ineffectual. They compare themselves to others who are ‘doing better’. They chide themselves for being ‘rubbish’. And the fact that you have told them if only they got up and did something, or went for a run or ate a proper meal, they’d feel so much better, paradoxically makes them feel even worse, because you have just pointed out that they cannot even do these basic tasks either – FAILURE!
Being depressed is like being lost in a fog, or a wasteland or encased or trapped in something heavy and oppressive. And you are utterly alone. Depression brings an enduring and terrible isolation. Confidence moves out, criticism moves in. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain loses its ability to make decisions until even the smallest decision becomes too big to contemplate. And the sufferer is acutely aware that they cannot make a basic decision, which leads to further feelings of inadequacy and guilt and disappointment and FAILURE.
Yet whilst there is no denying that being depressed is a profound emotional experience, depression does not have to be a permanent house guest. It’s not a genetic fault. We create it and can un-create it. To become and stay depressed we have to have developed a set of complex and interlinked opinions about ourselves and our world, and then hold onto those opinions as immutable “truths”. As the saying goes: the world is as we perceive it. We know this, because different people who suffer the same trauma can respond in vastly different ways depending on their interpretation of the world and events and beliefs.
Hypnotherapy is a natural and gentle intervention that is highly effective in diffusing the emotional arousal that comes with depression. With patience and understanding the client can be helped to make space for the often debilitating thoughts and feelings, so that they can then begin to challenge the faulty thinking and beliefs that hold them in place and leave behind the desolation and isolation of despair. There is light at the end of the tunnel.