A fair number of my clients (who come in for a myriad of reasons from pornography and sex addiction to overcoming attentional issues) also struggle with varying degrees of depression. This “fun” little creature is like a barnacle, attached without your permission to the hull of your life and creating all kinds of drag as you try to move forward in basic decision-making and relationship-building. Some people notice it is there, but few who notice it know what to do about it.
After seeing this hitchhiking parasite attach itself almost invisibly to several clients lately who came in initially presenting with issues other than depression, I decided to say a few words about this deceitful gremlin we call depression.
Let’s clarify one thing first. Depression is not synonymous with sadness. In fact, contrary to popular belief, you do not need to even feel sadness to qualify for a clinical diagnosis of depression. Indeed, many people with clinical depression complain more about feeling numb than they do about feeling sad. Ironically they often say this with tear-stained faces, but that isn’t because they can feel sad about not feeling sad. Usually it’s because they are just downright miserable. This is the first hoop that depression sneaks through with most people who don’t fully understand it. They don’t know they’re depressed because they feel numb, not sad.
Primarily, however, I wanted to address the lifeblood of so much of what we know about depression. A mega-culprit for the fueling of depression is distorted, negative, cynical thinking about self and the world we are in. It never ceases to amaze me how far off from factual the perception is in a person with moderate to severe depression. In the same way that a prism bends light, depression bends truth and makes our perception of our world oblique and befuddled. Depression is like having muscle spasms in your brain – the perpetual twitching of one’s perception tends to produce absurd views that have jiggled their way slowly loose from the moorings of reality. This off-center perception would be considered far from rational to the average objective individual who is not privy to what is happening in the mind of the depressed person. And yet to the person with depression, this absurd reality seems so logical and obvious, even though they typically cannot produce a well-founded rationale to support it.
Consider a few examples of how this might work. Have you ever played that game where you are shown what you are told is a very close-up image of some everyday object and your task is to make a guess as to what it is? What looks like a sieve or a honeycomb is actually a fly’s eye, or what looks like tree bark is actually a close up shot of a moth. Depression has the tendency to distort reality that much as well. We tend to see what we look for.
So, in short, work hard to check your facts if you or a loved one may have depression. Looking actively for more factual backing that supports our perception can help us stay grounded and further from the quagmire of depression. And just know that if a loved one has depression, they likely are not seeing “reality” the same way you are. You may try working with them to look at actual facts, and have them verbalize those facts if possible.