By Michael Kimmel | Life Beyond Therapy
“Depression” is used to describe everything from feeling a bit down to feeling suicidal. I’d like to talk about three kinds of depression and what you can do about each one.
Chemical — In this type of depression, there is an imbalance in how your brain is supposed to (optimally) function. If this is true for you, then there may be nothing as helpful as the right medication to restore your brain’s chemical process to full functioning.
I acknowledge that the mind-body connection is powerful, yet for many of us, our body can’t produce the chemical compounds/reactions that make our brain happy.
Over the past two decades, I’ve had clients who have resisted any kind of medication, thinking it signifies a weakness of some kind. For years, they would tough it out and praise themselves for how stoic they were.
One client, after years of trying everything but medication, finally gave in. His life changed dramatically and of course he asked, “Why did I wait so long? Why did I suffer all those years?”
I didn’t need to reply because he already knew the answer: He thought medication was a sign of weakness and being tough/right was more important than being happy.
Anti-depressants usually take about 6-8 weeks to fully kick in, so say my doctor friends, and — media alert! — they don’t really make you “happy.”
As someone who tried three different anti-depressants in my younger years, when they work, they reduce your depression, but can’t make you happy, nor can they take away all your problems. What they can do is to help you stabilize your emotions so that you are able to address your problems from a more calm and balanced emotional place. At least, that’s what they did for me and many other people I know.
Let’s move on to the other two types of depression, neither of which typically benefit much from medication.
Situational — In this kind of depression, we suffer a loss. This kind of depression is actually a sign of normal mental health. If we didn’t feel sad after our dog died or we lost a job we loved, we’d be strange people indeed.
“How long does this last?” you may reasonably ask; or more importantly, “How long should this last?” Ah, now there’s a tough question.
Some people take anti-depressants when recovering from a loss, but this may or may not be helpful. We need to grieve a loss; anything that messes up our grieving process may actually prolong our suffering. If you have 1,000 tears to cry over the end of your love affair, then, you need to cry those tears sooner or later. Numbing yourself with alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs usually just drags the process out, making it harder to cry those tears, feel those feelings and — eventually — move on.
If you feel suicidal in the face of a loss, then do whatever it takes to get yourself through those terrifying feelings. But, for most of us, situational depression is a normal part of life. Something bad or sad happens, we grieve it for a time, and we slowly heal. Messing with this sequence isn’t usually very helpful.
Soulful — Challenges of the soul are often the most subtle and productive forms of depression. You don’t want to numb or medicate them; they are the impetus for positive life changes, and for asking yourself some tough questions and coming up with soul-saving answers.
I mean questions like:
- “My life hasn’t turned out as I’d hoped, what should I do about it?”
- “No matter how successful my work and relationships are, I still feel fundamentally sad and empty.”
- “I gave up on religion a long time ago, but, isn’t there something more than just this separate, little life?”
This kind of depression is born of wisdom and life experience. As a friend calls it, “the dark night of the soul.” None of us can avoid it, nor should we. The questions it brings unlock hidden rooms in our minds and thoughts that are full of amazing possibilities for growth and change.
Maybe this really isn’t depression at all; perhaps it’s really the ultimate adventure.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.