What is Depression?

Reitdiep RainbowCreative Commons License photo credit: The Wolf  

 

Depression-- hopelessness, dread-- waking up in the morning and feeling like there's no point to being awake-- what is that, really? Is it just a chemical imbalance in the brain?

Yes and no.

The brain (like the rest of our bodies) is a physical manifestation of our soul.  This means that chemical imbalances in the brain reflect spiritual suffering. No treatment for depression is really complete unless it addresses both the spiritual and physical dimensions of the affliction.

Depression is a symptom of suffering genius. Our genius suffers when she feels trapped, unacknowledged and unable to express herself fully in the world. This happens all too often in our present society-- which, for all it's celebration of commodified individuality is actually quite opposed to genuine expressions of soul-- like love and ecstasy.  (If you're curious about this hostility, try having an ecstatic transport in a grocery store and see how people respond.)

Yet no matter how harsh the external conditions, this feeling of being trapped is always an illusion.  We're always free to express our genius, even if we sense the consequence of that expression would be something scary-- like losing our jobs or losing a friend.  Just acknowledging the fact that we are choosing to restrain ourselves because we don't like the potential consequences to being who we really are can allow us to regain a sense of our basic freedom and begin to lift the burden of depression.

At the same time, we also need to overcome the fears that would keep us in our limiting position.  We may need to honor the fact that when we embrace our true selves, we lose some safety and security, some approval and predictability.  We may need to deliberately give up the comfort that we've known in order to embrace the radically unknown world of our possibility.

When I'm struggling with a limiting belief or situation, my friends like to remind me that I'll change "when the pain becomes great enough." This is true.  I will.  Yet some people don't change when the pain becomes great enough-- or rather, they change in far too dramatic a fashion.  They kill themselves.

I've endured depression many times and I've felt tempted to make that all-too-radical change from life into death.  What I've discovered each time depression gripped me is that it's always true: "I" do have to die.  But the "I" that needs to die is never the real me, my physical body and my actual spirit. The "I" which needs to die is the little ego who wants and demands that life go a certain way and is incredibly pissed that it won't. This "I" despairs.  This "I" judges me with intense cruelty and harshness.  I've found that depression is the invitation which asks this "I" to die.

So if you're feeling depressed today-- let me ask you-- what demand are you holding on to that isn't getting met?  And what would happen if you just let that demand die-- if you just let go of it?  Who would you be without that demand?