What my depression taught me

by | Feb 2, 2022 | Depression, Thoughts

Depression is a deeply painful experience so no wonder we want to fix it. But sometimes, maybe it helps to understand why it seems to slow us down and confine our attention to our troubled self.


Funny how I call it ‘my depression’, almost as if I were taking a pride in possession.  ‘My home’, ‘my family’. ‘My depression.’

And yet, over three decades, ‘my depression’ has been as vital a part of my life as all the people and things I most value.  I may not welcome it; I won’t pull up a chair for it or offer it tea and cake when it comes calling. But neither will I characterise it in unambiguously negative terms.

My depression isn’t a ‘black dog’ or a ‘deep freeze of the soul’ or some other disapproving synonym. Because what I have learned about ‘my depression’ is that in some unfathomable way, it is alerting me to something in my life that needs attention. Trouble is, at the start of a period of depression, I rarely know what need in me its muted tones are attempting to reveal. That’s because my depression seems to work with Sphinx-like riddles to keep me guessing about why I’m feeling such leaden despair.


I cannot discern a neat cause and effect root to the onset of depression. While I’m a fluent interpreter of my emotions – anger, sadness, hurt, joy – willing to experience them and check out what they might be signalling, my depression is like a clunky old barometer with limited predictive powers.

Me: What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I feel like shit?

Depression: No answer  

I have found its modus operandi infuriating and perplexing, but then I’ve come to realise that it is in the process of working out what’s going on in my troubled inner world that depression stealthily engages me.

It tells me to sit down, to withdraw, to turn inward. I remember a trick my old form teacher used to quieten a noisy classroom. She’d move to the centre of the room and start addressing us in a whisper. Gradually, our curiosity got the better of us and we’d stop our disruptive chatter to listen. In a similar way, my depression insists that I switch off the distractions of my every day, my work, relationships, to listen.


It seems to cast a pall over my feelings, appetites, drives and motivation. The  ordinary routines of daily life that I would usually relish become energy-sapping chores when I’m depressed. I take little joy in an invigorating morning shower or choosing something gorgeous to wear. There will be no hair styling or nail painting; my depression is a mirthless Puritan. My usually hearty appetite is dialled down to an ‘eat to live’ pragmatism that takes no delight in flavour, comfort, or heartiness. For me, it is a state to be endured for a period, a dull and colourless hinterland that I might wander following a near catastrophic storm in my life. I’m left surveying the wreckage not knowing which way to turn.

Me: When will I stop feeling like this?

Depression: No answer

There is no spring in my step, and in its absence, I interpret my depression as a state of hopelessness. But I have learned that this interpretation can send me into a spiral of gloomy thoughts, each one eroding my sense of self, my worth, my esteem. Maintaining our self-worth in a world and a culture that plays relentlessly on our shortcomings (for which there are, of course, solutions to be purchased) takes the kind of commitment that depression will not readily accommodate. My inner critic seems more active when I’m depressed simply because I don’t have the vigour to contradict it. My thoughts become more skewed to the pessimistic – which is arguably, my default setting. Depression makes sure I’m well and truly conscious of the pain of human existence.  I am always more tearful when I’m depressed, rawer to the suffering of humanity. Depression seems to remove the patina of feel-good illusion.  But it also obscures my view to a more realistic way of seeing myself and my experience. 

Me: Why am I crying? When will I stop?

Depression: No answer

And the things I would normally turn to soothe my troubled self – music, friends, dancing in the kitchen – hold no attraction.  The only comfort is sleep when I’m depressed, and I need far more than my eight hours a night for other reasons; sleep removes me from conscious awareness of the insoluble pain of my existence.

For me, perceiving my depression as something unremittingly negative rarely helps in how I live with it. Instead, over the decades, I have tried to understand it. And this is what I’ve learned about my experience of depression:

  1. Depression doesn’t always call at times of crisis in my life. I have experienced bereavement, life-threatening illness, and separation, all free of depression. Instead, it seems to appear when I have neglected, or lived in opposition to, my own needs or values over a prolonged period or where circumstances have conspired to trap me (poverty, homelessness, discrimination), and I can conceive no way out. My depression seems to demand problem-solving skills of the highest order – or a facing up to a difficult truth about myself and how I live. It is no accident that each period of depression I have experienced has prompted a major change in my life. (It’s important to note that in each case of major change, I received substantial help and support from people, sometimes therapists, who have supported the problem-solving approach I needed, a fact that is not true of those suffering poverty and discrimination).
  2. Working in opposition to depression seems to me to prolong its effects. I have learned to respect its attempts to conserve my energy and confine my attention. I will sleep when I need to or turn down an invitation to a social event. I will signal to close friends and family that I need some time alone. I will step off the world and be still with my troubled self for a while at least. I might notice that living in this pared down way makes me feel guilty, but I will reason that for a period, my needs are greater. (Employers, please note).
  3. The wider culture tells us that depression is unacceptable, unproductive, a disorder to be ‘fixed’.  It blames sufferers for the inadequacy of their response in the face of their crises. It takes robust self-confidence to dismiss these get-a-grip messages at a time when self-confidence is in poor supply. Instead, I have come to understand my depression as a state of being that demands adjustments to be made by myself and those nearest to me. It is no more a signifier of my weakness or inadequacy than my short-sightedness. I need people by my side who will let me be, who will shore up my reserves against the judgement of my impatient culture, who will gently and persistently challenge my disempowering and negative self-talk and encourage me to listen to my deepest self with compassion and openness.
  4. While my depression might seem to have slowed me down to a near-halt, what goes on inside is very busy indeed. My intrapsychic self is in overdrive trying to work out what is wrong, what I need, where I might find power in my helplessness. You may not see it, but I’m putting in some serious emotional and mental labour. It’s exhausting. What helps, is someone to step into this over-busy space, to have a sense of what I’m experiencing, helping me notice things I might have missed.


Do you feel stressed, anxious or depressed? I work with you to understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, how you experience yourself. Self-awareness is often key to understanding how and why we feel stressed, anxious or depressed. It can also be a good starting point to make changes in your life that are more attuned to your needs.





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