When anger turns to despair
Now more than ever people need to understand the signs of depression. Frustration over the pandemic has made many people angry, and I’ve written at length about how to deal with anger. But often anger turns to despair, sometimes abruptly, and this can lead to the rabbit hole of depression.
Depression, especially depression in young people, should be treated as a life or death emergency until objectively evaluated. Let me explain why. Particularly with people who are experiencing depression for the first time, the victim loses the ability to objectively evaluate their own level of anguish.
Imagine depression as falling. Indeed, falling is a great way to think of it. When you are falling, you can do nothing to stop the fall. You can brace for impact. You can put your arms out. But you can’t stop falling. No one has figured out how to suspend themselves in air mid-descent. Depression feels like mentally falling. You just keep sinking and sinking and sinking. And there’s seemingly nothing you can do stop the fall.
As you sink, you lose your bearings. A teenager may think something like, Man I am bummed out. It feels like I’ve fallen ten feet, when in reality they have fallen one hundred feet. This is why depression in young people is extremely dangerous. Outwardly, they are projecting a feeling of anguish that does not match what is happening inside. Yet it seems genuine. Do you understand why parents are shocked when their teens commit suicide?
The important lesson is don’t rely on the victim of depression to tell you how depressed they are. So what can you do to make that evaluation? Obviously you want to seek out the assistance of a professional, but from my own personal experience they are way too eager to intervene with pharmaceuticals. Pharma treatment for depression is completely overrated. I speak from experience having had multiple bouts of depression in my life and having been treated both with and without pharma. Without is way more effective and lasting.
Looking for signs
To evaluate your own loved one for depression, the first question you need to answer is how withdrawn is the victim? How many feet have they fallen, to go back to our analogy? One way to do this is by closing the space. When your loved one withdraws to their room, approach with love in your heart and attempt to talk to them. What happens next? Do they retreat further? Do they attempt to physically recreate the space? Sometimes it will be manifested by leaving the room and moving to the bathroom or the closet. Sometimes it could be as simple as hiding under the covers. If the victim of depression keeps trying to create distance, that's a warning sign.
A key question to ask the victim is for physical pain associated with the anguish. By that, I don’t mean “did a physical injury cause your sadness?” I mean, in the case of severe mental anguish, it can cause physical feelings of pain. Feeling “crushed”, for example. If bouts of sadness are accompanied by physical feelings of contraction, tightening, shortness of breath, etc, this is a very dangerous sign that the mental anguish has gone to another level, the victim is suffering a nervous breakdown, anxiety is spiraling.
In the early stages of depression, the signs are easier to spot because the routine changes. Your previously upbeat teenager no longer gets up in the morning. She doesn’t fix her hair. She stops watching her favorite show. She tells you she doesn’t want to do school activities she loved last week. It’s jarring. It’s a sledgehammer. You see it. What happens next is not so obvious. The victim enters her depression routine. This is the new routine, which is centered completely on her own sense of despair. From an outside perspective, it can look self-centered, because it is. But it’s like the flame to a moth. She can’t help destroy herself. So what you need to watch for are changes in the depression routine. These are going to be more subtle. That’s why they aren’t caught as often. When the depression routine changes, that means the victim has fallen even further and the more serious the situation has become. For example, if in spite of her depression she was still chatting with friends on text message for an hour per day and now she doesn’t hardly chat with them at all, you need to intervene.
So what to do? How do you intervene? Firstly, no matter what you do, the approach should be one of complete, unconditional love. Even the slightest criticism of anything that the victim is doing, even something as insignificant as pointing out that their room is a bit messy, can be used by the victim to fall further. You see, the victim is not really in control here. It’s the thought patterns. These thought patterns, if you want to call them the psyche that’s fine, are looking for reasons to despair. Even being loved unconditionally is a reason for despair! Why, the victim must not be worthy of it!
Patience is really difficult when you’re concerned that the victim might be suicidal. Patience doesn’t mean going back home and hoping your friend calls you if they need you. Patience means being there and patiently waiting for the victim to talk to you. If you are present, the depressed person is highly unlikely to take a rash action. So be present and be patient. In serious cases of depression, you might need to be awake all night with your loved one. That’s a small price to pay to avoid catastrophe.
Getting help is not just about seeing a counselor next Tuesday when the first appointment is available. When I was young and depressed, reading about depression helped me a lot. Get books on depression and share them with the victim. Find videos about it. The more the victim understands about depression, the easier it will be for her to find her bearings. If the victim realizes that they’ve fallen one hundred feet and not ten, they have gained some objectivity. Gaining objectivity is the start of snapping out of it.
Shine the light
What can the victim do? From a physical standpoint, depression hates sunlight, exercise, and fruit/vegetables. But good luck getting a very depressed person to embrace a daily routine of these things. So use the psyche against itself. The thought patterns of the depressed person are always pointing inward, looking for pain. Interrupt those thought patterns by guiding the victim to contemplate their own existence. The concept of asking Who am I? is often ridiculed in Western culture. But when you turn the psyche in on itself, thought patterns are interrupted. This is one of the most effective tools for snapping out of depressed thinking. If you don’t know how you could possibly get your teenager to do this, start with some bigger picture questions. Casually bring up the idea of life, the universe, anything that is a big idea, and try to get the victim to participate with their own thoughts. When you are depressed, everything is focused on a very narrow slice of life - the immediate past events from the perspective of the victim. Can you guide this person to see that there is more to the world than this? That there is more to their existence than this? If you try to solve the events of the immediate past, you only buy time until the next thing sets the psyche off. Don’t even bother with them. Elevate the thought patterns.
The true cure for depression is unconditional love for yourself. Oh, I know in our culture sometimes this is confused for egotism. The difference is that egotism is a love for specific attributes of yourself. You love that you have a lot of money, or that your family is beautiful, or that your car is more expensive than your neighbor’s. That is egotism. Unconditional love for yourself has no attachment to attributes. You love that you exist, no matter how you exist. You love yourself even though you are human, an imperfect being. You love that you are a conscious being who can experience the world. This type of self love can only occur after you realize you are not the thoughts in your head. You are the one who hears them. You are not the sadness from rejection, you are the one experiences what it’s like to be sad. You are not the shortness of breath in your body, you are the one who experiences the physical manifestation of stress.
So if you’re not your body, and you’re not your thoughts and you’re not your feelings, who (or what) are you? As a survivor of depression, I can tell you that the answer to this question is a journey that will end your depression for good.