On a wet and miserable Tuesday morning at the end of March, when the local electricity board once again failed to cope with providing power due to a smattering of the damp stuff (actually it turned out to be a nationwide power outage that lasted all day – but that’s another story), I picked up a book.
I love (proper, pages and everything) books, but do confess these days to getting distracted by the tentacles of social media a tad too much, which means my office library can look a little neglected at times. So the positive side of a power cut during the working day is that I pick up books. This particular one was a book I refer to often during my Thrive sessions – The Importance of Suffering by James Davies.
Now, I have been accused in the past (by those who neither know me, nor have taken the time to meet and talk with me) of being a happy, clappy sort who peddles false positives while putting my hands over my ears and shouting LALALA very loud so as to not see the negativity of what is going on around me.
Not a bit of it!
Rather, I advocate that emotional suffering in certain situations is a vital process in understanding, assessing and putting into context and perspective. The amount of time and effort it takes is usually directly related with how affected you are on a personal level by the issue in hand.
Grief is a clear cut example of this. In terms of ‘evolutionary psychology’ the mind can work, in time, to heal the pain of loss.
Depression is another. Depression gets a bad press. Someone ‘gets’ depression – it’s seen as the end of the world. Cue lots of caring looks… mental disorders are so misunderstood….pop these anti depressants….mask the suffering….take a month of work….
The sufferer is caught up in a cycle of negativity and fear and collusion that this ‘thing’ is going to be with him for the rest of his life.
I prefer to take a much more positive stance on depression. As James Davies cites in his book, “Depression works because it forces upon us a period of ‘introversion’ or ‘hibernation’, during which we retreat from society to confront the reasons for our suffering, and to assess what life changes we need to make in order to put things right.”
He goes on to quote psychiatrist Neil Burton who summarised:
“Just as physical pain has evolved to signal injury and prevent further injury, so depression may have evolved to remove us from distressing, damaging or futile situations. The time and space and solitude that depression affords prevents us from making rash decisions, enables us to see the bigger picture and – in the context of being a social animal – to reassess our social relationships, think about those who are significant to us, and relate to them more meaningfully and with greater understanding and compassion.” (Burton 2009:117)
So, if you are strong in mind and managing your thinking well, then a bout of depression following a traumatic event can actually be an entirely natural, therapeutic, positive process to go through.
Unfortunately modern society does not always seem to want us to follow the course of natural, evolutionary psychology. It is cheaper (for governments) and more profitable (for the pharmaceuticals) and an all round easier quick fix (for us) to medicalise depression to such an extent that it has taken on this cloak of a terrifying beast snarling at anyone that crosses its path. We fear that we may be genetically disposed to depression if we watch our parents go through it. We worry that if we get it, then it will be with us for the rest of our lives. For some it may even define us – ‘My name is X and I am a depressive!’ Pills in pretty colours with fancy names help to ‘keep us on an even keel’, anaesthetise the pain, prevent us from confronting and challenging the ugly truth of our feelings. As James Davies claims:
“Powerful curative institutions now intervene, but with clinical interventions more likely to diagnose and stigmatise our descent, rather than legitimise it as a potentially necessary human experience.”
The reason why the Thrive Programme is SO effective in helping sufferers of depression deal with their ‘illness’ is because it teaches them the mental skills to bring themselves out of it, and promotes a deeper psychological understanding that aids the creation of greater mental resilience – resilience that can comfortably cope with the lows as well as enjoying and recharging on the highs. (And I must stress here once again that the Thrive Programme is totally evidence based. If it cannot be proven, it does not get included!)
Depression can affect anyone and everyone. Often some of the most gifted and brilliant academics the world over can be prone to depression, usually because they are, by their very nature, obsessive thinkers. As Rob Kelly states in the Thrive Programme workbook, “Obsessing tends to focus all attention on a problem, reinforcing all the negatives, keeping people absorbed in their worries and in fact, increasing the feelings of being out of control.”
Rob goes on the explain how depressed people are always looking for reasons to validate their state of mind (eg my girlfriend’s just dumped me!). There is a relief in the validation because having a reason gives them a sense of control. What it does not do, though, is give them a sense of strength (resilience) in terms of pulling themselves out of depression. Rather it brings them to a dead end, at which their control over confirming and reinforcing their depressed state is matched only by their sense of powerlessness in making any changes.
Depression may seem the deepest, darkest hole you have ever tripped into. The reality is, as Thrive consultants have witnessed again and again, depression is actually one of the easiest problems to overcome.
Just six weekly sessions with me on Skype or in my beachside clinic, will equip you with the knowledge and skills to dump depression and never look back. I can’t guarantee that you won’t have miserable times in the future. I can’t prevent shit happening in your life – because it can and will. But I can give you the skills to get through them all in one piece, and continue to be the person who want to be, and know you can be – a real Thriver!
© Kate Ashley-Norman April 2015.