Depression is not sadness. It can encompass this feeling and others, but in my opinion it is more a numbing, a stuffing of unexpressed, unprocessed feelings. It is being stuck and going around and round the same old thoughts and feelings without ceasing. It is a darkness and a grey curtain between you and the rest of humanity, it isolates and makes you feel alone, even when with loved ones.
What I am writing is only my opinion, from my own and others’ experience with this ‘mood disorder’. There are no shortages of definitions for depression; most of them have to do with symptoms — sleep issues, appetite, tiredness, feelings of hopelessness and despair, to name a few. But to try to define what it feels like, this is where it gets difficult. I think getting better, not necessarily ‘well’ or ‘cured’ – since there is no real consensus on what causes depression – I think it’s a process involving some of the old psychoanalytic methods. To make the unconscious conscious, or bring forth what is in darkness into the light. To look at the shadow parts of oneself, as Carl Jung would say. In recovery parlance the phrase would be along the lines of “uncover, express, and get rid of”.
This is why in therapy you ‘dig’ and try to get to what’s behind a behavior, thought or surface feeling. This is why there is no simple fix, because every person is unique and whatever is hidden, be it from the past or present (and it is often from the past, sometimes unremembered) can be hard to find. If you are depressed it’s unlikely that it is any one thing. There could have been even mild childhood abuse or neglect; on top of that perhaps grief or trauma – a car accident, a rejection by a friend, a divorce – whatever you experience as overwhelming. Any kind of major, or even minor change, or losses piled on top of one another, onto a vulnerable person can cause or contribute to depression. Yes, there are likely some genetics involved, but my view is they are more in the nature of a predisposition and not a direct cause.
Another thing that I think contributes to depression is lack of connection – not just to other human beings but also to nature and the natural world. This is why having pets can be so therapeutic, and this is why when I take a walk in a nature center my mood is lifted. Our society and culture add to a feeling of disconnection. We feel a lack of real community, understanding, and belonging. This is why support groups can work so well; people who are connected with others who have the same issues – such AA or other 12 step groups – don’t feel so alone.
A word about anxiety, the ‘disorder’ that often goes hand in hand with depression: whereas depression often involves issues from the past, anxiety usually involves worry about the future. Worry about the future often comes from judgements formed out of past experiences, and also involves the same circular thinking that depression does.
I have heard it said that depression is anger turned inward. I think there may be anger, but there is also shame, sadness, grief, and many other feelings directed inward. They need to come out – safely, securely, and with great respect.