My Experiences and Thoughts on Depression (and Other Feelings)
June 1st, 2019
Article by Doris Yepez (Guest Author)
Graphic by Maddy Meredith
Photo courtesy of Shifaaz Shamoon on Unsplash
I have struggled with depression most of my life, though I wasn’t aware that I was depressed till my 30’s. I was depressed without knowing it throughout my childhood and into my young adulthood years.
You may wonder how it was that I didn’t know I was depressed. As a child, I just tried to survive in a very dysfunctional family. I had no control over my life, which was typical in my days, the 50’s. Children were to be seen, not heard. Therefore, the mechanism I adopted to survive was to be quiet, not make a fuss, and be a good girl. I was also brought up as a Catholic, and in the Catholic religion of my earlier years, sin pervaded everything. Thoughts and feelings could be sinful. So, I crushed many of my thoughts and feelings for so many years that after a while I didn’t even know anymore what I was feeling. I was numb, depressed and my feelings were all jumbled and tangled together.
I am now 68, and recognize more quickly when I am depressed. I don’t always do something about it, but I usually know I’m depressed. Actually, many times I don’t give it that name. I just feel unmotivated, unfulfilled, unhappy, unable to enjoy my life. I know I have so much to be grateful for: I’m retired and have more free time. I have 5 beautiful children, 4 amazing grandchildren, my significant other, my comfortable home, my health, my friends etc. etc. etc. But at times, I can’t muster up those grateful feelings. I feel unfulfilled, unhappy. That’s when I’m stuck, when I’m depressed. And that’s the dilemma depression creates within me. I know I have so much to be grateful for, but I can’t feel that gratitude. Thus, I feel guilty. Oh! that Catholic guilt! Of course, this only compounds the feelings of depression and puts me in a deeper hole, to speak metaphorically.
Having lived much of my life with feelings of depression, coming and going, increasing and waning, what have I learned from them? Before I begin saying what I’ve learned, I want to say that I’m not a psychologist. However, for as long as I have been doing soul searching, as many years as I’ve gone to psychiatrists, umpteen psychologists, joined numerous support groups, read many self-help books, listened in the 80s to the new ideas Oprah presented on her show, I could possibly pass as a psychologist. Seriously though, my experience and knowledge of depression may not ring true for everyone. There are those whose depression has a physical basis such as a chemical imbalance in the brain. And for them, depression may be even more serious and more difficult to handle. So, I don’t want to discount or minimize their challenges or pain. However, I do believe depression is a feeling that most of us have off and on, and I can finally admit to myself that it’s OK for me, for anyone to be depressed, or to have any feeling. It doesn’t make me less of a person. On the contrary, it can teach me many things like it has taught me. It is a blessing, though it may not feel like one. It keeps my life from being static. What have I learned from my depression? I learned that it is a feeling, and like any other feeling, it is neither right nor wrong. It just is. It isn’t wrong to be depressed or to be angry or sad. Matter of fact, feelings have something to tell us if we take the time to figure it out. Since depression is a feeling, if I try to control it, it doesn’t help and actually makes me feel more depressed. Perhaps the biggest deterrent to my depression has been trying to control it.
What I’ve also learned is that the first step to overcoming depression, or any feeling, is taking a moment to recognize it, to recognize that I am depressed. Unfortunately, many times, I busy myself with some household chore, and though this does push aside the depression for the time being, it doesn’t address what’s behind it. Once I’ve recognized I’m depressed, the next step is acknowledging it. It may seem like a subtle difference, but recognizing it, noticing it, is different from acknowledging the feeling. Acknowledging it is, being in truth, being honest, with myself.
Oftentimes, I acknowledge my depression by talking out loud to myself. This seems to help me avoid trashing or judging my feeling. When I take that second step and acknowledge I am depressed, I notice an almost immediate sense of relief and lessening of the depression that I was trying so hard to control or ignore. Then after that, if I take the time to journal or speak to a friend or counselor, I realize the depression may be trying to tell me something. It could be that it’s telling me I need to make some change in my life. This happened to me right before I started writing this article. I was feeling numb, unable to enjoy the beautiful sunny day we were having. I laid on the grass and did some stretches, something that in the past, I loved so much doing. It was like a treat to lay on the grass, on my beautiful Mother Earth, and stretch my tired body, and feel the warmth of the sun. But earlier today, I was unable to appreciate it as I had before.
Once I recognized and admitted I was depressed, I decided to journal. What became clear to me as I wrote was that I needed to act on my desire to volunteer somewhere on a regular basis, that there was an emptiness, a sense of purpose or worth for my life, that I needed to address. I had been wanting to volunteer regularly, but couldn’t decide for what or where. Since I’m retired, one of the adjustments or challenges has been to figure out what next to do with my life. All my children are grown. They don’t need me like they used to. I need to feel useful and feel like I’m contributing to society. I want to not only have time to play, but also give my time and energy to making this a better world for others. And one way to do that is volunteering for a good cause. After journaling, I know it needs to be an organization that helps children or women or other groups less fortunate. By journaling and thus understanding where the depression was coming from, it motivated me to take action about my desire to volunteer. So, I called Hazen High School to see if any students could use some tutoring or mentoring this school year and next. And now I am waiting for a call back.
I also decided I would write this article with the thought of helping others who have dealt with depression. If I help just one person feel better about their depression, then the time I’ve spent writing this article has been worthwhile. I have beaten myself up so many times in the past for my depression, for many of my feelings. I don’t want to see others doing that to themselves. The depression, (or any feeling for that matter), is a light, a beacon. If I take the time to recognize it, acknowledge it and find out what it’s telling me, I can improve my life. This has been my journey, my process, most of my last 37 years.
When I finally realized I was depressed in my early 30s, I started counseling. And this was the beginning of untangling the web, the web that was pulling me down, holding me back from enjoying my life. I started giving voice to my depression, to all my feelings. I had been suppressing many of them all my life and not acknowledging them. Because of my Catholic upbringing and dysfunctional home life in my childhood years, I was in denial of some of my feelings. I thought to feel them was wrong. Now I know there is nothing to fear from them. Not only is there nothing to fear, but they are a tool for us, a way to improve our lives.
Again, the feelings aren’t wrong. It is the actions we take on those feelings that can be harmful to ourselves or others. So, I’ve learned to embrace my depression and other feelings; love them, accept them, listen to them, learn from them. It is an ongoing process. There are days I don’t want to feel certain feelings and I ignore them. I dealt with so much depression for so many years, that there are times I don’t want to feel depressed again. But to do that would be to stunt or end my growth. And I know from experience, that if I ignore my depression or any feeling, it magnifies it. At one point, I need to address it if I want to get the most happiness and satisfaction out of my life and feel I lived a life worth living. And the cool thing is every time I address a feeling, I get a sense of more light and joy filling my life. It’s as if when I address and accept any of my feelings, they create a crack, a crack in my psyche that allows me to enjoy my life more and increases my capacity to love myself and others with more empathy and less expectations.
One song I love dearly is “This Little Light of Mine”. The lyrics continue with “I’m gonna let it shine”. My experience has been that when we accept our depression and other feelings, or other people’s, without judgment, we let our light, and theirs, continue to shine. When we suppress our feelings, we suppress our spirits. Honor, respect and embrace your depression, all your feelings, and watch your light shine even brighter!
Mis Experiencias y Pensamientos sobre la Depresión