Google “Depression” and you’ll find a lot of articles that describe depression. Articles listing symptoms such as lethargy, persistent sadness, numbness, or amplified negative emotions, changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns, decline in ability to focus or to attend to work and daily responsibilities, and a retreat from socializing.
Other articles about depression list solutions including dietary supplements or exercise or socializing or meditating, taking a bath, changing the sheets, or talk therapy or visiting a psychiatrist for a script.
Why is it so hard to talk frankly about depression without slipping into a discussion about how it manifests, or a discussion about how to cure it?
Naming something is part of the appeal that these articles have. They point to something—like a symptom (inability to sleep)—and it feels satisfying and helpful. And to a small extent, it is helpful. When we can point to enough symptoms, we can begin to put a picture together of what the problem is called.
But just because we can name something, list its symptoms, and provide a list of suggested remedies, doesn’t mean we are getting to the heart of the matter.
And depression is hard to get at. People suffer differently and so it’s not the same across the board. Not the same like, say, a broken arm is roughly the same.
Depression refers, or tries to refer to a feeling or a state of being. It’s a feeling that infiltrates and converts a person from a state of well-being to a state of depletion. Here, the self lacks a sense of being whole or consolidated, and lacks the difficult-to-describe feeling of being in charge of one’s life. In health, we generally feel like we are in the driver’s seat, that we are directing and managing the direction of our lives. We feel we can bring about consequences—that we matter, that we have value, and that we can affect our lives and the lives of the people around us. We generally feel consolidated with an ongoing sense of aliveness. And we feel—if not happiness—then certainly a sense of solidity in the self and a sense of well-being.
This is not to say that even in health, we don’t suffer or that we don’t experience states of sadness, depletion, and anxiety. And certainly this is not to say we don’t also suffer with periods of depression, in which our general sense of well-being is lost. But with some people, depression seems to be a default position that’s hard to get our of, returning, often for no apparent “reason” over and over again. And we never really know why.
Fortunately, depression often responds to treatment. Contact with another—for reasons not absolutely clear—helps to break up the knot of depletion and can lead to an improvement in the sense of well-being and aliveness in the self. Contact with another—with the therapist—involves or touches upon the personal and historical deprivations suffered and the restoration of the self as integral, valued, and vital. This means that treatment is not mechanical. It doesn’t offer prescriptions for homework and formula’s for cure. Rather, treatment, in essence, offers a relationship. A therapeutic relationship that can build healthy self-structure, over time and with patience so that ultimately, the depression is healed and able to lift, replaced by a consolidated and whole self.