If you did something that would be considered bad by objective moral and social standards and you feel bad about it, that's normal and to be expected. But, what is when, from other people's point of view, you have done just fine and you still feel bad? Others say, "That's what I would've done, if I was in your place," but you keep on feeling bad about it and deny yourself any justification or compassion. If you do this habitually, you are a likely candidate for depression.
What prevents us from feeling good? One of the major causes people stay depressed or frequently slip into depression is that they don't know how to stop feeling bad. Some people become good at "doing" depression. They spend a lot of time in self-destructive thoughts and feelings. They become experts at being depressed , but don't know how to do anything else. So they do little of anything else.
Depression may be a simple case of all addition and little subtraction. Depressive thoughts and negative feelings keep adding up over a period of time and nothing is subtracted from them because the depressed person does not entertain positive thoughts or happy experiences. These repetitive patterns prevent us from feeling good about ourselves. We prevent things from happening that could bring us satisfaction and happiness.
Chronic depression is not merely a "chemical imbalance," as some would like us to believe. This entirely chemical and narrow view of human emotions has done more harm than good. We should also note that a depressed person is neither "crazy" nor "weak." Depression is a set of negative habits, behaviors, thought processes, perceptions, assumptions, attitudes, faulty learning, and a lack of certain skills. A person who has had repeated episodes of depression needs to learn many new skills and not just make minor changes, but transform himself or herself as a person.
Depression is like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis or any other chronic physical illness in which medication alone is not enough. Informed heart, diabetes, and arthritic patients know that they have to change their diet, exercise, and avoid harmful habits and emotions. Similarly, informed depressive patients should know that in order to recover from depression they need to give up depressive habits and acquire skills that promote happiness and satisfaction.
Medication alone should not be tried for more than a couple of months. If depression persists, try medication and therapy, or therapy alone. If depression becomes a life-long condition, we should make a deliberate effort to change ourselves. We must make appropriate changes in our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, relationships, and in our ways of thinking about ourselves. We should know that merely cosmetic changes are not enough. We require transformation.
Unfortunately, therapy and medication often don't go far and deep enough these days. Managed care companies don't want to pay psychiatric physicians for more than fifteen minutes a visit, so all they can do is to listen to patients' complaints and hand out prescriptions. Likewise, these companies don't allow more than a few counseling sessions for non-physician counselors. In such limited contact, clients and therapists can only work on symptoms rather than on underlying causes.
Unfortunately, our awareness and understanding of chronic and recurrent depression is far from satisfactory. Drug companies, through their mighty machinery of advertisement, have sold us the idea of chemical imbalance. As a result, many view chemicals and emotions as one and the same thing. When they feel a little better with medication, they lose all motivation to work in therapy.
Feeling better is not enough. We need to remove that which stands between us and our happiness. We must identify the things that make us happy and do them. Without being critical of ourselves, we must learn to improve ourselves. When bad things happen to us, we need not feel that we are being punished. Likewise, when good things happen to bad people, we need not feel deprived. Instead of feeling guilty for past actions, we should take reformative actions.
Instead of dreading future, we should be proactive. We should
recall past successes to recover our confidence. Instead of feeling
like a failure, we should exploit what we are good at. We should
ask for serenity to bear the things we can't change and courage to change
the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
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Copyright 1996, Mind