A lot of people experience various degrees of depression and anxiety. Even in good times, an average of sixteen million new cases of depression occur in the United States every year, leading me to ask, What is really going on here?
Listening to the Pain
Some of the antidotes to depression can be found right next to the problems. It begins with listening to the pain, the depression, and not separating yourself from it. In my years of offering counseling, I have found that the answers are often hidden within the questions and in the experience itself. Each person carries within themselves the answers they need. Don’t kill the messenger, as they say; the messenger in this case being the depression.
Depression is a part of a whole life, not something one can separate out and label as strictly chemical, biological, or biographical. In fact, when you experience an onset of depression your life is talking to you. Some part of you is sending out an SOS: “Something is not working here!” So even in the situation where medications help, be mindful to take enough to help but not so much as to kill the messenger before you can hear and understand the message of your depression.
What Wants to Die?
If the message seems to be to kill yourself, here too I want you to listen to this intense pain by asking yourself instead; what in me wants to die? Notice I don’t ask what are you willing to let die but what wants to die. The depression (at least in part) is holding on and pointing to what needs to go. First ask yourself: “What wants to die?” and then check in with your willingness and commitment to do whatever it takes to fulfill your intention to live a vision.
So, what needs to die in your life to make room for your vision? What beliefs may need to die? What relationship is dead? What old story needs to die and be buried? What are you giving your life-force to? If your job is killing you, why not kill your job?Is an addiction to alcohol ruining your life and your relationships? Let it die. If the depression is strong, chances are that something false, something that no longer is true for you, has to die. I once killed my television. Another time in my life I killed off my expectation of what success was supposed to look like. At the very least kill any isolation that may be keeping you from healing and exploring your options.
We get depressed for not being the person we want to be. We get depressed when we think we have not been able to achieve the things that we want to achieve in life. -- Traleg Kyabgon, “Depression’s Truth”
A New Map of the World
If you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck in a long bout of depression, you can’t afford to keep looking out into the world in the same way. Some views you hold of the world will need to change. For a change in perspective to take place you will need some process of thought transformation. Such practices can be found in Buddhism (Lojong practices, meditation), cognitive-behavioral and didactic therapies, awareness techniques, and all therapies that include ways to investigate and transform your thoughts.
Paradoxically, depression and anxiety can be brought on by one’s internal paradigm shifting. Life has brought to your doorstep some big changes, but you keep holding on to the old paradigm. You keep insisting on responding to your life in the same way. Depression and anxiety then are a call to change your view, to transform yourself.
If you keep trying to take the old road to the new place you will remain lost (and depressed). Other times it may be that the life you thought would bring you happiness isn’t. So the paradigm wants to shift but you may not know how to go about this internal transformation. Simply put, life is constantly in motion and changing, and when we hold on to an old story that is no longer even possible, depression can take root.
A Spiritual Antidote to Depression
Your antidote to depression needs to include a spiritual component. This spiritual component means to bring forth (out into the world) such inner qualities as love, forgiveness, creativity, compassion, and awareness. Some spiritual step toward a new way of looking at and responding to your life must be part of the antidote. This is a willingness to make meaning of the depression.
I have found that the best antidotes for depression include continued awareness of the makings of our hearts and minds as well as participation in the world around us.
Many times someone has come to me depressed and angry and it doesn’t take a long exploration to find out that they are leaving a large part of their life unlived. Their antidote is simple (but not easy): They need to activate their creative life –– take that class, bring out the guitar, write that book, advocate for legislation that protects the environment, move to the country and raise organic chickens, or hold more conversations and take more trips. They need to commit to the active creative life.
Hold a conversation with your depression within the context of your larger life –– how might you use the experience of your depression to help the larger needs of the world around you? Make your depression transformational. Choose to have your depression be part of your creative and spiritual path as best you can. Don’t wait until you are feeling better to be creative or to attend to your spiritual life. Come as you are.
Spirituality also means that we come to deeply understand that we are all connected somehow, that each person’s life and what they do with it (or do not do with it) touches everything and everyone. Your life matters and it matters in a big way. If you don’t fulfill your creative calling, we all lose.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Destiny Books,
a division of InnerTraditions Intl. ©2013. www.innertraditions.com
The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are
by Julie Tallard Johnson.
Offering a different approach to self-discovery, one where we create our meaning from within rather than seek it from the outside world, Julie Tallard Johnson shows there is a science behind personal spiritual experiences and creativity. She reveals simple evidence-based methods that can be applied to any situation to generate enthusiasm, inspiration, and direct spiritual experience and transform the inner and outer landscapes of your life.
About the Author
A licensed psychotherapist and creative writing teacher, Julie Tallard Johnson has kept journals since the age of sixteen discovering how the writer and spiritual path are one and the same. She has spent the last thirty years working with individuals and groups to help them discover a spiritual practice that brings them a sense of purpose and happiness. She is the author of many books for teens including Teen Psychic, Spiritual Journaling, The Thundering Years, I Ching for Teens and Making Friends, Falling in Love, which was recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the best books for teens. Visit the author's web site at www.Julietallardjohnson.com
Watch an Interview with Julie Tallard Johnson