Life Isn’t Always a Bowl of Cherries
For as much as there has been an increasing public acknowledgement around the widespread reality of depression and emotional suffering for many people in our country, it nevertheless continues to be a hard topic to speak honestly about. Recognizing the reality of this kind of personal pain, whether in ourselves, our loved ones, or the people we come across on a daily basis can be very vulnerable.
In American culture, recognizing the truth of depression can be deeply unsettling. In so many ways the experience of depression runs contrary to the characteristics and personality attributes we ascribe to an idealized image we hold up for ourselves. If we hold up our expression of our best self to be highly productive, confident, energetic, optimistic, and propelled by meaning and purpose, and yet in a state of depression find ourselves to be feeling exhausted, empty, numb, disappointed, and plagued by feelings of worthlessness, that experience of such a deep contrast, such a conflicting sense of who we think we need to be against how we’re actually feeling can further propel and catalyze a deep descent into personal darkness.
It is widely understood that many cases of depression in the United States go unreported and untreated. The expression and symptoms of depression can vary depending on the person. While one person might feel an overwhelming sense of personal shame and worthlessness, others might experience their depression as grief, intense sadness, and crying jags. Another might feel primarily numb, like they are encased in a fog, and can’t experience pleasure or enjoyment in the things that typically light them up. A heightened period of transition, stress, or loss may initiate a first time depressive episode for someone. Other individuals experience the comings and goings of depressive symptoms over the course of their entire life. Developmental trauma, early loss, and painful life experiences can sometimes set up the conditions for this.
Having worked one-on-one with individuals in various capacities for the past 15 years, I’ve come to view depression as a very common human experience. Part of what makes it so difficult to acknowledge to ourselves and to the people around us is that the depression leaves us feeling isolated and alone in our experience.
Although it can feel very vulnerable, reaching out for compassionate, nonjudgmental support is vital. Even if it is just one person. Understandably it can be difficult to share an experience of depression with even close loved ones and friends. As we are all fumbling and imperfect human beings, sometimes the people in our life intend well but don’t always know how best to be of help or to offer support. It can be really worthwhile to take the courageous step and reach out to a therapist, coach, mentor, doctor, or spiritual friend who can offer listening, solace, support, and help in navigating what can be such a painfully lonely experience.
There is a roll for gentle bodywork such as acupuncture and reflexology to play in the treatment and healing of depression. It’s very much been my experience that individuals moving through a depressive episode greatly benefit from consistent treatments. Slowly but surely they start to sleep better, their mood is improved, their appetite starts to normalize, and their energy levels become better regulated. Anecdotally, therapists who work with individuals dealing with depression tell me that they believe that when their clients are receiving acupuncture in conjunction with therapeutic support, the outcomes are more optimal for the patient. Importantly, it isn’t necessary for an acupuncturist to know the details or the particulars of a patient’s story in order to be of support.
Compassion and gentleness are medicinal balms for emotional pain, and the irony is that the experience of depression can make seeking out this kind relief so difficult, for we feel we aren’t deserving. So often when people are suffering, they further pathologize and come down on themselves for feeling that they are weak, abnormal, or somehow inherently deficient and broken. But that’s not true and it never has been. What is true is that they are a whole and complete, tender-hearted human being who just momentarily lost touch with their own unique human beauty.