Note: This is the first of a two-part series
When a plane flies cross country, it uses a navigation system that helps it stay on its flight path. If the plane deviates from the flight path, the navigation system alerts the pilot that the plane has strayed from its course. Similarly, when you get depressed, perhaps your mind—or heart or spirit—is warning you that you have veered too far off your own path and that you need to reconsider what you are doing with how you’re spending your life.
Depression can be profoundly painful, but it can also be a signal to stop and reevaluate what we are doing with our lives. It provides us with an opportunity to question our priorities, to reassess how we are spending time, to reconsider how we are behaving toward the people we care about, to challenge ourselves to be healthier, to make changes or to heal ourselves. That is the premise of Lara Honos-Webb in her book Listening to Depression (New Harbinger Publications). She says: “The pain of depression drives you to search for the deeper meaning of your life. First depression stops you in your tracks, making it difficult for you to continue with your current life. Then your depression makes you agonize about what you should do with your life. In this way, it sets you on the path of greater meaning.”
Honos-Webb offers a series of steps you can take to explore the meaning behind your depression and what it may be asking you to do:
• Write on a sheet of paper: “What is stopping me from healing my depression?” (Examples: “I’m too tired to help myself; my problems are too big; I don’t have the energy to break out of this rut; I don’t have the resources to get the right help.”)
• Now write how you might be wrong about what’s stopping you from healing your depression. (Examples: “Maybe I do have energy sometimes; maybe I could solve some of my problems; what if I did have some answers to my problems, what would they be?”
• One of the symptoms of depression is that it keeps you focused on the bad things in your life and it often prevents you from seeing the positive things. You may be depressed, but that is not all that you are. What else are you? What strengths do you have that the depression has not overshadowed?
• Complete the following sentences by listing as many answers as you can: “I am depressed, but one resource for helping me through the depression is…. One quality about myself that will help me through this depression is…. Even though I am depressed, I will not fall back on the self-destructive habit of …to cope with this depression. The family members, friends and professionals that will be most helpful in helping me cope with this depression are ….The things I can do that will help me cope with this depression are….”
• Write “The Gifts of Depression” at the top of a blank page. Give yourself a half hour to reflect and write about how your depression could be a gift; how it could be meaningful in your life. (Example: The depression may force you to let go of a job, a career or a relationship that you are unhappy with and unfulfilled in. It may slow you down, or assist you in reevaluating the direction your life is heading, or force you to deal with memories or feelings you’ve been trying to avoid.) Then write: “I don’t like this depression, but if it were serving a purpose in my life, it might be….This depression has forced me to…. If it were not for this depression, one thing in my life that would be different is…. Although I hate to admit it, one good thing about my depression is….”
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website www.heartrelationships.com.