The American Psychiatric Association is convinced that depression, particularly major depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Therefore, they treat it with medication. Taking a pill for depression is the easy way and many people prefer the easy way.
The problem with the easy way is that it is not the most thorough way and it doesn’t lead to the cure of depression, but rather to the artificial management of depression.
Many mental health workers differ with the American Psychiatric Association’s explanation of depression. Martin Seligman, a cognitive-behavioral psychologist, thinks that depression is due to learned helplessness. If a child is taught to feel helpless in the face of life’s vicissitudes, then he will feel helpless as an adult. If he feels helpless he will feel depressed. Psychoanalysts theorize that depression can be brought on by many circumstances in childhood, such as the loss of a loved one (mother) without being able to properly grieve the loss. Behavioral therapists such as B. F. Skinner theorize that depression may be something that is conditioned by a person undergoing too much punishment.
The hard way to beat depression is to unravel the knots that are tying you down. The knots got formed by circumstances in your life, particularly your early life, that knock you off balance. If you are repeatedly knocked off balance and can never find your center, you stay off balance. Being stuck in an unbalanced attitude may lead to depression. To get unstuck and balanced and contented may be a long and hard process. Understanding it is also a long, hard process and being prepared to stick it out is the first step in the process.
You have developed your own way of dealing with depression. Sometimes you way is to constantly complain. Sometimes your way is to yell at other people and take it out of them. Sometimes it is to overeat. Sometimes it is to drink or take drugs. Sometimes it is to internalize and hold it all in so as not to bother anybody. Sometimes it is to make a lot of money so you can boss people around. Sometimes it is to engage in nonstop worrying or berating of yourself or counting your regrets. The second step in the process is to stop the destructive way you are handling your depression.
When you first stop complaining, it will feel as if you have given up yourself and have no self left. When you stop yelling at other people you will at first feel more depressed. When you stop overeating or drinking or taking drugs, you will feel empty. When you stop internalizing and begin to assert your boundaries you’ll feel as if you are being mean. When you stop worrying you’ll think you’ve lost your edge. Whatever it is you do to handle your depression, if you stop doing it you won’t feel right. You’ll say, “This is rotten,” and want to go right back to your destructive behavior.
It will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done: resisting not going back. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done to fight the rationalizations you use to justify the destructive way you handle depression. Rationalization: “I need to drink because my job calls for me to socialize with people.” Rationalization: “I need to yell at my kids because they need discipline.” Rationalization: “I need to worry about things because if I don’t who will?” Rationalization: “If I stand up to people they will resent me and knock me down even harder.”
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “One day at a time.” Stop the destructive behavior one day at a time. Each day is a victory over the part of you that is not really a part of you but is actually an alien superimposed on you by bad circumstances—a set of habits and attitudes that were formed by external factors and are not really who you are. Each day you are leaving the demons behind and becoming your true self. In the beginning you will feel worse than you did when you distracted yourself or numbed yourself or built your ego on the backs of others. You will feel worse than you did when you were in the midst of a depression and lay around all day moping about regrets. At least when you were withdrawn and moping you could escape from the nicks and ticks of life.
For a long time you will feel terrible and will become convinced that without your overeating, alcohol, drugs, worrying, displacing of anger, internalizing of anger, persona of niceness, myth of righteousness, or withdrawal from the world, you are even more lost than before. You will become convinced that going it sober, living the truth, looking yourself in the eyes and knowing the bad and the good and accepting both, knowing all this will get you nowhere. “Oh, please!” you’ll say. “I want to go back on the booze.”
That is when you’ll have to start to develop your rational ego. If you’ve come from a dysfunctional family, you will have a faulty ego. Your ego will be weak and unable to handle the realities of existence. You rational ego is a voice that will guide you toward reality. If you want to eat a whole box of chocolate your rational ego will tell you, “No, don’t eat the whole box, it will be unhealthy for you in so many ways. Just eat one piece.” Your rational ego lives according to the reality principle. This ego is to be distinguished from the irrational ego (which is actually the id in the guise of the ego).
If somebody rejects you and you want to do something crazy to them like sock them in the nose or puncture the tires of their car, your rational ego will step forth and say, “No, don’t do it! It will make you feel better for a while but eventually it will make things worse. Only through the strength of accepting what is and allowing time to heal your wounds will you feel better and truly strong.”
When you are depressed life can be daunting. Every time you turn a corner you may encounter something that will disappoint you, hurt you, betray you or push you way down. Every corner will make you want to run for the cover that appeared to hold you together, but actually entrapped you in your depression. Finding your balance again will take a long time. There is no easy way. You must slowly build the mental muscles that it takes to handle the various situations that will come up.
It may be hard to do it alone. That is why we have psychotherapists. They are assistants whose job it is to help you turn things around. You are the boss of your therapy. They are just your hired hands, to pick you up when you fall and ask you the right questions to help you figure out things for yourself. Using a therapist while you straighten your life out is like using a brace for a few years while your teeth straighten out. As the days pass, it seems like nothing’s happening with your teeth. As the days pass, it seems like nothing’s improving with your life.
Then one day all of a sudden you notice it. You’ve changed. Your life is no longer crooked. You know what to do. You know who you are. You know how to get out of a funk.
“Hey, look at me!” you say. “I’m content. What the hell. I’m content.”