I know so many depressed people, and yet it is considered courageous and unusual for people to open up about their own depression. The problem with that attitude is that opening up to others (namely to those in your communities) is exactly the correct way to find support to lift yourself out of depression.
For most of my life (I’m turning 38 this month), I have found myself battling depression on and off. I’d say that although the past six years have been the most challenging of my life, I have managed to keep afloat, actually thriving and maintaining genuine happiness for most of that time. This time frame also coincided with a period of opening up for me: I learned how to sing and cut loose as a performer in a way I had never allowed myself to before, and I am certain that being open has let me maintain my happiness more successfully than ever before.
In recent months I’ve found myself sinking to the familiar depths again for the first time in years, and I have begun to understand depression in a new way, and I also have begun to realize that fighting depression alone is nearly impossible.
At this point, I would conclude that depression is sadness compounded with shame. Sadness is a natural human emotion, brought on by pain, loss, empathy with others, etc. Life is bound to be hard at times, and it’s a normal response to feel sad in these times. My life since 2011 has been wrought with difficult situations: my father died of lung cancer, my mother began to suffer from dementia, I have seen the dissolution of two meaningful romantic partnerships, I got bed bugs, etc. I have had plenty of reason to be sad, and I have let myself feel those feelings.
Opening up about my sadness in recent years is what has allowed me to successfully keep the sadness from becoming unbearably heavy. Learning to sing, writing songs about my experiences, and performing those songs for my peers and communities has helped me publicly address my issues, and as a result I have felt supported and loved by those I have opened up to. The catharsis that people describe that comes with an emotional performance is a powerful release, but there is also a return of energy from those attending the performance in the form of loving attention. It is this attention that we use to sustain one another emotionally and spiritually. When you know others know about your issues, and that they care, it may not relieve you from the actual original issue, but it at least mitigates the secondary issue that comes about when you keep your sadness hidden — that’s when the depression starts.
Shame is the secret ingredient that lets sadness remain shrouded in darkness, and it festers when hidden in this way. When you feel shame about your reasons for being sad, you will tend to hide your sadness and disconnect from others. This is where the spiral of depression begins: your shame about your sadness (or about other reasons related to your sadness) prevents you from fully opening up about your reasons for being sad. The tricky thing about shame is that it takes many forms, and is difficult to identify if you’re not vigilant in being aware of your own patterns.
I can recall getting in fights with my older brother when I was younger, and if we had a serious fight it would almost always result in a bout of depression for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would internalize the sadness I felt about our fight, and I would keep this sadness to myself since I felt shame about the fact that I was fighting with my brother. It took years before I realized that I needed to open up to him about those feelings to try to prevent my sadness from developing into a full blown depression.
My attempts to write on this blog and to communicate with a broad audience are in line with the notion that publicly addressing my sadness is a good step in preventing it from coalescing into a deep depression. I recognize that my last romantic partnership was with someone who I now see is reluctant to open up about her shame, and that difference between us ultimately led to us growing apart. The commitment to opening up to others can be frightening if you feel like you might have something to lose, however I’ve found that if you can relate your story with compassion to yourself, others will generally respond with compassion as well. If you open up about your sadness and convey only the shame you feel about it, then you will likely inform others that you have good reason to feel shame about your condition, and they will possibly resent you for your sad state.
Through my expressions I realize that my purpose is to encourage others to be open with one another, and to be compassionate to yourself and to others in what you discover in the process of opening. This is a theme that I will continue to address in future writings.