I’ve been supporting a friend with depression these past few weeks.
I know depression well myself, having previously spent much of my teenage and young adult life suffering with prolonged bouts that could last for days, weeks, and even months. This was more than just being a little sad or down. Depression was profoundly isolating and frightening.
Like other sufferers, I likened it to living inside a bell jar : conscious of my own breath,observing what was going on outside and perhaps even able to appreciate it's joy and beauty. Yet completely unable to actually connect with life outside of my bell jar. I could only press my nose up against the glass.
Cascades of scary thoughts accompanied the feelings ( or did the thoughts stimulate the feelings? it was hard to tell) :
“ What if I will always be this way? ….What if there really is something wrong with me? …..What if I will never enjoy life again? ….What if I will never again be able to touch beauty, or feel the joy available only on the other side of the glass? ”
Or even worse, the self berating, shame inducing, thoughts:
“ I shouldn't be so depressed…. I should be grateful…. I should get over this. ….I should snap out of it….. I’m pathetic and weak……I’m a failure…. No-one will want to hear about it….. I’m not worth bothering with”
One of my clients recently described her experience of depression as follows:
“It’s like being out at sea on a small boat….with no shore in sight….and no energy to row towards the shore (even if there was a shore in sight)…and no point in arriving at the shore, because it wouldn't feel any different there than it does here anyway…..I am alone. Lost. Scared..."
Any natural longing to enjoy life again seems rendered immobile by depression, stifled and held hostage by despair. It is possible to get chronically depressed about being depressed, scared about being scared and hopeless about feeling hopeless.
It really can seem like there is no way out and no relief.
Yet the principles and practices of NVC can provide just that: a pathway to long lasting relief from depression. Specifically I’m talking about the practices of self empathy: focusing on life serving actions rather than life alienating judgements, learning to separate self from thoughts and tending to the precious needs calling for attention in the experience of depression such as love, connection, meaning and, rest.
I’ve learned to really appreciate the need for rest. In fact if you look closer at the word depressed it breaks down into two parts:
Dep- ressed = Deep Rest
I have come to understand the feelings of depression to be a signal to let myself slow down. These days I am able to say ‘hello’ to it and greet it like an old friend. I’ve learned to get a handle on the thoughts and be gentle with myself. And if I can’t do that on my own, I reach out to a friend and request some gentleness from them (I actually have a regular weekly empathy buddy - but more on that in a separate post) . I have found, these days, that the actual experience of depression is actually not so bad. It is possible, with practice to observe the feelings, to even welcome them in and to allow them to come .....and go.
As for my client : she decided to do some painting after one of our 'deep sea coaching sessions' and I am so celebrating what she came up with! Isn't it just beautiful? Since fully meeting her depression in this way ( ie. artistically, compassionately and honestly) she has shifted the inertia and stuck-ness and is heading towards a sunnier shore, where she is once again feeling engaged and fully alive in her life.
And not forgetting my friend, who inspired this post : she tells me what a simple comfort it has been to share her experiences with me: someone who is willing to be 'adrift' with her, not minding that we have nowhere to go, knowing there is nothing to fix and nothing to do. Both enjoying the stillness, the quiet and the gentle undulation of the ebb and flow of the waves in the ocean...
Enjoying a sense of deep rest, together.
If you’re suffering with depression consider contacting me for some private coaching. I take so much joy in sharing the gifts of NVC and would love to support you. You can also call LifeLine in Australia on 131114 ( 24 hours a day 7 days a week) where you will find trained empaths happy to hang out in the deep blue with you. Or reach out to a friend. You are not alone in the debilitating experience of depression, and you really don’t have to be alone while you're going through it.