From Psychology Today:
Welcome to the second part of our “What to Do if You are Depressed” multi-part blog series. Part I included the following “take home” messages: (1) Depression is a state of shutdown; (2) we need to find a path of positive investment that is nourishing; (3) the process involves the three “As”: Awareness, Acceptance, and Active change.
Step 1 invited you to realize you are not alone, and it ended with a “metta mantra” of compassion for self and others. Today we consider some ways of relating to depression, with a focus on awareness and acceptance, rather than resistance and conflict.
Step 2: Turn and Look at the Beast Rather than Fight it or Run from It
Let’s face it, depression sucks. It feels miserable, it drains one’s motivation, and it orients people to want to escape and withdraw into an inner cave. Unfortunately, withdrawal into the cave has the ironic consequence of “feeding the beast.” Because of this, we need to develop a frame that orients toward the beast, at least somewhat. That is, rather than trying to hide in the cave or trying to publicly “smile” through one’s depression, the advice I offer is to look squarely at what is going on.
A metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) might help. Imagine yourself currently in a tug of war with the “beast” of depression. On one side is you, on the other is the beast, and between you two is a nasty pit. You are trying to pull the beast into the pit and be rid of him. He is trying to pull you into the pit. You are trapped in an epic struggle. What do you do? I am asking that you let go of the rope and simply look over at the beast standing there. Of course, doing so does not kill the beast. It is still there with you. But it also means you are not immediately fighting with it, trying to force it away. Remember, you are not alone: Imagine there are lots of people in lots of tug of wars with their beasts. Now imagine everyone letting go of the rope and then sharing with each other the fact that they have been engaged in a struggle.
The main point here is that we are shifting our attitude. Our step in this episode is to stop with a frontal assault that involves directly fighting, escaping, or trying to bury the beast that is depression. Rather, it is about looking at it. And, yes, in part that means living with it. This may feel scary and might well seem to be the exact opposite of what your instincts have been telling you: “After all,” you may be thinking, “I just want to be happy!”
That is understandable. But what we are starting on are the lessons of awareness and acceptance. They are not easy lessons. Finally, although you may feel alone in your cave, recall that you are not. Depression is something that, directly or indirectly, affects us all. We all need to pull together and help each other reverse the cycles of shutting down.
If you found this ACT metaphor somewhat helpful, you may also find this one useful as well, as it uses a bus-driving metaphor that attempts to capture ways in which you might frame your life in relationship to your depression and the stressful, demanding voices in your head
The message of Part II is to reframe our initial way of relating to depression. Many struggle to fight against it. This post invites you to at least consider letting go of that direct struggle for the time being and allow yourself to accept the situation and the feelings you are dealing with. A great Buddhist insight is that suffering is the combination of pain and resistance. I invite you to move from resistance to a mode of greater acceptance. The next few steps in our journey are designed to help you further understand the kind of beast you are dealing with.