Depression is, at its core, a condition of separation. Its cure is connection. A depressed person is at war with herself and thus retreats from everyone else.
This is a part of the physical nature of the disease. A depressed brain has become incapable of sending proper signals often due to biological or environmental stressors. Perhaps caused by a chemical imbalance or even a change in hormones, depression can happen to someone with a seemingly idyllic life. Or, if someone’s life has been extremely stressful, the brain can deplete the reserves of transmitters necessary for dealing with stress. Either way, a depressed person is only processing a portion of what is truly before them.
When you make a mistake there is no encouraging signal to allow you to process what you did right or even what you could do better next time. You get stuck, so fixated on a minor failure that it becomes a catastrophic collapse. An unkind voice becomes the only one you hear. No other voice or thought is able to get through.
This can be hard for a depressed person to understand or accept because our brains, our thoughts, are so intricately linked with our perceptions of ourselves. We think we are in control. If there is a failure, it’s my fault. If I can’t fix it, it’s my fault. I’m weak. I’m broken.
When my therapist began to prescribe a medication, I did not want to take it. I thought that if I, Christen, was not strong enough to be happy, and I needed to be Drugged-Christen to be happy, then the drug just confirmed that I was defective. He described some of the signaling of the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin, and said that in my case my brain was using these signals faster than it could make them because of my current circumstances. The medication would support my brain in making these necessary transmitters.
He also pointed out that my body was working hard to support me through some intensely difficult things. My body was strong, pushing through and doing everything I asked of it. It was time for me to support my body.
When depressed, we develop habits, physical and spiritual, that numb the pain. Unfortunately, numbing is not the same as restoring and these habits often leave us worse off than we were before. Separating ourselves from what we’re feeling and thinking also leads to separation from others and the depression deepens.
As a teenager, I obsessively watched classic movies and did puzzles, solitary activities I always did alone. In Michigan, I obsessively read cheap kindle books. I joked that I was a book-aholic, until my daughter wanted to play with me, and when I put her off she quietly answered, “I don’t like book-aholics.” That’s when I realized avoiding my problems was making them worse.
I wasn’t listening to my body when it said I was tired and needed sleep, because I was too busy trying to numb my spirit and stop the negative thoughts. I was too exhausted to think and thus also unable to hear my spirit ask for those things that would bring true relief.
There is a unique doctrine in the restored gospel that the soul is the body and spirit of man (D&C 88:15) and the two inseparably connected bring a fulness of joy (D&C93:33). I find a lot of power in this unity.
The body is not evil and weak—a thing to control or suffer through until your final freedom. Your body is a part of your eternal identity. The experiences it brings you will teach you things that are impossible to learn in any other way. To care for and listen to your body will strengthen your spirit and increase your capacity for joy.
On the other hand, your body is not the only determining factor of your identity. Your biology does not dictate your life. When left to itself, the body has no view beyond the present. It easily falls to appetites that cannot be satiated and the resulting constant pursuit leads to destruction.
Together, spirit and body united, you can find joy and truth. Either one in dominance at the expense of the other is living only half a life. Both bring awareness and connection to the world around you.
I tried to stop reading so much and realized I first needed to reconnect with myself—to listen again to what I was feeling. When was I tired? What made me feel rested? When was I hungry? What made me happy?
One thing I love about my daughter was that she never said she wanted a cleaner room, or better food, or a prettier mom. She just said she wanted me. When I stopped avoiding the thoughts running through my mind and instead focused on actually being with my daughter, I was better able to tell fact from fiction.
Slowing down to fully feel and connect physically and spiritually was the first form of unity that helped me wake up and truly see myself.