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Dark Moods- Understanding Depression

Depression is a broad and complex area to navigate and it can be stubborn to treatment. This article gives loads of tips and advice for managing these dark periods, while taking you through the nature and causes of depression for greater understanding. Whether you struggle yourself, or care for someone who does, I hope that there’s insight in this to help guide your way. Feel free to skip over what doesn’t serve you

How to! Self Care- Hot baths and candles; a spontaneous trip to the bush after too much whiskey with an unhinged stranger; burning down your house with all your problems in it- No? Then what? When is self care about instant gratification and when is it more substantial?

Recognise what you need in order to function optimally. When you look at it from this perspective, it’s easy to see when instant gratification is just instant gratification and not real self care. Sometimes it means taking a break, having boundaries, asking for support or buying a frivolous new outfit. It can be almost anything and no one else can identify your needs, or decide how to meet them, for you. Self care is your own responsibility

Prioritise yourself so that you can better prioritise all of your other responsibilities. Self care is about working from a place of strength. It’s especially strong against issues like depression because it gives you this strength and, valuing yourself also helps with issues like self esteem, which is important

What is Depression?

Depression isn’t necessarily the normal feelings of sadness which come and go for everyone. It’s usually more an ongoing state, covering all emotions as they come and go. The most obvious characteristic of this condition is probably its dull apathy- it subdues the vitality animating each part of a person’s functioning. Depression often has very physical symptoms , like intense fatigue or chronic pain

I usually think that I’ve let myself get too anaemic, or have over-exercised, the first few weeks of an episode. I think that I’m fighting off that awful flu that’s going around. I wonder what I’m eating, or not eating, that is making my brain so foggy. My body feels heavy and tired, my mind sluggish, and my moods eventually pool into a general kind of numb-downed disassociation

It’s easy to understand why basic things, like eating, aren’t always a thing in this state. There’s no notice of hunger, or thought to food, in this disconnected confusion. For others, eating can flip into a desperate obsession to fight off the malaise. Numb fatigue for some, is mourning and despair for others, or even outbursts and mood swings, in many cases. Depression can present and trigger in many ways

Quick Tip! Activity List-This exercise is for those who are struggling to focus or get things done. Set 2 or 3 manageable tasks for yourself each day. The idea is to take pressure off, not to add to it. Depression can be quite overwhelming. It is already difficult to do anything with this condition but mounting stressors from neglected chores and failing performance can make it impossible to do anything at all

If you only hone in on 2 or 3 tasks and then shut out the rest of the noise, it becomes easier to focus, to execute and to feel good about what you achieve each day. Holding yourself to too many expectations only kills your drive and self confidence further

Be realistic about what is manageable for you. Perhaps brushing your teeth and doing a load of laundry is a great start. Maybe solving that stubborn supply chain issue at work and reworking your household budget is your day 1. The trick is to work out what is most essential for each day, within your coping range. You will get stronger and build your resilience as you go

Overview on the Causes of Depression

Depression can be triggered by traumatic life events, personal loss or from feeling repeatedly helpless in important situations. Depression is associated with certain personality characteristics; however it is known that many who develop this disorder do not have those personality types beforehand. A forced lowering of expectations and self-inflicted punishment are sometimes associated with these triggers

Some ideas assert that depression is about assuming control. Often self blame & depression follow events that were outside of our control. Framing these as the result of our personal failings gives us the illusion of agency. The idea is that even a sense of control which is rooted in self loathing, is easier to accept than being a helpless bystander, or than blaming someone you admire for mistreating you. A child taking on the blame for their parent’s neglect is a typical example of this idea

Another control theory is that depression offers a sense of control through ‘giving up’ and ‘deciding not to act’. Inaction gives us the most certain way of choosing a guaranteed outcome- Like being too scared to try something. Depression is linked to a lower sense of personal control over one’s life; and with personality types possessing a stronger desire to be in control

There are theories for chemical, hormonal and genetic underpinnings too. Chemical imbalance conjecture is mainly the result of the successes had with experimental medications. Medications which quickly became known as anti-depressants. The hypotheses around serotonin, dopamine etc. came from the ‘cure’, not the other way around. Not much is known yet about the role our neurotransmitters play in depression but medication is a major help for many who struggle with this condition

Hormones such as thyroid, cortisol & estrogen have been found to have causal links to depression, particularly for women; while replicable studies suggest that genetics play a significant role. Recent genome studies have even begun identifying genes associated with the disorder

It could be repression- a denial of pain, caused externally, turned inward onto ourselves (It can’t be them/that- it must be me). This is similar to the ‘assumed control’ narratives. It also fits in with the thinking on loss, conditioning, self-inflicted punishment and expectations (many of these ideas are combined in a number of larger theories and there are plenty more, beside, not even mentioned here). Repression strikes a chord for me though. It’s like a grief, perpetually kept, to avoid accepting a loss of some kind. This could be carrying the weight of an undeserved guilt to avoid knowing your outrage for someone who means a lot to you, for instance