Sunday, January 15, 2012

Depression Deconstructed

They say depression is anger turned inward. What an uplifting post for my first post of 2012. But it's true: anger turned inward. That definition makes my head swim as I try to really understand how anger is turned inward and how that turning results in depression.

First: anger. I don't believe in anger. Well, I do believe it exists, but I think it's a cover. A big dramatic show, hiding a much simpler truth. Anger is the prideful covering of pain. When you feel angry or encounter an angry person, you can be pretty sure something, somewhere is hurting emotionally.

I think it works like this: pain sucks. Regardless of how pain is delivered, it can be devastating and crippling. When we experience pain we have a few options:

  1. We can deny and suppress pain (which is an illusion, it will come out somehow). 
  2. We can give into pain, be very sad, feel miserable, cry all the time, become scared of what hurt us. 
  3. We can get angry about what or towards who hurt us. Sometimes we take out our anger on people and things that weren't the cause of our pain. 

This last option, getting angry, is very interesting to me. I don't think anger is good, but I think it can be good for short periods of time and in certain situations. Initially, when pain is felt, anger gives us a way out of sadness. I think that's why so many people are angry with their ex after a divorce, for example. Sure their spouse may have been a jerk, but it always hurts when we are not treated the right way by others and when things don't go as we wish they had (if you married someone, at some point you were believing it would work out). 

Staying sad is debilitating; anger is motivating. Think about in terms of war. If country A attacks country B, country B could be sad about it - Why did they attack us? What did we do to them? But sadness is certainly not helpful when you're being attacked. The aggressor doesn't care that you're sad and in your weakened sad state, you'll easily be conquered. So, what does country B do? Country B gets mad - How dare they attack us?! Who do they think they are?! And in that prideful anger, country B returns the attack. 

The same thing happens in every day life. If my long-term boyfriend breaks up with me (this is hypothetical), I will be sad. Very sad. I might want to crawl in bed and eat chocolate and never come out. However that won't be very helpful to my employment, my social life, or my hopes of eventually finding another boyfriend. So, in time, I would get angry - That jerk! He doesn't deserve me! Which would motivate me to get up, get out of bed and live my life. 

Those are ways in which anger can be beneficial.

BUT, what if, for some reason, you are unable to express your anger? What if country B couldn't fight back against country A? What if I couldn't say that my ex-boyfriend was a good-for-nothing-jerk who didn't deserve me? When pain turns to anger, it is beneficial to express the anger in healthy ways. Vent to a friend or counselor, go fun a run, punch a punching bag, go somewhere private and scream at the top of your lungs, write an angry letter that you never send, etc. 

I believe anger sometimes goes unexpressed because either:

1) it is considered unacceptable or
2) it is subconscious. 

Unacceptable Anger
This could go in lots of directions. I'm going to give one example from my own life, which actually falls into the both categories of being unacceptable and subconscious. 

When I say unacceptable I don't mean objectively unacceptable (because feelings are always acceptable), I mean unacceptable to a particular person or group of people. 

In my own life, I was angry with God. I believe it was subconscious because I didn't want to admit it to myself. I didn't want to admit it to myself because of course it was unacceptable. He's God. You have no right to be mad at Him. Plus, He's supposedly good, loving, perfect, and always has your best interests at heart.

When it is unacceptable to express the pain you're feeling (either through anger or sadness), the pain has nowhere to go. It just sits there, toxically, in your mind and heart. But like garbage in a garbage can, you can't just ignore it and hope it will go away. It must be dealt with. Undealt with pain and anger in the heart will fester and rot and become more and more painful and destructive.

Sometimes we make ourselves the source of our unexpressable pain and anger. Instead of leaving responsibility with the person who hurt or disappointed us, we say to ourselves, if only I didn't feel this way, it's my fault that I'm upset because I just don't think the right way. While it could be true that you need to learn to change your thinking patterns and think true thoughts, blaming yourself is not beneficial and is not going to solve your pain and anger problem.

Blaming yourself - the way you were created, your natural make up as a human being - can make you feel hopeless, powerless, defeated. Afterall, it's hard to escape yourself.

My plea to anyone struggling with depression is to seek the source. Find the roots of anger and pain that are fueling your depression. You most likely will need the help of a counselor or a trusted friend. Don't be afraid to be honest with yourself and with God. Honesty is your path to freedom. Tell the truth about what happened and about how it made you feel. Not necessarily to everyone, but to someone. Your feelings are real, your feelings are important, your feelings are telling you vital things about what's going on inside your heart and spirit. Listen to them, EXPRESS them (in a healthy way), and find freedom and joy.

I firmly believe that chronic depression is a form of deception. Fight it! Get angry and fight it! Do not let it steal your peace and fulfillment. Life is full of beauty and opportunity and you are perfectly loved and accepted just as you are right now.

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