Depression can be a black hole. Once you’ve slipped into it’s grips it can feel impossible to find your way back. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever regain a healthy mentality about life and about yourself again. But where did it all begin? How did we fall so far? And how can we retrace our steps back to the light when all seems completely lost?
I want to use this time to help take apart the pieces of a mind gripped by depression so we can look at how each part is working together and perpetuating its cycle of thinking.
We’re going to analyze where depression tends to slip in, how it’s altering your mindset and has made your thoughts it’s home through these 5 stages. I’m also going to help give a few common, real-life examples to tie it all into reality. Ready?
Stage 1: Loss & Deprivation
The onset of depression is most commonly associated with the fact that there has just been some form of loss in your life. And loss looks like many different things; but it starts with valuing something as meaningful and essential to your life. When you lose that “life-essential”, life becomes hopeless for you.
Anything that is experienced as a loss of self can trigger a depressive episode. Such as:
- Losing a mate or spouse through a split who you’ve attributed to your personal fulfillment and potential for a happy, sustaining future.
- The loss of being let go of from a job who’s income has been attributed as essential to sustaining your life but also has been tied to your competence as a worker.
- Losing a close community like family or friends who have been attributed to your sense of belonging and support.
- A physical disability which has created a loss for you from living out normal day to day functions. Good health is strongly attributed to the confidence of being able to act independently in your own abilities. When your own body fails you, it’s easy to ruminate on your own failure as a human being, parent or spouse.
- Or even a “gap loss”, which is when there is a constant gap between where you are and where you want to be or what you expect versus what you receive from your life.
Think about it: What people or things have you attributed as meaningful and essential to your life that has recently been lost?
Shift Gears: Feeling down from a sense of loss is perfectly human and natural. However, in order to prevent an on-slaught of full on depression the best way to combat this stage is adaptation. Yes, it sucks that this loss is happening. But it doesn’t have to define you or your life. Start adapting by: accepting the reality, thinking of new ways to make your situation work for you, looking into alternative resources to help recover from this loss and getting into the mindset that you can move forward with your life.
Stage 2: Generalization (Absolute thinking)
This is the stage where our mind officially plunges into a depressive mentality. After experiencing the loss we begin to think in absolutes and extremes over the whole of our situation.
- I’m going to end up alone. All of my relationships fail.
- I’m never going to get ahead in my career. I always end up stuck here.
- I have nobody. I can’t find community like the one that use to do life with me.
- I can’t do anything. My life is useless as long as I’m dealing with this disability.
- Every time I try to reach my goal I always get set back. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the place I want to be.
The problem with generalizations is that they become a belief system. And once that happens you begin to view your entire life through these absolutes. It is a one-way ticket to coming to a place of perpetual hopelessness for your life. We have a tendency to project the present into the future. But even our worst trials have an expiration date and seasons do change. We are either learning how to make the most of our situation or we have interpreted this as a means to an end. The reason why some are more resilient to their losses than others, is not because they never experience the same loss, but because of the mentality they chose to take on about it.
Think about it: What extremes have worked their way into your belief about your life? Write them down. Address them and talk through these with a trusted person of counsel.
Stage 3: Disconnection
After giving into these absolute beliefs, it’s usual for someone to disconnect from their usual reality. They’re no longer in tune with the happy, hopeful and productive reality that those around them may be experiencing. In fact, being around this may lead a person to see just how distanced they feel from everything and lead to even more withdrawal.
Contrarily, connection is key to breaking out the self-inflicted isolation that keeps us bound. But successful connection should be felt as genuine and able to enter the world of the depressed through support and empathy- not judgment or pity.
Think about it: Who would I feel safe talking to about what I’m feeling?
Stage 4: Shame
Shame and self-criticism begin to take over when we start questioning what the situation says about us. We see this as a defect in our self and it takes root into our self-image. “Something is wrong with us and will consistently be wrong with us”. We make ourselves the target of blame.
- The relationship failed because I’m not worth being committed to, or I’m unlovable. If I were more like this or looked like this, it wouldn’t have happened.
- I must not be qualified in my career.
- It’s going to be hard for me to make friends and find community again because no one wants to connect with me.
- I hate my body. It’s ruining everything for me.
- I fail at everything I try. I don’t know why I’m going for these goals when I don’t even know if I’m capable of it.
Think about it: What have you begun to believe and internalize about yourself as a result of your situation? Write them down. Address them and talk to through these with a trusted person of counsel.
Stage 5: Affirmation
The last stage is really at work in every stage. But affirmation re-launches the cycle when we begin to evaluate life from our depressive thinking and use every event and encounter to confirm these beliefs.
- He didn’t return my call. I’m not worth loving and committing to.
- I got turned down after another interview. No one wants me in my career.
- I tried to go to this gathering, and barely one person spoke to me. I’ll never regain friends or community.
- I got really sick again. I’ll never be able to do anything with my life.
- Another setback. I’m never going to get my life together the way I envisioned it.
Think about it: Am I adding to my pessimism by indirectly looking for ways to confirm how I feel? Beware of confirmation bias. This is when we begin to interpret life to affirm what we believe even if it’s a belief that’s bad for us.
Now these stages don’t necessarily take place in this exact order, but they tend to include these 5 aspects.
So how? How do we get out of this brutal cycle? The common reality is that this is not an overnight process and it’s not always natural to break down your thinking like this when you’re actually in it.
When battling depression you are in a drowning state. Your thoughts are in a downward cycle struggling to grasp back onto the upside of life again. You need an anchor.
Think about it. What is an anchor? An anchor is a “person or thing that provides strength and support”. When the monsoon of depression is taking you under, your anchor keeps you above the water and helps pull you out when you can’t pull yourself out. All your problems might not be solved instantly and at first you might feel every resistance to engage with anyone at all; but if you’re going to decide to no longer live your life in bondage, your first step to freedom is finding your anchor.
You don’t have to “fix” this alone. Many times in depression you can’t. So let me throw out three anchors to you. I suggest you grab all three.
- A counselor or therapist- they might not be able to give you a job or bring your man back or remove your illness, but they can help you work through the mental bondage that is keeping you and help get you on the track of a renewed state of mind to healthy and functional living again. In fact, 80-90% of those who get treatment will begin to recover with signs of relief.
- A trusted friend or support group- being able to express what you’re facing, receiving prayer, listening to the stories of others similar to yours, making connection with others will bring relief to the burden that has been tormenting you inside. You don’t have to endure alone. Freedom can begin when we grab another hand to help us out. The Faith and Mental Wellness Community is an online support group for Christian Mental Health that I started in 2016.
- Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. (And not in this order). Hard times will be there, but so will Christ. Every time. He will be there when no one else is. And I know even the spiritual distance that can breed when you feel like God has left you in your mess alone. Or that he’d never use or deal with you in the state that you’re in. But the only one that’s turned away or given up, is us. Even depression is no surprise to God and still His plan for you is greater than what you feel about yourself. This article is for you When You Feel Like God Isn’t There For You.
My prayer is that you will grab onto these anchors to begin a path a freedom for your life and break the cycle. For more information on depression and helpful resources check out this article I wrote on Serious Signs of Depression and How You Can Help.
Don’t forget to drop a comment below if this was helpful for you or you’d also like to share a resource for future readers. Always remember, you are so loved.
Resource: Online Counseling & Therapy
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