Yes, depression feels bad. But below that is an important message you need to hear.
When you feel depressed, all you want to do is get rid of the heavy feelings. You want to feel energetic and hopeful again. Of course, you do! Wanting that is entirely natural. But "symptom relief" alone does not always lead to renewed excitement and authentic happiness.
As a culture, we're fixated on getting rid of depression and discomfort via simplified answers—take a pill, change your diet, eat more protein (or less protein), socialize more, exercise. Those steps are good and important things to try, but they only help get rid of bad feelings temporarily.
What if your depressive symptoms are a message from your inner self to your everyday self? What if that heavy unhappiness is telling you that something in your life actually needs facing (and maybe even changing)?
Maybe your depression is a hard shell covering delicate inner yearnings that want to come alive. Depression is the hated messenger, but the message is to lean in and discover what's truly going on before shooing away your unhappiness. Here's how to do exactly that:
1. Be quiet and LISTEN to your inner depression messenger
Here are the kinds of things people hear their inner voice say when they finally listen:
- "Look, can't you just admit that you're afraid? You act so strong, but in here I'm frozen with fear. And you want me to help you accomplish things?"
- "Are you aware of how negative your self-talk is? If I hear you say you're not good enough one more time, I'm going to feel even worse. You're not hearing your own thoughts, but I'M affected."
- "Make all the excuses you want for why you don't feel good, but when are you going to face how bad this marriage is?"
Hearing the message of depressive symptoms isn't fun. And learning to translate the language of your own body and feelings is hard, but achieving authentic happiness is a big reward.
Understand that hearing what's deep inside is like interpreting a new language. How would you begin to learn Chinese?
Say you hate languages but a big raise and an exciting new position are on the table if you learn. One way is to spend time daily listening to Chinese and writing down what you understand. Experts agree, this kind of immersion and translation really works.
How about trying the same thing with listening to your inner self, the voice beneath your depression? Make time for it daily.
2. Listen to your body's language
Our bodies communicate our emotional language. Is your chest tight? Do your shoulders ache? What are these body cues saying? If you stuff yourself with food, what are the initial physical sensations that lead you to that behavior?
Begin listening to your body and what it tells you about your core beliefs about yourself. When your mind automatically repeats, "I've failed again." ... how does your body feel? Your mind says this easily, but the impact on your body is hard. Letting that pattern continue, how can you possibly expect to feel good?
Remember, you're not trying to solve your problems here. You're just trying to learn your inner language. So, notice what your body tells you and write it down (as best as you can).
3. Find a teacher
Many people say, "I'm afraid if I listen in and let myself cry, I'll never stop." That's a strong feeling and may mean that you need help and support.
Which makes sense—few people learn a new language without assistance of some kind. Often, we need the same support in learning to understand the language of our inner voice and body. Truly, you may never do anything harder. So, on your journey, consider asking for help—from a deeply trusted friend or a professional.
4. Be patient as you learn
Even with help from others, there's a lot of alone work. You still must commit to spending time with yourself every day. Practice noticing what you're feeling. What is your body telling you? What are the automatic thoughts that keep coming up?
No judgments here, just learning the language. The language of your body; the language of your emotions; the language of your inner self.
It won't be easy. I guarantee that, even with the best intentions, some days you'll default back to just pushing your discomfort away, thinking: "To hell with learning this inner language. I hate what I feel!" That's okay. Really! But then try again tomorrow.
Even the best language students get sick of trying and question whether they really want that new job or more money badly enough.
5. The reward is 100% worth the effort.
But then, the ones who DO really want what's being offered come back to the learning process. My hope is that you'll decide you're worth it. My hope is that you want to know what your depression is earnestly trying to tell you.
Of course, it makes sense to alleviate discomfort. But it also make senses to try for deeper, more lasting comfort and happiness by not just quelling symptoms.