“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now . . . Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
Depression happens. But not like a lightning strike. More like a weed. It starts small. Sometimes so small we cannot detect it. Like the root network for a weed that is going to take over your nice green lawn. Sometimes we see the discoloration and we think it just needs some watering. We water. We wait. Nothing happens.
Now what? We trudge on. But the brown is spreading. Things once lush and green are drying up. We keep going. We have to. People tell us to get over it. Trust Jesus. Suck it up. We would if we knew how. The worse it gets, the more isolated we feel. “Nobody understands me.” We repeat this thought, which only feeds tension and loneliness.
One day, you talk to someone. Maybe they’re qualified to say so, maybe not, but out it comes: “You might be depressed.” Sometimes it doesn’t even go that far. “Maybe you should take something.” So how do you know what to do?
In other words, how can you know that you are depressed?
Signs of Depression
Below are some signs that you might be struggling with the onset of depression. Maybe you have been struggling for far too long.
Depression symptoms to look out for:
1. You Don’t Have the Energy for People
“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.” ― Fiona Apple
Not wanting to talk to people you used to love talking to can be a sign of depression onset. Or, just not wanting to talk to anyone when you typically have no problem striking up a conversation on the fly. Where did all of the energy go? What’s wrong with me?
Sometimes this is not “the onset of depression” as much as it may be an “empty tank” from being an introvert who has simply spent a little too much time in a social setting.
2. You Keep Chewing on the Same Dark Thoughts
“Perhaps people are more adept at introspecting about things that have gone wrong in their lives. There are many ways to introspect about one’s source of distress, however, some of which are more helpful than others.” ― Timothy D. Wilson, Strangers To Ourselves
Timothy Wilson cites Susan Nolen-Hoeksma, who defines rumination as “thinking about one’s feelings and their causes repetitively, without taking action to improve one’s situation.” That is the catch, right? Sometimes we ruminate without even knowing we are doing it. Sometimes we know we are doing it but can’t seem to summon the power to do anything differently.
Rumination without the ‘m’ becomes ruination. What is the ‘m’? Maybe it means meditation, mediation, mindfulness. All three help. Rumination is the (seemingly) endless repetition of a negative thought pattern. Somehow, though, being aware of the negative thoughts is better than not being aware.
Why? In my experience as a practitioner, when we are aware, we actually have some degree of control. It’s easy for a Christian to say “God is in control!” without touching the very real pain of helplessness felt by someone beginning to fall prey to a depressive state. Part of the pain of the depressed state, for many, is knowing that God is in control in the head, but not feeling it in the heart: still assenting to this truth, but not knowing how to act on it, live out of it.
Being “stuck” in this manner can lead to a feeling not only of sadness, or helplessness, but also shame. We start thinking that we know better, therefore we should be doing better than this. Like, “What happened to the Gospel?” Sometimes other people say things like this: “Be not anxious!” “Trust Jesus!” Is it true? Yes. Does it help? Not really.
So what does help? Usually it’s patience, which just so happens to be the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:23. But it is not always easy to be patient. True. Nor is it easy to just “snap out of it” when feeling sad, helpless, or depressed.
“Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” ― Stephen Fry
3. You Think in Absolutes
“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Much of my work as a therapist, and before therapy, as a Christian conflict resolution coach, happens here. A couple calls me. They are having issues with communication. They sit before me (if they can sit together in the same room). Sometimes I need to split them up and work individually. This helps free tensions, and allows me to focus on the individual before me.
I have a few “mini-speeches.” One of them is my we-are-here-to-work-on-you mini-speech, in which I tend to cite Matthew 7:1-5 and Psalm 139. These two passages have a certain focus in common: asking God to show me what I am bringing to the table. In other words, asking, in prayer, “Show me. What am I bringing to this conflict to help make it what it is?” Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” there is bound to be something, whether it’s what we have done or what we have left undone.
Almost always, when a person has a hard time focusing on themselves rather than the other person, I’ve found that it is because they can’t find a good reason to do so. Why focus on me, when I am the victim? Why focus on me, when, sure, I’ve said some unkind things, but I wouldn’t have if they hadn’t started it. Etc.
Here we see absolute thinking at work. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists call this a “cognitive distortion.” I like the picture. Remember antenna TV’s? Or satellite when the signal was pure? All that static (antenna) or glitches (digital)? Everything gets garbled and blocky. That’s kind of what happens when we look at the world in absolutes.
Am I saying there are no absolutes? Nope. But I think we tend to impose absolutes where there are none, and quite often. Why do we do this? It’s easier, I guess, to think in big broad categories. For one, there is less to think about if I am only thinking in terms of good and bad. And usually this shows up as “I am right, you are wrong.”
Interestingly, often the reverse of this scenario is taking place in a depressive mode. An example would be “everyone else seems to have it together, but I do not. I cannot. Something is wrong with me.”
Going back to the Eleanor Roosevelt quote above, something is wrong with everyone. It’s called being human. But an unchecked cognitive distortion like this, especially one that is also being overprocessed through rumination (see above), can be a formidable foe to overcome.
4. You Feel Like No One Sees You
“Some friends don’t understand this. They don’t understand how desperate I am to have someone say, ‘I love you and I support you just the way you are because you’re wonderful just the way you are.’ They don’t understand that I can’t remember anyone ever saying that to me . . . I am so demanding and difficult for my friends because I want to crumble and fall apart before them so that they will love me even though I am no fun, lying in bed, crying all the time, not moving. Depression is all about ‘If you loved me, you would.’” – Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
“No one sees me.” Depending on how impactful your reading of the previous indicator was, you may recognize that this is an absolute thought — a cognitive distortion. Is it true that “no one” sees you? That there is not a single person on the planet that recognizes any aspect of you as a person? Is it true all of the time, with no exceptions? Will it always be true?
It may certainly seem so. But what does it mean to “feel like no one sees me?” Those who are really paying attention may notice that “no one sees me” is not a feeling at all. It’s a perception, or at least, a thought. So what does it feel like that “no one sees me”? It feels like depression. Here we are again, caught in the loop of rumination. “No one sees me” is a great candidate for repeated chewing, leading to increasing darkness.
Wurtzel, in the quote above, says “Depression is all about ‘If you loved me, you would.’” Would what? See you. Hear you. Understand what to say to make you feel better. Understand what not to say as well, right?
I often tell my clients that some of the best counseling in the Bible happens in the first few chapters of Job. Job suffers massive and heartbreaking hardship. His friends show up, and are stunned at his appearance. They barely recognize him. Job is sitting there, literally in dust and ashes. And his friends sit with him, and say nothing, for seven days.
And then they open their mouths. And things get worse. They accuse Job of all manner of behaviors, and essentially tell Job he brought all of this on himself through his actions. Not helpful. At the very least, bad timing. “Miserable comforters all,” cries Job.
“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?
Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
So what’s next? This may seem like the obvious thing for a practicing counselor to say, but, seriously — maybe you should talk to someone. Maybe you’ve tried, and it hasn’t worked. That’s hard. Sometimes the pain of loneliness is made worse by those who should know better, but just aren’t helpful, like Job’s friends, above. I’m sure they mean well. But sometimes meaning well just doesn’t cut it.
When I work with a client who is experiencing one or a combination of the depression symptoms listed here, I listen intently. I withhold judgment. I wait before drawing quick conclusions — which is the opposite of the absolute thinking and cognitive distortions discussed above.
I build trust, I say what I am hearing you say back to you, then ask, “Is that right? Am I missing anything?” If you are crying, I sit with you, and let you know it is okay to cry, that crying is a healthy form of release and healing when we entered into with the intent to explore, learn, release, and heal.
I would love to sit with you and see if we can’t work together to help you get free. If not me, find someone who is trustworthy, a professional secret-keeper, trained, caring, and humble enough to sit with you as you heal.
If you are experiencing anything like what has been described here, there is hope. I’ve seen too many lives transformed not to say so.
“Foggy Forest,” courtesy of Lukas Neasi, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Concert Crowd,” courtesy of Sidorova Alice, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Spiral,” courtesy of Len dela Cruz, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends Together,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, unsplash.com, CC0 License<>div>
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