Sally comes to see me at my office and tells me her depression is so bad she has a difficult time getting off the couch. (“Sally” is a fictionalized, composite character representing many clients I have seen.)
“It’s like I’m glued to the sofa,” she says to me. “I know I should get up and do things, but it is so difficult. Instead, I just sit there for hours, sometimes doing nothing, sometimes just watching stupid shows.” I nod and listen and reflect in my own mind how the “couch vortex” has taken over Sally’s life.
When someone is in a depression, it is like a force stronger than they are compels them to be stuck. This vortex is a negative energy that fights against any positive energy making it very difficult for the depressed person to move forward.
When a person is depressed they hear from others around them that they should just pull out of it, get up, do something, damn it! What the non-depressed person has difficulty understanding is that the depressed person is fighting a force.
I have heard depression, or the couch vortex, called a black hole, a grey place, a dark energy. As a therapist, I realize that my role is help the client to resist, fight, escape the vortex.
First steps for someone who is feeling very depressed is to check out medication options that may put the brain in a stronger place. Therapy is also a good step, but it is important to find a therapist you like and who will work with you through the depression.
Some keys: From my own work, I do see that there is a part of depression that is biochemical—medication, diet, exercise—are part of a good prescription for depression. I also think, however, that depression goes deeper than that.
My clients have taught me that to escape the depression vortex you have to fight the five f’s: 1. Fence sitting 2. Failure 3. Feelings 4. Fucked up self-talk. 5. Forgiveness.
Fence Sitting: The person who is depressed is unsure of how to move on from something. Depression in this way is like fence-sitting—we sit atop the fence and know we can’t go back to what was, but unfortunately we don’t know how to step off the other side into the future either. Fear of change can be a part of this also. Change can be scary. Therapy can help to navigate this feeling of fence sitting. A good therapist can help to uncover blocks, make plans to move forward.
Failure: Depressed people often feel they have “failed.” People often begin therapy after a failure—a person has lost their job, a relationship has ended, etc. People who have depression tend towards “internalizing” rather than “externalizing” failures. For example, a person who loses their job will say negative things to themselves—“I am no good, I’m stupid,” etc. The truth is: we all fail. I have failed at many things! But our ability to be gentle with ourselves afterwards can help us to try again in life.
Feelings: Blocked feelings from the past or a new grief or loss—an intensity of emotion can lead to depression. Bottled up sadness from the past may need a place to come out. I have worked with many men who have held their sadness in for so long, it then comes out like a huge wave, overwhelming them with emotion. New grief or loss can feel overwhelming, but with care we can move through it. Find some support to accept and explore your emotions.
Fucked-Up Self Talk This leads me to my next point—NEGATIVE SELF TALK—depressed person’s language about themselves and the world is very negative. It can be full of distortions, all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing and loathsome labels! People are much meaner in their mind to themselves than they are to their worst enemies. Finding kinder words for self helps greatly with depression.
Forgiveness The person a depressed person most needs to forgive is themselves. Forgiveness means working on self-acceptance—even with our vulnerabilities, our flaws we are still lovely humans worthy of hope and happiness. If you haven’t yet, take a look at Brene Brown’s work on shame, imperfection, vulnerability and being human! We are all imperfectly flawed! You don’t have to be perfect. Work on forgiving yourself for your imperfections.
Today’s Writing Exercise: Do you relate to the idea of the couch vortex or one of the 5 F’s listed above? Write a piece which explores how it resonates in your life AND at the end write out gentle, kind, hopeful language about yourself and your life.
This morning instead of getting up right away, I opened the shades, stared out at the morning sky and absorbed the beautiful sunrise colors. I was thinking about writing this essay: How can I help others be more creative? What gets in the way of being creative? What are some steps to begin the creative process? I let my mind wander through what I know about creative inspiration, and how to impart that information to others.
I thought that one of the first steps in being more creative was just what I was doing: taking some time to day dream, to think, to sit and stare and let the mind wander. This at times is counterintuitive to our super busy, “do it now” society. But creative inspiration needs time to grow, to incubate, to mushroom, snowball, balloon or build up. When we are too busy, it is often harder to create.
As a creativity counselor, I have met many people who want to be more creative. Often one of the first things they say to me is, “My job leaves me little time or energy to be creative.” I am sympathetic to this. Many successful “creatives” I’ve met have figured out some way to adjust the 9-5 job/creative work balance. Some have partners that support their creative pursuits, some just try to live on less money, some cobble together a couple of part-time careers that still leave them time to be creative. And others, well they just try to eke out their creative space when they can on their off time.
Unfortunately even our “off” time can be filled quickly with our things-to-do list or a busyness that makes it difficult to be creative. Modern society is vibing faster and faster with our connectivity also being a potential creative killer. Cell phones, social media, the constant checking of news, updates can also hinder creative thinking and work. I myself have run into this problem. I tell clients that I now leave my phone off until three o’clock on creative days and some of them look like I’m crazy. How can you do that? Aren’t you expected to answer things right away? No, you’re not. Answering messages by the end of the day is acceptable. Try it if you’re trying to be creative. You will be happy with the results.
Finally, another thing that gets in the way of beginning creativity is our belief that we should be doing something else. That housework or groceries or fill in the blank is more important. Tess Gallagher’s poem, “I Stop Writing the Poem” addresses this subject well.
I STOP WRITING THE POEM
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
out tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.
Creative Exercise: What gets in the way of you writing the poem? Or being more creative? Write a poem or journal entry about this.
30/30/30 Creativity Experiment: Turn off all electronics. No checking of email or texts. For 30 minutes, go to a quiet space and sit and think about a creative project. For another 30 minutes, pick up your pen and write out some thoughts on how to accomplish creative product. Finally for your final 30 minutes work on your project.
Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you try out these exercises and want to share your results!