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.