Life is hard sometimes and it is inevitable that we feel sadness at some point in our lives. Whether it’s because of circumstances in life such as losing a job or because of memories from our past, more often than not, the feelings of distress are relatively temporary.
Depression, on the other hand, often feels more permanent or consistent and the effects last much longer. A lot of people don’t understand what depression looks like. Sometimes sadness and depression are used interchangeably. This can actually make it really hard for people with depression to seek help because they might feel like it’s just sadness.
Forms of Depression
There are also different forms of depression and its effects on people vary.
Classic characteristics of clinical depression are sadness and a sense of hopelessness. Imagine being in a dark train tunnel with no end in sight. It’s so dark that you can’t even see your hand, much less what is in front of you and how far you need to go. There’s no sense of time in there, and you can’t tell how far you have traveled nor how far you are from the exit.
For me, having clinical depression is like being in the tunnel. You can hear what other people are saying, but once their voice is gone you don’t know if they’re there anymore. You know that you are walking, but you don’t know how far you’ve gone, nor do you know if you are going in the right direction. Every day is a struggle. Waking up takes more effort than it probably should and everyday activities are no longer as easy to accomplish as they used to be.
Manic depression, on the other hand, is characterized by extreme highs and extreme lows. Sometimes known as bipolar disorder, people with manic depression often switch between their extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression) without any warning. They may participate in risky behaviours when they are in their manic states. Manic depression is similar to being on a roller coaster ride - you can’t see the tracks in front of you and you don’t know if there’s a sudden rise or a plunge in front of you. Nor can you pull the brakes and stop the ride.
As the name suggests, seasonal depression is very much associated with the change of seasons. Everyone’s experience is different but, generally speaking, people with seasonal depression are okay for a majority of the year but then experience a sudden dip in their mental health when the seasons change.
Regardless of which type of depression someone has, it’s still very different from just regular sadness and they can’t just “get over it”, as some people might tell them to. Depression isn’t something that we can control by just ‘turning it off’ like a light switch. By saying “get over it” you are suggesting that the whole process of getting better is equivalent to flicking your lights on and off. You don’t get to just flick on the happy switch and suddenly you don’t have those negative thoughts any longer.
I like to use the analogy of a trash can.
We all know what happens when we try to throw stuff into a trash can that’s too full. Stuff gets knocked out and now you’re stuck with cleaning up the mess. Our window of tolerance is like the trash can. Every negative experience that we have in life is equivalent to a piece of trash that gets thrown into the trash can. Some are smaller pieces and some are just more gross than others, but they essentially do the same thing - take up space in the bin.
If we dump out our trash regularly then everything is fine and dandy and we don’t have anything to worry about. But what happens when we forget to throw out the trash or if we just decide to ignore it for a few weeks? Well, let’s just say that it’s not going to be a pretty sight. The same can be said for our emotional trash can – IT NEEDS TO BE EMPTIED!
When something horrible happens we can either sort through it or we can ignore it. When we ignore it, whether intentionally or unintentionally as a survival mechanism, the negative emotions pile up until the next time something happens that triggers us. It could be an event that gives us a similar feeling to something that happened in our past; it could also be a smell, taste or sound that reminds us of a negative event in our lives.
Whatever it is, our brains and bodies remember and when something similar happens, we get triggered and our reactions are amplified. If we let things pile up over the years without addressing them and processing them, we will eventually become overwhelmed. That’s usually when anxiety and depression kick in.
How can we empty out our emotional trash can?
I have always imagined it as throwing trash into a landfill, there’s a process of throwing things out and there’s a place for the trash to stay that isn’t in my trash can. Any activity where you can put your emotions out of your system, without taking it back, can help.
For example, if you are particularly artistic you can turn to the arts as a relief from your stressors in life. If you enjoy writing, then journaling or writing stories/poems can be a good way for you to express your emotions. No matter what outlet you use, the most important part is not to pick up the negative emotions after you’ve emptied them out. For example, if you are journaling, don’t just journal about what happened, also document how you felt about the situation and how you’re moving forward.
One of the most common ways that we deal with our problems is by talking to someone about them. But there are times where we actually feel worse after talking to someone. Do you know why? It’s because of the types of people that we talk to.
Generally there are three categories of people that we talk to:
Those who just nod and agree with everything you say while making comments that are equivalent to adding oil to a fire
Those who try to rationalize what you are telling them and correct you when they feel you are wrong
Those who just listen without making any judgments
The first category of people makes us feel slightly better by validating our feelings, but then they aggravate the situation by making judgements. The second category of people sometimes makes us feel unheard if rationalizing isn’t your cup of tea. Preferably we want to find people in the third category; those who are willing to listen and validate us without making judgements and who just allow us to express ourselves.
If you ever feel like you are in the train tunnel I described and you don’t know how to get out, please remember that you aren’t alone. Even though it might feel like you are all alone in there, there are people around you that you can reach out to for help. If you don’t have friends in the third category, please consider reaching out to us for help at 613.877.4148 . I would be more than happy to walk with you on your journey of healing.