The state of feeling depressed, or actually being depressed, is something I think about a lot. I’ve had symptoms of depression much of my adult life. I know many other people who the label “depressed” applies to as well: acquaintances, family, friends and clients. At times I’ve labeled myself as a “depressed” person. I treat quite a few depressed people in my counseling practice. I’ve experienced its extreme forms in my family of origin. I’ve written about it. I probably obsess about it far too much, but clinical depression is, if anything, a self-absorbing illness. I also know that it is a complex condition with biological, spiritual and learned-behavior components.
Right at the moment I would not label myself as depressed. I’m kind of sad but I’ve accepted that as more or less of a constant—sort of my default setting. Any more, just being alive and aware it seems leads inevitably to sadness. The world is a place of constant pain. We are awash in a sea of illness, poverty, starvation, violence, war and death. It is why I almost never watch the local or world news. For every occasional happy note there are a dozen stories that are upsetting. However, sadness is not depression, but it is perhaps depression’s main symptom.
I’ve “liked” several organizations on Facebook that address the topic of depression and bipolar disorder (manic-depression). Generally, what I see there is disconcerting. I get the impression that many who follow those pages have little identity beyond their “sick identity” or beyond their “illness” or even beyond how they’re momentarily feeling. That may be an illusion and I may be selling a lot of folks short—but I know how absorbing depression can be.
There is an ongoing committee meeting in our minds based on the roles we play. One of the voices in my head is that of the “depressed guy.” He is a terrible cynic—self-critical and condemning—but that is just one of the voices. There’s also the parent voice, the faithful friend voice, the perpetual student voice, the motivated counselor voice, the addict voice, and the codependent voice, etc—but most important of all, there’s the Child-of-God voice. That is the voice I need to heed. That is the voice in my thoughts, and in your thoughts, that should drown out all others. That voice should be our identity. The voice that constantly reminds us that the God of the universe became flesh and died that we might live.
Feelings come and go driven by the moment. They may be good indicators at times but they are lousy directors and yet many people (perhaps most) are ruled by their feelings, and their feelings are driven by the voices at the committee meeting in their heads. However, the feeling is not the reality. I may feel like a piece of human garbage but that is not who I am—that is not the reality of the situation.
Some of our voices are very negative, and yet somehow we have allowed them to become our identities. The depressed guy voice will likely always be there. He’s rented space in my thoughts for a long time, but I know that I need to unmask him immediately and push his voice more and more into the abyss. And whereas I may actually be clinically depressed at times, that does not mean that I am obligated to heed the voice of the depressed guy and his mantra of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness.
My good friend Ted has a negative, critical voice in his head, and when he finds that voice taking over he growls, “Shut up, Joanne!” In fact he shouted that at me a couple of times during his recent visit. Joanne is a long story which I won’t go into here, but it’s his personal negative voice. Mine is the “depressed guy.” But he’s just one of the players in the committee meeting in my mind. My CEO should be the big kahuna voice, the chairman of the committee in my mind should be the Child-of-God, and maybe my “Shut up, Joanne!” moment should be Romans 5:8 “But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” or perhaps Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. . .”