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What is ‘depression’?

There are many ways to define and describe depression. Fighting an invisible enemy, living with a ‘black-dog’, walking through thick fog, wearing a lead suit, trapped with a critical gremlin. What would your word or image be?  

I relate to the image in the word itself. When you’re depressed everything feels pushed down, as if a dark, negative, hopeless weight has settled over you and your surroundings and is literally compressing or ‘depressing’ you, pressing down creativity, passion and motivation, and preventing you expressing yourself.

To show this in body language we might gesture with our hands, palms down, to mimic an act of pressing down. Imagine squashing a balloon down onto the floor, or placing a heavy weight on top of a packed suitcase to keep the lid shut. 

Thinking about the balloon about to pop and the squeezed contents of the case evokes compassion in me. As a therapist I care about the things in the case, the things that depression weighs down, traps and compresses. In a therapy session I might acknowledge the bits of my client which have been repressed and I might tentatively try to give them attention. 

One theory is that, horrible though it is to be ‘depressed’, our system is trying to protect us from letting out or expressing things that might take us out of our comfort zone or conflict with the deep-seated scripts and rules for life which we live by but were set in childhood. ‘Don’t go there,’ says depression. ‘Don’t believe you can do/be/have/say/feel that.’ 

Good therapy respects the depressive tendency but does not believe it has to have the last word. Depression may have developed as a response to having had parts of us depressed – or repressed or suppressed. If we can listen to those disallowed parts of ourselves we might begin to experience life differently. 

To use body language again, we might turn our palms upwards and let them face towards the ceiling. We might visualise the balloon free to expand and float upwards, and the lid of the case opening to reveal the colourful contents inside.

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