London Acupuncturist Roisin Golding for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate
When the film about a manic-depressive, “Mr. Jones,” was first shown to the Hollywood executive who backed it, he reputedly said, “Fantastic! The manic scenes are just great! But the depressions, ugh! Get rid of those.”
But life isn’t a Hollywood movie. Luckily, very few of us ever experience true manic depression. It wreaks havoc both on the patients and on their family. But cyclothymic disorder, a milder alternating mood disorder, is so common it’s almost endemic.
Not every depression is an existential crisis but there is much to be said for allowing sadness, loneliness, despair even, to well up in us. Depression is often the tool which opens our heart to feeling. It can soften us, it can help us drop rigid ideas, rigid ways of relating to others. It makes us question basic assumptions we have about life. And a depression resolved can really make us feel free. It can be an uncomfortable process but I do not believe that it should be summarily exorcised without due consideration.
Of course, when depression becomes a way of life or is so overwhelming that one could quite literally drown in it, it’s time for treatment. The way depression is handled by alternative therapies as opposed to conventional medicine probably illustrates most strongly our marked difference of approach. By alternative therapies I am also including holistic, often body-centred, psychotherapies. These therapies differ from conventional psychoanalysis and are at opposite ends of the pole from psychiatry, which primarily uses drugs to quieten symptoms so that the person can get on with their life without too much disruption.
Body-centred psychotherapy, for example Gerda-Boyeson or Reichian therapy, is about more than just banging pillows with sticks to get in touch with one’s anger. In fact I personally think this engenders anger rather than releasing it. But holistic therapy is primarily about integrating thought and feeling.
Think about it. When you ‘feel’ sad, as opposed to ‘thinking’ sad thoughts, where do you feel it? You feel it in your body, very probably in your chest, in your shallow breathing perhaps, or possibly in your stomach. There may also be physical symptoms, such as loss of energy, sleep and appetite.
You almost certainly will not ‘feel’ sad in you head. Of course you may have a running monologue which goes with the sad feelings, probably justifying why you should be in this state. The depressive’s monologue will catalogue every event that supports his theory that life is, in fact, a female dog. Then again maybe life is not the culprit, but it is himself, unworthy citizen, who is the dog.
The odd thing of course about depression, which initially is a kind of obsessional state, is that you are both the judge and the judged. A two-headed monster, one sadistic head cruelly accusing, intent on punishment, the other a masochist, crying and pleading, but intent on suffering. The running monologue acts as a very effective self-hypnosis.
“You are a bad person. God hates you. Nobody loves you,” leads us into a despairing trance-state. Listening to a depressed friend for an hour on the phone has a similar effect.
So if you are experiencing depression but are unclear why, or maybe you’ve analysed yourself and know all the reasons but this doesn’t make a difference, try to come to grips with it through body-centred therapy. See what’s really locked in there. Listen to your body instead of your mind, let it talk to you, tell you of things it ‘knows’ but can’t use language to describe.
When depression becomes our normal state so that we don’t even notice it ourselves but everyone else does, then it’s likely that we have just got into some seriously bad mental habits. Hypnotherapy and particularly Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP for short) the more modern form of hypnotherapy, is superb at dealing with this. NLP is about accessing and becoming aware of and then changing everyday trance states.
Both acupuncture and herbs are extremely effective at combating depression, especially when you need some chemical support. Both of these can release serotonin in the body, which is why they’re used for people who suffer from drug induced depression.
There are also some simple, safe and wonderfully effective remedies for depression among the Bach Flower remedies. You should try these at first. Gorse is used when one feels hopeless. Mustard is for intense depression which comes on suddenly for no known reason. Sweet Chestnut is for those times when the world seems empty and desolate. If someone is in a state of deep depression which has lasted since some terrible event in their lives, then, as well as the above remedies, take Star of Bethlehem for shock. These should be taken as often as one needs for several weeks.
None of these remedies or therapies lock the depression in. They bring clarity and strength that allow a natural process to take place. Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed of your depression. It’s what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke calls, “our winter foliage, our sombre evergreen.”
By the way, a side effect of some conventional anti-depressants is, oddly enough, anxiety. If you have been on anti-depressants for some time and you are still depressed, tell your doctor what’s happening. But under no circumstances should you suddenly stop taking your prescribed anti-depressants. This could be very dangerous.