When Depression Is Not

By | November 19, 2011

Why do so many of us of us feel helpless when someone close to us sinks into a state of depression? And why do those of us who experience depression often feel helpless ourselves? I know many people who just want to withdraw and be left alone, or else they turn to medications and therapists.

Both scenarios tell me that we have incorrectly defined depression. People experiencing states of depression usually tell me that nothing matters to them—they just don’t seem to care about anything. Psychologists tell me the same thing: their patients often neglect themselves and shirk their responsibilities. Here we have not an emotional, but an emotionless, condition. Depression, then, seems not to be a state of being, but a disconnect which creates the absence of a state of being.

Therapy for depression is much like trying to correct grammar on a blank page. An editor  can sit down with her dictionary, red pencil, and creative writing degree, and still she will find herself staring at only a blank page. She can talk with the wanna-be author about what brought her to this blank-page state and how her fortunes might turn if the page weren’t blank, but nothing can really be done with the blank page itself.

Here lies my contention with a good share of what the mental health profession spends its time doing: applying band-aids to something that doesn’t exist. If therapists were focused on prevention, they would do much better at justifying their careers. At least the medical profession—in most cases—has something to treat, even as shameful as is their lack of focus on prevention.

Mental health is an everyday affair, which means we need to take personal responsibility for our well-being and that of those close to us. There, the pronouncement was easy; and now for the prescription, which is even easier to state. However, practicing it is perhaps the most difficult endeavor anyone could undertake in this day of disempowerment and isolation: follow your heart.


Nan on January 5, 2012 at 11:05 am.

There are times when depression IS: when it is a manifestation of a physical condition – certain brain chemistry malfunctions, certain diseases – and treating the underlying physical problem medically with any number of modalities – allopathic, homeopathic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, accupuncture, etc. – will eliminate the depression, which is merely a symptom.

In cases of psychological depression, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I had a difficult stretch where, among other things, my mate died after a short illness and my mentor died suddenly. I reached a point where I had too much emotion. It flooded and overflowed and I turned off the faucet. No more emotion. It was, as you both describe, a disconnected state. I was not suicidal, but I had no interest in living. My body was here; I was elsewhere. I left enough of me behind to make sure I neglected neither myself nor the most important of my responsibilities, but I really was not engaged and simply went through the motions of physical reality. I did not turn to therapists and medications; I felt my condition was natural, and I was blessed with circle community – people who listened if I wanted to talk, or who shared everyday experiences, which bolstered my slender thread of connection so that when I was ready, I could find my way back.

I think that because I took the time to grieve in solitude, occasionally checked on by my circles, the wound has healed from the inside out rather than simply scabbed over, and I am stronger, healthier than I would have been had I treated my psychological depression medically.


Tamarack on January 13, 2012 at 7:55 am.


I suspect your grieving process went well because of the balance you achieved between vapid solitude and allowing your circle to keep you connected with life. Whether consciously done or not, many people appear to use their reclused time as a bridge between the deceased and a future without the deceased. With meds, I doubt that you would have been as present as you were during the bridging process.

Glad you’re back,



Leah on November 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm.

I just read the following statistic: “Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease.”

Mounting evidence in the medical communities is beginning to show that depression and heart disease are linked. I am touched by the simplicity of the connection you make between our hearts and depression: it is a disconnection. Anything that we are disconnected from will degrade–and it’s right here before us to see. If I neglect anything in my life that I am connected to, it suffers–my heart suffers when I am not connected, in all ways–in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms (if they are even separate! As I write this, I sense my description is lacking–there are more realms, and these are not entirely accurate realms. Anyway…). We see this “disconnection leads to degradation” process in our own bodies, mirrored to us all around in the degradation of the earth, loss of species, loss of space, loss of entire ecosystems, and a perilously close global disaster in terms of resources for the entire planet.

What is it to be connected to our hearts? Months ago I was doing a guided visualization with a gifted healer who asked me simply to “go to my heart.” I went there, and what I found there was sadness. Then she asked me to go deeper, to what was behind or beyond that, and what I found was an immeasurable calm, the most soothing, loving, embracing knowing I have ever felt. I was home, and that home was mine, in my own heart. It was a simple, but profound experience for me. It’s a commitment to keep that connection going, but once I made it, it’s hard to resist. I often wonder if it’s that simple, but time and again, it’s proven to me that it is.


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