The Layers of Depression
Project Helping November 9, 2015
By Justin Kruger, Project Helping Founder and CEO
I was on a walk with my dear friend, Tim Brown, some time ago. Tim is one of the most insightful, genuine and intelligent people I’ve met. As tends to happen on our walks, we got into a very deep discussion about depression and the possible causes. Tim made an incredibly insightful analogy regarding the layers of depression and how those layers play into depression and build up over time.
Some time (and many walks) have passed since that day, but the idea has really stuck with me. So much so, that I often reframe my own experience and my own battle with depression in that metaphor.
I want to share a bit about my layers, starting from the outside and working inward.
Looking back, the outer most layer of my depression was anger. I was angry with myself and angry at my depression. I was angry that I didn’t know why I was feeling these feelings and I am angry that I didn’t know how to better understand my depression. This certainly isn’t a unique feeling for anyone who is struggling with anything, really. There is a need to understand what we are feeling, no matter what that feeling is.
But where does this anger come from? Why was I angry? Was I angry that I had depression? Was I angry that I didn’t know how to talk about it? Was I angry that the things I was “doing” to help didn’t seem to help? I suppose it’s yes to all of those. But more than anything, I was angry because I was afraid. I was afraid of what I was dealing with. I was afraid of what I was feeling and what I was thinking. I was afraid that it wouldn’t end, unless I ended it.
I suppose that makes the next layer fear. For anyone who is dealing with or has dealt with depression, this won’t come as a surprise. It can be scary in your own head when you are living with depression. The things you think don’t feel like you. They don’t come from a place that can be understood and you wage this internal war within your own mind. That’s a scary place to be. It’s scary to be in a war in your own head and fear is a pretty understandable reaction to not knowing how that war will end. Even scarier are the thoughts of ways to end that war.
What’s next? Anger. Wait, we covered that, right? Maybe so, but for me, there is another layer of anger. Being afraid of what was happening in my head made me angry…again. The anger leads to fear. The fear leads to anger and so on and so on. You get the idea. Let’s assume we are through the multiple layers of fear and anger. But to be fair, those layers can continue to build on one another until it’s hard to see anything else.
So, what’s the base layer? What comes before any of those layers of fear and anger? Mourning. I know, I was as surprised as you!
I’m not referring to mourning a loss over a loved one or a pet, but the mourning over how life has turned out versus how we thought it would be. No matter how great life is, there are always things that have gone differently than we expected. There are always parts that don’t live up to our expectations.
What happens when life throws us a curveball and things don’t end up like we had hoped? Ideally, you mourn that loss appropriately. Hopefully, we deal with that change – that gap in how we thought life would be versus how it turned out – and then move on. Unfortunately, we don’t often get the chance to do that. We don’t properly mourn the differences in how our life turned out compared to what we thought it would be.
Take the time to look back at your life honestly. Look at how things turned out versus how you thought they would be. Reframe your thoughts with the understanding that we do the best we can, with what we have, where we are. This is harder than I make it sound. I understand that. It takes practice and time.
If things didn’t turn out exactly like you hoped, take the time to understand it, but be kind to yourself. Exercise some self-empathy. Reframe your past in the context of what you know now and take the time to mourn, if need be…then let it go.