A lot of Depression is chemicals being imbalanced but the reason the chemicals are imbalanced in your body isn't random. The most likely cause is that your body was raised with a broken relationship to shame, guilt, and self-worth so now the way your body regulates itself breaks you.
Recovering from Depression isn't ever just "going back to normal." You can't go back. Normal for a Depressive were the conditions that allowed Depression to happen. Normal is how you ended up Depressed.
Recovering from Depression means changing your inputs so Depression stops being the output.
People make the mistake of thinking they can outwit Depression. They think if they just impose more discipline upon themselves, they’ll recover. If they take the right medicines, exercise, and go talk to the right therapists, they’ll improve.
And if you stick with it, you will, for a time. But your body is compelled by forces not really known to you or to me or to anyone else to go back to its dysfunctional normal. Your mind has a set pattern for relating to stimulus. That pattern, over time, is why you get Depressed. If it didn’t work that way, you wouldn’t have gotten Depressed.
What Depression really tells me is that, for whatever reason, your mind reacts to things in a way that will, over time, make you Depressed. It’s never just one thing. There’s something about the way you’re relating to the world that makes you vulnerable to Depression. I don’t know what it is. And neither, probably, do you.
Much of the way you relate to the world isn’t yours to decide. Gender, for example, is imposed upon us from the outside-in. To see the world like a woman isn’t a choice women make. She is forced to read the world as a woman because she has to expect and anticipate that the world will act upon her as a woman.
For a lot of little girls, that means learning fear of men right off the bat. Obviously, teaching little girls to fear men is done by society in a thousand fucked up ways that I won't go into here but the idea is that girls learn to relate to a man’s world with fear. Our little girl bodies learn to be anxious around men. Our senses are heightened around threats and we learn the association that men are threats very young.
(It takes a lifetime of unlearning that response one you become aware of it. Especially if you’ve been traumatized.)
But is it fair to say that response is unnatural? Because I would argue that in a world where rape and domestic violence are still common, women’s fear response to men is actually quite natural. There are a lot of threatening men in the world and our modern way of life necessitates that we put our bodies in the proximity of strange ones all the time. That women would have elevated anxiety and thus be at heightened risk for tension-related maladies like migraines, inexplicable muscle soreness and nausea as a result of participating in public life seems natural to me, but we don’t ever talk about gender inequity this way. Even me making that obvious connection is still surprising to most people.
How you are raised has a lot to do with how you are raised to relate to the world. Whether you feel secure or anxious now has a lot to do with how anxious or secure you actually felt in your upbringing. So much of how you relate to the world is not a choice you make but your body’s response to perceived threats. And for most of us, our ego gets swept up into that so that our body’s react to threats to the ego as if they were attacks against our person.
So to give you an example, men often react with huge, outrageous anger when they feel disrespected because their ego is triggering their fight-or-flight system to believe that they are under attack. Their bodies have been conditioned to respond to threat with anger. It just happens. It’s not conscious. Their brain senses the threat and tells their body to kick into gear. Unless men do serious work to become conscious and aware of their response to an egoic threat, they are very likely to hurt someone, especially if they are drunk and can’t regulate their body’s response.
That dysfunction is actually natural for your body to do. You were raised under specific conditions that taught your body how to regulate itself. If you were raised in my culture, gender had an enormous role in shaping you because gender mediates the relationship you have with the world.
Thinking through Depression, then, means getting into right relationship with your body and accepting that your body doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The reason Depression is more frequently observed in women, I believe, is because Depression is the body's way of managing repressed anger and resentment. Men can express anger. Women really can’t, not without facing considerable social sanction. So it’s not that the feeling is absent, it's that women won't let themselves acknowledge it because we don't let girls be angry.
Girls are not taught how to “manage” anger because it would be “unladylike” for one to admit that she was angry. It’s hard to work with energy you have to convince others doesn’t exist within you. Telling adults that you’re angry as a young girl is tantamount to telling them that you’re crazy. That’s meta-repression, right? It’s not just that you deny having feelings to yourself, you also have to work to make others believe that you never have these feelings. The fucked up gender rulebook for emotional expression is very clear on this.
It sounds new age and hooey to say "Depression is repressed energy that gets trapped in your body" but it's actually true when you think about how the brain regulates your system with hormones and chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline. That shit, over time, fucks with your body. If you were pouring Diet Coke into your gas tank, eventually our car is going to break down or explode or I don’t know what but it won’t be good, right?
And garbage flooding your body’s system do be like that.
Depression doesn’t just happen like a cold. It’s the product of many different processes all happening all the time for weeks—that’s what will ultimately make you depressed.
The good news is that you don’t have to how it happened, exactly. In fact, there’s very little to gain from going back and relitigating all the microaggressions that went into making you hate yourself and feel worthless as a human being.
The bad news, though, is that going forward, you have to bring this critical consciousness into your everyday life. You have to make yourself curious about how your body is relating, reacting, and responding to the world. You have to ask yourself, all the time, “How am I showing up right now? What is my relationship to this situation?” What am I feeling in this present moment?
This is mindfulness. It’s not really something anyone can teach you. A spiritual friend like me can help you ask yourself better questions but I can’t make you become curious about yourself. You have to bring that curiosity with you into every moment when I’m not around, when I’m not there to ask you questions. You have to make space to sit with discomfort and befriend pain. You have to stop repressing your feelings or denying their existence and actually let them affect you.
For most people that’s terrifying. That’s why people numb out and watch TV and pretend that’s self-care. But if you want to recover, if you really, really want to recover, you have to start getting comfortable with self-inquiry. You have to start asking yourself these questions and thinking about how you relate to the world. You have to put yourself in situations that trigger emotions and understand for yourself whether you are reacting or responding. No one else can really do that work for you. It’s up to you.
But exploring what scares you is the only way you’re going to get yourself out of the normal that allowed Depression to happen in the first place.