Is Depression Good for the Soul?

01a5206e-c01d-43e1-a35e-572ea2cb7c4cOver the winter holiday, Sam and I went to Nashville, Tennessee to do some exploring.  We saw a lot of interesting attractions and I learned a lot about the history of country music, which was much more extensive then I knew.   We also went to visit Andrew Jackson’s Plantation, which is called The Hermitage.  One memorable fact about Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, was that as a teen his mother and two older brothers died while serving in the Revolutionary War and he blamed the British for their deaths.  Since his father had died when his mother was pregnant with him, he was an orphan by the age of 13.  He was later described by his colleagues in Washington as being extremely angry with wild mood swings and periods of deep depression, which is kind of understandable given his history.  One historian went so far as to say that if he had been alive today, he would have been on medication for his temperament. 

This really struck me, because it’s not the first man of vision in American history I’ve heard of who struggled with depression and mood problems.  It made me think that people who have a  wide view of the world, and a lot vision about the how the world operates, can be melancholy because the way the world operates is pretty depressing and probably always has been!  But in today’s world there is so much emphasis on being happy and productive, that we really, as a culture, frown on darkness of mood and try to correct it to an almost pathological degree.  Which brings me to my topic of the month:  Is the way we look at depression in our modern world a full picture of this part of the soul?   Can we develop a new way of understanding it that will serve us better and help us not to get stuck there? 
Winter is an extremely important season in Chinese medicine.  It is the season where yin is the most abundant making it the only season where inactivity and rest are the major focus.  There is a natural turning inward that happens as a result of the weather: the lower temperatures and the accumulation of snow.  Our natural rhythms are telling us to slow down, rest and prepare for yet another cycle of life that begins in the spring. 
But we live in a very yang focused culture and city.  Rest and turning inward may come as a bit of an uncomfortable shock to most of us.  And in fact some resist nature’s call to slow down entirely, which is possible to do in New York with the perpetual subway and the abundance of restaurants and gyms and places to socialize.  We are, after all, the city that never sleeps.  But are we missing out on an important aspect of our wellness?  The practice of looking inside to shed light on what is holding us back during the more active stages of the year is a vitally important aspect of the life cycle, uncomfortable as it may be. 
Many people get “depressed” during the winter.  There is scientific evidence for Seasonal Affect Disorder or SAD, which highlights the lack of sunlight as being a major contributor to symptoms of depression. I wonder if it’s just that we are more focused on ourselves during the less active months of the winter and that our depressions are in fact there all year long operating at a lower level of consciousness.  Maybe even sub-consciousness. 
One of my teachers describes depression as being a deep feeling of worthlessness.  I think she’s right.  I think most depression has a sense of worthlessness at its core.  Not all but many people carry within them a feeling of not being worth anything based on messages they received about themselves as children or from events that were outside of their control. Many times the feeling is buried beneath years of denial or addiction or therapeutic language that covers the problem and makes them functional, but hasn’t uprooted the core cause of the suffering.
The solution to feelings of unworthiness is not a simple process that can be comprehensively discussed in a wellness article such as this.  But the first step in healing is to isolate and admit the feelings of worthlessness within and accept that they may be part of you, but they are truly not all of you.  A part of you may be in pain and therefore yearning for the healthy part of you to take notice.  It is through this process that we then learn how to treat that injured part with the love and compassion it deserves.  Compassion for others, after all, begins with compassion for self. 
I have been teaching my clients some of these self-healing techniques during Private Healing Sessions over the past year and I’m finally writing and talking about it with my larger community.  I love doing this kind of work because I believe it’s really powerful to learn how to accept and love the most un-lovable parts of us.  I believe people can evolve out of depression’s encompassing grip and move into Spring with a renewed sense of vision and hope for the future.  If you or someone you know is struggling with wintertime blues, tell them to get in touch with me.  If we start exploring these dark places now, there is still time for the release of new energies in the spring where seeds are planted for manifestation in the fall.   If you productively walk through the dark, you will get to the light and I can help.  Make an appointment now so we can build your strength for the Spring!   

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