More than Sad

August 31, 2018  |  psychology  | 

I don’t want to call it the black dog. Because I like dogs.
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I don’t want to see it as a dark cloud. Because I like clouds.
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Most of us know something of depression. Whether we’ve experienced it first hand, or casually seen an ad about it online. But in a conversation I had about it recently, someone admitted “To be honest, I don’t really understand it. It’s being really sad, right? But not really for any reason?”
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Our limited understanding and vague concept of depression leave us vulnerable. It makes it hard to see it in ourselves, maybe hard to spot it in others. Yes, sadness is an element of depression, but only one aspect. What needs to be understood is that depression is a disease of the mind, a disorder of perception and cognition – of sensing and thinking. It distorts how we experience the world, so much so that everything we see is filtered through an insidious lens and becomes a mangled and tarnished reinforcement of all the bad stuff we’ve been thinking about. It can be all-consuming and cyclical, it drains ones hope and ones strength, and  just like cancer, the longer it’s left untreated, the more dangerous it is to those experiencing it.
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It is more than sad.
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Imagine you are wearing dirty glasses. Doesn’t matter how they got dirty – the fact is that now they’re dirty, it’s impossible to see things right. Your friends don’t wear glasses, they can see just fine, but when you’re looking at the same things, you’re  taking it in differently, and because of your glasses, things don’t look as good to you. Now imagine you never learn how to clean your glasses. Imagine you don’t even know you can take them off. They become grubbier and grubbier. The world becomes foggier and uglier. Every little thing becomes hard to do. Every interaction or task, laborious and difficult. You can imagine how a world like that feels hopeless. You can imagine how a future like that looks bleak. With no concept that your glasses are seperate from yourself and removable, your view through the lenses seem to show life as it is. And it’s not a nice view. 
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We need to start understanding depression better. As something that is not just “sad” but a gross distortion of how we think about and experience the world – like living life in a dirty pair of glasses. Once we realise that depression is something outside of ourselves, we are more powerful to make changes in order to heal, to know that it’s possible to see the world again in a different way, clearer and brighter.
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Remember no one can clean someone else’s glasses for them. A conversation, a call to a counselor, a session with a psych can help but what is also needed is better understanding of depression and mental illness. We need to keep educating ourselves of the risks, the signs and the reality of this disease and that it can look different on everyone. Our best defence is knowledge. There are plenty of resources available online to learn more – about symptoms and about treatment.
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And finally we need to keep practicing resilience, even in our strongest moments, because depression and mental illness do not discriminate. They can touch all of us at any time. So let’s keep having conversations about understanding and prevention.
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Below I’ve included some of the American Psychological Association’s top ten ways to build resilience. These are for everyone. But, if you feel like you might be experiencing depression, know that you can access treatment at any time. In Aus, your GP will provide you with ten subsidised psych sessions a year (you should use them all and try to find someone you can really talk to). Or you can also access free, self-guided e-therapy online (http://headspace.org.au/ – it sounds hokey but it’s really great). Treatment might not work instantly but it’s a good first step. The world doesn’t have to be the world you see through dirty glasses.
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The APA’s Top Ten Ways to Build Resilience
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Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
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Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
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Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
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Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
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Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
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Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
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Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
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Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
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Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
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Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
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Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
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The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.



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