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What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder is a psychological illness that can create symptoms of enduring sadness and a general loss of interest in life. At times, those symptoms can feel overwhelming, leading to suicidal thoughts, ideas about harming oneself, or substance use. Typically, symptoms include of Major Depressive Disorder include:

  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • persistent low mood
  • low self-esteem
  • high self-criticism
  • extreme pessimism
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • slow thinking
  • distorted thinking
  • high self-consciousness
  • irritability
  • challenges in personal relationships
  • insomnia and/or hypersomnia
  • weight loss or gain
  • difficulty coping with stress
  • guilt (feeling bad about something you did)
  • shame (feeling bad about who you are)
  • suicidal thoughts
  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • indecision
  • isolation from others
  • apathy
  • hopelessness

A combination of these symptoms can cause someone to begin to isolate from others as well as experience suicidal thoughts. However, as anyone can imagine, this can be dangerous. For those who do not get treatment for Major Depressive Disorder, for some, the illness can ultimately lead to taking one’s own life.

There’s More to Depression than Pain

There’s More to Depression than Pain

In the Los Angeles area, approximately 9% of the population have been diagnosed with depression. That’s about 623,000 people. And around the world, approximately 350 million people suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability around the globe.

There are many reasons why a person might develop symptoms of depression. A combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors can contribute to the illness. For instance, an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in the brain can negatively affect one’s mood and  thoughts. Someone facing the loss of a loved one or unemployment might experience depression. And if a person has a history of trauma, they may be more likely to experience depression. There’s also a genetic component to depression, meaning that someone whose family members struggle with depression might be more vulnerable to the illness.

Although depression is a challenging experience (with symptoms such as guilt, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, social withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts), it might also be an invitation. You see, it’s common to find depression in those who have directed their intense emotions inward. When people become afraid of their own feelings, especially if those feelings are challenging, they can press their emotions inward. Feelings such as anger and shame, especially if they’re intense, can get pushed down. When heavy feelings are stifled again and again, it can contribute to symptoms of depression.

And here’s where the invitation lies. Depression can be a call to go inward. Despite the mess of emotions that exist within, the very path to heal them is to go in. You might have wanted to go over, under, and around. You might have wanted to close your eyes, ignore, avoid, and overlook. But the only way out is through, as the saying goes. The way out of the depression is through the emotions you’ve been harboring.

Sure, that’s not going to be easy at first. You’ve been avoiding your emotions for a reason. But that’s where support comes in. Therapy, support groups, friends, and family can help. Even journaling (admitting your feelings to yourself) can be incredibly useful for those who experience depression. Depression is an invitation to go inward, to begin a process of self-exploration. You may want to get the support of a therapist so that you can safely and gently go inward. Once you move through those feelings, you may find healing, freedom, excitement, enthusiasm, and even joy on the other side.

Keep in mind that depression can cause severe symptoms in some people. If you or someone you know is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, it’s important to seek immediate mental health treatment. Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.

The Power of Coincidence

The Power of Coincidence

Have you ever had an experience that seemed to be pure coincidence? Perhaps you were just thinking of someone and then there they are walking down the same street you’re on. Or perhaps you have a dream and suddenly you see in your waking life something or someone from the dream.

It is these moments in life that capture our attention. Find out more about the power of coincidence with this article from Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200407/the-power-coincidence

Accessing Deeper Parts of You

Accessing Deeper Parts of You

It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day bustle of life’s demands. Perhaps today you needed to take your children to school, head to the bank, and then to work. Perhaps most of your days are filled with responsibility and duties. In fact, it’s quite possible that your life is filled with one task after another – it’s the way of life for most of us.

But have you ever stopped to think about what’s underneath all that?  I mean the purpose behind it all, the meaning and significance of life? What’s really important for you?  Is it the relationships with your children and spouse? Is it the way you give back to your community? Is it the purpose behind your work?  OR is purpose and meaning missing in your life?

One way to find significance in your life (that is, if you feel it’s missing) is to go inward. Doing that might seem foreign at first. What does that mean exactly? Going inward is simply shifting your attention from the outside world (which is where it is most of the time) to the inside world.  This could mean getting in touch with feelings, processing thoughts, or exploring a dream. It might mean getting creative and expressing your inner impulses as they arise. This might also mean being curious about the thoughts and feelings that are arising, versus getting carried away by them.

Historically, it has been the poets, writers, and painters that have gone inward – to create. But then in the process of doing so, they uncover great insights about themselves and the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, was a writer as well as a philosopher. In the first few lines of his essay, Self Reliance, he says that he read some verses written by a painter which struck him as being original and authentic. Emerson goes on to say that there is originality in each of us. In fact, he says it would be a mistake to follow conventional, mainstream thought because by doing so we may miss the truth that lives within us. “Trust thyself,” he wrote, “Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

If you want to access deeper parts of yourself, begin by exploring your inner life. If you want to uncover a more authentic, deeper, richer life, you can find it by going within.

Meaning Creates Healing

Meaning Creates Healing

Deeper than our experiences, deeper than even our thoughts, there is an intelligence to life. This intelligence can be seen in the way plants grow in the direction of the sun. It can be witnessed in the way the planet pivots and spins in its orbit. And it can be experienced when our bodies pump blood in and through the heart. There appears to be a greater intelligence to the world around us. “Things are the way they are in our universe,” wrote Brian Greene, theoretical physicist and author of The Elegant Universe, “because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to notice.” Human beings are one part of a larger whole.

In other words, there’s a greater order to life, and that’s true of our experiences too. Even in suffering, a seed of the celestial can be found. At first, yes, suffering is awful. It’s hard. It may include despair, rage, loss, isolation, and deep pain. And in time, slowly, perhaps even years later, a sprout of meaning may break through the surface. You might discover, for instance, that years of childhood abuse was what generations of your family has experienced. You might then have compassion for your parents because they were only doing to you what had been done to them. It doesn’t make the abuse right but understanding and meaning can facilitate healing. And it might even inspire you to break the cycle of abuse with your children.

Or perhaps you’re suffering from anxiety or depression. In nature when a plant or tree is wilting or dying, it’s a sign that it needs more sunlight, water, or soil. With the psyche too, when there is dis-ease, it’s a sign that the mind and heart need more attention. And through that attention, meaning can sometimes be found. Perhaps depression developed out of loss or emotional pain that was buried. (Depression is often a de-pressing or pressing down of challenging or overwhelming emotions.) In a safe environment, those feelings and thoughts can be gently explored and carefully brought to the surface. Perhaps in that exploration you realize that moving into a depression, at the time, was easier than moving forward with your life.

Discovering the greater meaning behind the events in your life can help create perspective and purpose. In fact, Carl Jung believed that suffering has something to tell us. Without suffering, we would never discover what is important about ourselves. We would never heal, grow, and branch out into our fullest selves.

Witnessing Yourself and Allowing What Is

As human beings we have many thinking and behavioral patterns that we’ve developed from our upbringing, culture, society, and life experiences. Some of those patterns are healthy and contribute positively to our lives. While others don’t. They get in our way, make us feel depressed or anxious,  or add to other negative patterns.

One benefit of therapy is that it gives us the opportunity to explore ourselves. We can stand in the center and witness as we give words to the confusion, pain, or problem. And if our witnessing isn’t entirely clear, then the therapist can be curious, ask questions, highlight what’s working, and share their own perspective. A therapist can help you settle into yourself so that you can witness your own inner experience versus getting caught up in it.

For instance, you’re likely coming to therapy because of a stirring question, a quandary, or a compelling desire to heal. The very act of speaking about your dilemma puts you in a state of curiosity. You’re talking aloud your inner experience and you’re curious about it at the same time. Meanwhile the therapist is curious too. The therapist remains open to what is arising within him/herself as well as what’s being said.

With both you and the therapist being in a state of curiosity, there’s another internal state that emerges – allowing.  Allowing is an experience where you’re open to what’s arising inside of you, even if it’s painful. In fact, the word allow breaks down into all and ow, meaning that you’re letting it all arise, even if it hurts. This is often where insights, new ideas, and healing happen. You might cry, scream, or laugh. You might feel a sense of relief, let go of anger, or forgive.

Plato once said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Without examining our lives, we will never see what’s really underneath. Although at first we might be suffering, with a little exploration in therapy we can move through our burdens and discover that our wings were there all along.

Photo Artist: Noell S. Oszvald

What is your body telling you?

Anxiety is a normal human reaction in which the body is responding to your environment and communicating with you. When one experiences anxiety, our first reaction is to make it stop. What if instead, we listened to our body? What is your body telling you?

A lot of times, the message your body is trying to tell you goes unnoticed when we are so focused on the symptoms of anxiety. Many times this intense focus on the symptoms is accompanied by judgment and criticism, “I am not normal”, “people are going to judge me, and these are just your own thoughts working against you. By focusing on the anxiety you are unintentionally bringing more attention to it, along with judgment which only exacerbates the symptoms. I myself, who once suffered from anxiety can recall when I attempted to hide my anxiety symptoms to prevent others from judging me and realizing that in doing so, my anxiety would get worse because I would find myself obsessing over it until I learned to not give my anxiety so much power.

One way to approach anxiety is to use mindfulness; notice the anxiety, notice how it feels in your body and let it be, do not judge it. Do not criticize yourself for feeling that way; after all it’s a normal response. Instead we can try and understand why your body is reacting to your environment. It may be trying to tell you something about yourself, something that may be in your subconscious that you may not be aware of. Therapy can help you make the subconscious conscious.

If you are interested in learning about yourself by tapping into your subconscious or you are interested in learning the practice of mindfulness to help decrease your anxiety, contact Ventura Community Counseling.