Depression is one of the most common mood disorders, and even those who don’t struggle with unshakeable sadness still feel low occasionally. That’s because it’s human nature to vacillate between happiness and sadness, light and dark. Life contains the richness of all experiences and our emotions recognize the fullness of that.
While some people feel sad from time to time, others spend longer periods in a funk. Our society isn’t well-equipped to deal with sadness and we don’t have good tools to heal from it.
Once you’ve been categorized as “depressed,” it’s hard to remove that label and feel free again. It’s kind of like when juvenile delinquents get caught in the criminal justice system and find it hard to stop thinking of themselves as criminals.
Somewhere along the way, while society was busy growing scared of things that are painful, researchers discovered neurotransmitters like serotonin that they believed influenced mood.
Pharmaceutical companies spotted an opportunity and marketed their pills as happiness in a bottle. (Prozac was originally going to be marketed as a drug for lowering blood pressure and then as an anti-obesity pill before maker Eli Lilly targeted people with depression, reports The Guardian.)
But the pills never seemed to work all that well, and they caused many side effects that often required additional treatments to counteract. In half of 47 studies The Guardian reviewed, Prozac performed no better than a sugar pill.
But with about 7 percent of U.S. adults experiencing depression at any given time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, big dollars were riding on continued prescription refills.
Now, research reveals the hypotheses driving our Prozac nation were completely flawed. A study published this year in Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews found that people with depression actually have higher levels of serotonin, not lower. And this article from PsychCentral sums it up: Low serotonin levels don’t cause depression.
Researchers don’t know what the elusive chemically balanced brain looks like, but doctors continue to buy into it because the hypothesis is so convincingly repeated, mostly by pharmaceutical companies, according to The Guardian and PsychCentral.
And while serotonin levels or other neurotransmitters likely influence mood and resulting thoughts, thoughts can also influence emotions. It’s like when you cry while watching a sad movie.
The energetic memory of depression, on the other hand, can last for a long time. By working to shift our energy, we can shift our emotional state and the thoughts that we think for the long-term.
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Please note that I have suffered from depression and my sister killed herself when she was 21. So I don’t speak callously or without compassion for people who are suffering. Instead, I aim to offer hope that one, it’s normal to feel sad despite society’s messages that we should feel relentlessly happy, and two, just because we FEEL sad does not mean we ARE sad.
We are souls encased in bodies with eternal spirits. We are also human, which means we may feel sad from time to time. But this feeling of sadness is a temporary state. It will leave.
Isn’t depression a disease?
Researchers sometimes say depression is genetic, but genes aren’t the reason sadness runs in families. Instead, parents teach children how to think and interact with the world. Sad parents can’t teach children how to find joy. Fortunately, you have the ability to learn how to make joyful choices at any time during life.
Depression may result from a few scenarios. One possibility is that you’re sad because you’re doing something against your heart’s desire. You’re working at a job you hate, living somewhere that doesn’t resonate with you, or dealing with a difficult time in your life. There are ways to be happy despite these things, but this is one reason why depression develops.
A potential reason for depression to stick around is because some people find comfort in it. It’s like that Smashing Pumpkins lyric, “I’m in love with my sadness.” Joy can evoke fear, because then you have something to lose. At the same time, people often resist sadness, resist fully feeling it because they’re scared of it. This results in that numb feeling, where you’re not really sad but not really happy either.
Other times, we may subconsciously use depression as a way to get our needs met if we’re having trouble harnessing our personal power and operating from a place of strength.
It may also be a fear-based excuse to ourselves so that we don’t have to live up to our potential. I’ve actually been there and watched myself do these things, so this is real talk and meant to inspire personal inquiry, not be an indictment.
I understand some days you don’t want to get up off the couch, or you watch yourself take action in your mind’s eye while doing nothing.
Or maybe you sabotage yourself to see the worst that will happen. That’s all part of it too, but there are underlying reasons why you believe your life is not in your hands.
Depression is the feeling that your life is not what you want it to be, that you are not who you want to be. It’s the idea that things should be different, and often, that you are not good enough to make the life that you want.
But when you realize that you are good enough, that you have the power to make choices aligned with who you are, you can begin to shift your energy.
Society fears sadness and emotional pain
One reason sadness sometimes spirals out of control into depression is because our society fears pain and doesn’t give healthy tools for exploring sadness. Social pressures force us to present happy faces.
Think of the standard greeting in the U.S.: “How are you?” followed by “Great,” “Busy,” or “Fine.” When I was battling cancer, tired and bald from chemotherapy, I can’t tell you how many people told me to watch funny movies and stay positive.
All I wanted was space to feel. But ultimately, we have to be strong enough to give ourselves that space. No permission necessary.
True freedom and joy come from facing darkness and moving through it, sitting with yourself no matter what.
Emotions aren’t things to be feared. They’re guideposts with messages from your spirit. Feeling excessive sadness is a sign something is off. Perhaps something in your life needs to change. A new job, ending a relationship, more time for self-care, exercise or being in nature.
The key is to avoid attaching a story to the sadness. Feel sad without telling yourself, “I’m a failure,” or “Nothing will ever change,” or worse, “I’m useless.”
How to heal sadness and depression
The thing is that moving through sadness takes a long time. We all have what psychologists call a baseline mood. Everyone experiences fluctuations, but the baseline is what you feel on a normal day, what you return to when you’re not happier or sadder than normal.
I have personally changed my baseline mood over the past year with meditation and lifestyle modifications, and without medication, so I know it’s possible.
From an energetic perspective, sadness builds up in our pain body. In addition to energy, we have habits and thoughts that contribute to this sadness.
So we can focus on our habits or thoughts and that will start to lift the sadness, but to fully heal, we must heal the pain body. We do that through meditating, feeling the emotion, journaling, expressive dance, arts projects — a range of things that will vary depending on what works for you.
As we heal the sadness, our baseline mood begins to lift. More positive, joyful thoughts naturally begin to arise because the pain body is healing.
During the past year that I’ve been working to shift my energy, periods of great sadness have interrupted increasingly longer periods of peace, and more recently, joy. These periods at first made me doubt my progress.
But the thing is that no matter how spiritually evolved or happy we are, we’ll feel sad from time to time. The key is being able to feel whatever arises and continually clearing our energetic body to avoid getting stuck in sadness.
While many new age ideas and gurus promise a life of unfettered joy, I don’t believe this is realistic. A fully lived life consists of happiness, sadness and everything in between. The essential component is keeping our hearts open enough to move up and down, not grasping or clinging or wishing things were different.
Just accepting every moment and loving ourselves no matter what.
Sadness often has messages to tell us. Sometimes, deeper parts of ourselves are emerging that need to be healed. There’s always somewhere deeper to go.
But then, when you feel better, allow yourself to let go of the sadness and feel joyful once more.
Share your story in the comments below. Do you think depression is biological or energetic?
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