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When desire and energy hit rock bottom

The evaporation of our early optimism can have catastrophic effects on our desire for life and our personal energy. How can we rekindle our motivation and reignite our energy? Michael Corry has some answers

 

Depression is an emotional state in which the desire for life is the primary casualty. This is one of the most debilitating states, since it is human nature to have desires — to wish, want and hope to have our needs met. Isn't every child's game-plan to be successful, contented, loved and secure? From an early age we 'look forward': to Santa coming, to being popular at school, to getting on a team, passing our exams, finding a job, falling in love, having a good lifestyle.

This roadmap keeps us motivated, giving us the willpower and eagerness to continue. If it doesn't happen, there is a sense of loss as our dream dies, as if something concrete has been taken away. In fact it is our illusion, that our future should turn out rosy, which has been removed. Our sense of loss is very real, and as much a bereavement as any other.

Now we are confronted by future scenarios which are painfully less desirable than those we'd planned on. Life has been fired at us point-blank. Who anticipates rejection, sexual abuse, bullying, heartbreak, deaths, marital difficulties, failure to achieve, financial insecurity, problematic children, disability, chronic illness, or lack of companionship? Unprepared and dis-illusioned, it can be impossible to find within us the desire or the will to engage with such hardship. In shock, we wonder what happened to the game-plan. We can't go back, nor can we go forward. Confused, lost and immobilised, the drive to go on dries up: we are depressed, and in grief. In the words of Dante, "in the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost".

The classic stages of all grief and loss unfold within us. Can this really be happening to me? (denial and disbelief). It's so unfair, I don't deserve this! (anger). I'll work harder, I'll turn it around (deal-making). It's not working. What'll I do now? (fear and anxiety). It's hopeless, what's the point, I give up (depression). If the situation continues we face a choice point: bite the bullet, and engage with this future we hadn't planned for (acknowledgement and acceptance), or continue abstaining from life.

Depression has degrees of severity in the same way that a swimming pool has a deep and a shallow end. The less intense variety which we all know well is often remedied by strategies in our own personal DIY kit. A holiday, a career break, some 'retail therapy'. Or we might try distracting ourselves with a new toy such as a car, an extension on the house, or a new romance. Others turn to their favourite recreational chemical, such as alcohol, cocaine or ecstasy. Many approach their GP for prescribed versions to give them a 'lift'.

If desire cannot be rekindled, and with it the will to act, we are in deep water. Lacking motivation, and not attracted to go forward, we look instead to the past, ruminating over mistakes, cataloguing our worthlessness. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless to act, we withdraw our will and energy, and feel unable to engage with the current scenario. Movement slows down, we distance ourselves from others, finding it hard even to get out of bed or cope with the basics of living. Simple tasks such as washing, dressing, preparing food, and facing the public take on Titanic proportions.

It's a misnomer to medicalise this emotional state by calling it a 'a chemical imbalance'. All emotions, whether fear, anger, love, or joy, rely on shifts in chemistry. But these shifts in chemistry are always secondary to alterations in our consciousness. It is changes in our own thoughts, beliefs, and meaning systems - the software of the mind - which are the primary cause. To see it otherwise is to place the source of the problem in our brain matter or hardware. Who would leave the TV in for repair if the programmes were not to their liking?

There's many a 'chemical' depression that a lotto win, a proper home, or a new partner would solve instantaneously! In the same way, the implications of telling a depressed individual that they have a chemical imbalance which may be life-long, requiring the long-term use of medication, and intermittent hospitalisation, can be as damning a diagnosis as an incurable cancer. News of this bleak scenario can itself be a trigger for suicide.

Some severe depressions can be triggered by a source which is not obviously visible, giving rise to dubious diagnoses such as 'endogenous' (having no apparent external cause) or 'clinical' (needing the attention of a doctor). Many individuals have experienced deep hurts and wounds from very early in their lives, which remain unhealed and buried, and which they have been unable to allow to surface into their awareness or been too afraid to verbalise to others. These can range from childhood emotional deprivation to physical and sexual abuse. In such cases, a present day setback may re-ignite these past emotional traumas. As they begin to surface, no current cause may match the depth of the response they elicit.

Many individuals treated for years with anti-depressants may have been harbouring such old emotional pain. The medicalisation of their depression passes up a valuable opportunity — which counselling and psychotherapy might provide — to permanently heal such old wounds. Even with less serious forms of depression, the use of the popular psychic energisers (Prozac, Seroxat, Efexor, Lexipro, etc.) may jump-start sufferers back into the fray. With this boost they may be able to interface rapidly again with the details of their life, but it may be at the cost of reflection and insight.

If sufficient attention has not been given to uncovering the source, changing belief systems, learning new skills and re-kindling desire for life, the sufferer remains as dis-empowered as before. Inevitably, relapse is on the cards, with cocktails of medications in increasing doses being prescribed, many with serious side effects, some lethal. In this way, sufferers can become trapped in a cycle of remission followed by relapse, otherwise known as the 'revolving door' phenomenon.


More on depression

 

Disease? A red herring
In the first chapter of their latest book, Michael Corry and Aine Tubridy examine the roots of false thinking about depression, and its dangers
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Depression is an emotion

Looking at depression as an emotional state rather than as a disease is a far more fruitful approach, both in empowering the sufferer and pointing to solutions. Michael Corry explains why

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Post-natal depression

Why is post-natal depression not seen as a normal consequence of the earthquake of birth? ask Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry
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Anti-depressant response

To take on the responsibility for getting well is to empower yourself. Here, Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry explain how you can create your own anti-depressant response
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Living in hopelessness
Wrecked, mentally and physically beaten up, easy prey to the scare-mongering tactics of multinational vested interests: that's how you feel when you live in fear. Michael Corry has some ideas on dealing with it

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The dangers of SSRIs
Nuria O'Mahony knows about the dangers of SSRIs: her husband died of SSRI-induced suicide. She wants tighter regulation and a new regime of responsible information to protect the public
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Eating yourself well
What we eat influences how we feel, and adopting a healthy and nutritious diet can make us feel better. Brenda Duffin explains how food affects mood
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Down from the pedestal
Terry Lynch
says it's about time doctors stopped prescribing the pills and instead listened to the real distress of their patients
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Needles boost mood
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be an effective treatment in cases of depression, says Declan Phelan
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How homeopathy helps
A powerful, effective holistic tool: Declan Hammond explains some of the benefits of homeopathy
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