I have formed the belief that we all come into this world with innate programming and basic operating functions designed to foster happiness and good health.
But in life – bad things do happen.
Disease, natural disasters, injury, disappointments, betrayal.
Human beings have an amazing capacity to heal themselves and each other back to good mental and physical health. We are adaptable and regenerative – both physically and emotionally. For proof of this look at the smiles of children in third world conditions, the mateship and steely resolve in disaster situations, the brave little children in hospital beds.
But sometimes … despite our natural ability to weather and recover from adversity … our basic programming for survival, health and adaptation fails. It short circuits. It malfunctions.
Our emotional world can start to crumble, implode, overwhelm us, exhaust us, enrage us and carry us on a downward journey to despair, hopelessness, worthlessness and pain. This is beyond normal sadness or grief. This is the experience of depression.
How and why then does this happen? If we are naturally programmed to regenerate to a state of relative happiness and good health, how can depression seem to drag us on an unrelentingly downward trajectory?
In order to help us understand this process, I will draw parallels between the impact of depression on our behaviour / thinking and brain chemistry; and the impact of a virus on a computer and its functioning and operation (Obviously depression is not an actual ‘virus’ just as we are not ‘computers’ but the symbolism is quite helpful).
Our basic ‘operating functions’ as human beings include:
- Procreation / Sex;
- Paternal / Maternal Instinct;
- Human Connection;
- and other survival-related activities like, Eating and Remaining Hydrated.
These basic and (in usual circumstances) extremely strong instincts drive our core behaviours, and can even facilitate some super-human displays of strength and conviction.
Depression is such a strong ‘virus’ however that it has the power to be able to interrupt, even reverse our most core programming so that we no longer wish to eat; procreate; protect our young; sleep; connect with other people; or even continue to live. Like a computer virus, the depression ‘virus’ undermines our most basic programming and functions and instead replaces them with one command: SHUT DOWN and DISCONNECT.
It doesn’t accomplish this ‘instinct reversal’ in an instant, or in one transformational manoeuvre – we are too smart for that; our survival instincts too strong; the messages of ‘Self Destruction’ too absurd on the face of it to have any immediate believability. Again like a virus … depression occurs by increments. Little bit, by little bit … it identifies vulnerabilities … weak points … building covert satellites of strength … constructing increasingly believable ‘proof’ for your ‘hopelessness’, ‘despair’, ‘un-loveability’, ‘defectiveness’, ‘stupidity’, ‘weakness’, ‘disease’, ‘inferiority’… building a view of your current challenges as ‘insurmountable’, ‘dreadful’, ‘torturous’ … and a ‘crystal clear’ picture of your future as being more of the same or worse …
The depression ‘virus’ gains momentum slowly but surely; often without you realising what is happening. If you had a chance to notice it, you would have stopped it. Depression seemingly acknowledges this and works in sneaky, sometimes seductive, often insidious ways. Slowly but surely your natural programming for happiness and health is being overrun, overidden and overruled, replaced by programming and associated patterns of thought and behaviour aimed at disconnecting you from life and anything life affirming. Depression becomes your only friend … whispering, beckoning you, seductively luring you away.
Now – everyone’s experience of depression is different. Some of the above representation of depression may resonate with you, some of it may not.
The important thing to keep in mind when dealing with depression is the importance of working collaboratively with your clinician to gain a clear understanding of how depression works; and specifically how your depression works. (Keep in mind your depression has the advantage of an intimate knowledge of how you work).
Only by understanding the ‘virus’ (as it has been represented here) can you have a chance of being able to see the programming code clearly enough to be able to re-write it, redirect it back towards ‘life’ and life affirming pursuits, to re-establish ‘truths’ (rather than the ‘truth’ as put to you by the biased world of depression), correct biases of processing, identify triggers and weakpoints for re-infection, and then establish reasonable ‘anti-virus’ protections for the future.
Ignoring depression and associated symptoms only allows for further penetration of the virus (in much the same way as ignoring a computer virus will do the same to your software/hardware);
Relying on ‘sheer will’ to overcome depression is like hoping and cheering your computer on to victory against a computer virus. It might win, it might not – but in any case it will likely suffer some serious collateral damage from the battle. Also keep in mind depression is highly unlikely to fight a fair fight …
Surrendering to depression and embracing it as a friend well … it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to your computer now would it to befriend a destructive virus?
Seeking to understand and ‘study’ your depression with a professional, and in some cases also taking medication as a means of decisively and quickly achieving some symptom relief is the strategy of choice if the above solutions hold little appeal for you (and I hope that they do).
I genuinely hope that the strategies of surrender/ignore/sheer will power hold little appeal for you for two key reasons:
- I want more for you (and I am pretty sure you want more for yourself);
- There are other strategies which are resoundingly effective in achieving relief and often recovery from depression.
A psychologist is trained in the programming and de-programming of depression. Facing your depression and truly seeking to understand it can be a confronting exercise. When a light is shone on some of the ‘whisperings’ of depression, the content of these beliefs can be shocking and difficult to process by yourself, or even with close family or friends. It is difficult to do this alone, particularly if your depression has gained in sufficient momentum and believability.
It is important to note also that trying to fix depression on your own, can be the equivalent of attempting to undertake complex programming on a computer with seriously compromised hardware or software … Better to work with a professional to help you identify and nurture the healthy parts of your own ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ and re-establish full functioning; to support you in some of the more complex programming; to guard against reinfection by the ‘virus’ while you are vulnerable and gaining in ‘health’ …
So that little bit … by little bit … the healthy parts of you regain the balance of power once again. Your natural programming can do, once again, what it is there to do – keep you well, happy, healthy and connected to life and living in full colour.
Author: Ainsley Salsbury, BA (Psych), Post Grad. Dip. App. Psych, BBus (HRM).
Ainsley Salsbury is a Brisbane psychologist, passionate about helping people to overcome depression.
To make an appointment with Ainsley Salsbury, you can book online or freecall 1800 877 924 today.