Depression is something many people struggle with to varying degrees. People can move in and out of depressive states, and can also find themselves stuck in a state for a prolonged period of time. When you’re depressed, it can feel like you’re dragging through life while towing a boulder behind you. It can be exhausting, painful, emotionally daunting and overwhelming at times, and even feel hopeless at times. It can feel like you don’t have any energy and just want to sleep, or that even the good and positive moments in your life are less than fulfilling. Depression can sometimes feel as if life is focused on doing everything possible just to stay afloat and keep moving.
People often view depression as a sort of larger version of sadness, as if there is “regular sad”, and then depression, which means you’re really sad.
But depression is generally more than just a feeling of sadness. It is often a whole mind and body experience that can feel like you’re being bullied from the inside by a separate being that’s invaded you and can’t find its way back out again. It’s almost like an internal bully is keeping you from being able to find or hold the good feelings. While nobody wants to feel depressed (and therefore nobody is consciously doing this to themselves), there can be an equal or stronger unconscious pull towards staying in the depressed state, even if there is at the same time an obviously strong desire to move to a lighter and more fulfilled and content state. It’s almost as if the will to leave the depressive state is being suffocated by this internal bully.
But who, or what, is this bully?
A common feature among many of the people I have helped work through depressive states is an accompanying feeling of being inferior, small, “less-than”, too much, misunderstood, less significant, in the background, off to the side, and alone in their depression. It’s as if there is an invisible dominant presence that’s always looming, waiting to take the moments of confidence, assertiveness, and positivity and remind you of “your place” as the smaller being. Part of moving through depression for many people means subduing this imposing bully and freeing yourself from its grasp.
And it’s important to keep in mind that the bully isn’t always a loud, aggressive, violent, threatening authoritarian figure. A bullying voice can just as easily be an overwhelmingly judgmental, critical, even-toned and smiling parent or caretaker who was often there to remind you of why you’re not good enough.
In my therapy practice, I work with people who struggle with varying levels of depression. And it’s common to see that desire to feel lighter, more motivated, and more energetic to be met by a strong and conflicted pushback from within. This isn’t something that people “do to” themselves consciously, but it almost seems to come from some part of themselves that they have no control over. It can be a lonely struggle, and people around you may not understand just how much out of your control this experience can be.
It is possible to overcome the bully and also to develop the internal skills and boundaries to see other “bullies” coming and not let them in. Learning about your depression and understanding what is contributing to it for you is an important step in this process. While I know it can be tempting to try, don’t fall into the trap of trying to push through depression on your own without additional support. Once people are caught in the dynamic, it can be very hard to separate from the bully without some help. Sending the email or making the phone call is the first step toward reclaiming you.