How to deal with depression in a spiritual community

Posted on September 10, 2013
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depression

Teo Bishop recently wrote a post where he discussed how he was dealing with some depression. He decided to take anti-depressants to help him deal with it, but noted how one of the issues that surrounds depression was one where the spiritual community itself argues that if you’re spiritual enough you should be able to handle depression without needing anti-depressants. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that spirituality has the answer to depression and that by having it, you will be free of depression. It’s similar to the law of attraction idea that if you don’t think you’ll get sick, you’ll never get sick. It doesn’t work. When spiritual communities argue that spirituality alone should be enough to handle depression or anything else along those lines, what they are arguing is that spirituality should somehow solve all problems. But that’s not the function of spirituality, and it also ignores the simple fact that each person must develop their own solutions with all the resources they have available to them.

One of my favorite books, Relaxing into Your Being by B. K. Frantzis, demonstrates this understanding. The author explains numerous times that meditation doesn’t heal depression and that in fact it may end up causing more depression because of what you are dealing with. He suggests that meditation may not be the best solution for dealing with depression and that therapy and/or medication might be better and that if you are going to use meditation for dealing with internal issues, that you should do it in conjunction with therapy. And I’ve found, from my own experiences, that such advice is well worth following. Back when I was doing the emptiness working, it became apparent very quickly that I needed therapy as part of the necessary work in order to deal with all the issues that came up around emptiness.

The truth is that when you just turn to spirituality as the solution, you aren’t using all the tools at your disposal and you aren’t considering the impact it can have on people around you, when they have to deal with you and your issues on a regular basis. Spirituality isn’t a universal salve or cure all. It can provide answers and tools for working through things, but its wise to recognize when you need to draw on other resources such as therapy or medication. I also think it’s wise to examine your reaction to the feeling of depression. Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with depression that causes people to shy away from acknowledging that they feel depressed. I wonder how much easier it might be to simply acknowledge that you do feel a particular way.

I’ve had to deal with depression a lot in my life. As I wrote in Inner Alchemy, I did find a way to work with my neurotransmitters which helped me solve an electro chemical imbalance in my brain, but it doesn’t mean depression just went away and I never experienced it again. It just means that I no longer had an electro chemical predisposition to being depressed all the time. Nonetheless I still feel depressed on occasion. Even on Friday of last week, I woke up and was in a bit of a funk initially. How I handled it involved first acknowledging that I did feel that way and that it was okay to feel that way. And that’s an important first step, which I don’t think many people take the time to do. It’s ok that you’re feeling depressed. There’s nothing unnatural about it or wrong with feeling depressed. It can and does effect your functionality and productivity, but maybe that, in and of itself, is worth looking at instead of automatically trying to change it.

One of the problems that people face when it comes to emotions is learning how to sit with those emotions and feel them. We act them out a lot of times, but acting them out isn’t necessarily the same as feeling them. Learning how to feel them involves learning to acknowledge that you are feeling the emotion and allowing yourself to feel it.  A lot of people will say, “I don’t want to feel depressed” and I can certainly appreciate not wanting to feel that way, but I think so much of the approach to depression is focused on avoiding it that we don’t always allow ourselves to fully recognize when we do feel it or consider what it might be trying to tell us.

There are different ways to handle depression. Anti-depressant meds are one way, as therapy is another. I think meditation can be helpful with depression provided some type of oversight is included in the process. I’ve also found that physical exercise helps me when I’m feeling down, because its causing me to do something that gets me out of whatever mental rut I’m in. Whatever you do to handle depression, just remember that it is okay to feel it, and that acknowledging that you feel it doesn’t make you weak, but rather is the first step toward helping you work with those feelings. And don’t be afraid to reach out to others who are qualified to help with such feelings, because they can help you make sense of what you are experiencing.

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