Sunday, August 12, 2012

What is Depression? And What Does it Have to do with Auto-Immune Disease and Colette?

What is depression?

Depression is certainly rampant in our world, and there are many views on what it is, what causes it, and how to deal with it.

This post was prompted by two things:  1) reading the biography of Colette in which Judith Thurman speaks of her "enigmatic melancholy" (a mysterious sadness) and 2) reading several articles by people who have been divested of their jobs, their marriages, most of their material possessions, and who have been diagnosed with some sort of auto-immune disorder which requires expensive drugs to maintain their equilibrium.

Quite naturally, they are depressed (mysteriously sad).  And many of them are trying to retain some semblance of sanity by writing.

Colette several times in her life found herself without a visible means of support,  twice divorced  and involved in acrimonious lawsuits,  often having to move to keep a roof over her head.  Additionally, late in her life, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis -- an auto immune disease.

What she did have, however, was a well-spring of vitality that seemed to arise from her instincts as a woman and from her connection to the natural world.

Although Colette, eventually earned huge sums of money with her writing -- novels, nouvellas, memoirs, journalistic reportage, and literary criticism -- she spent the last 10 or 15 years of her long life  crippled with arthritis unable to move from the chaise longue where she both slept and spent her days writing, having to be carried to the ceremonies where she received belated awards.

What is depression and what causes it?

My own background is in Jungian psychology.  It was Jung's belief that depression was energy trapped in complexes in the unconscious.  All of us have had experiences as children, which we have repressed because they are too painful to allow into our conscious memory.  After attempts to create a functioning life for ourselves by marrying, having children, earning money and recognition in our careers, this energy often demands release.

In order to release the energy trapped in our unconscious, we must give ourselves down time.  We must acknowledge our sadness (another word for depression and melancholy) and give it expression (in writing, painting, sculpture, woodworking, etc.) or integrate our sad memories into our lives.

How to deal with depression

The down time is often a problem, given our busy lives, so Life itself arranges for us to lose our jobs, be abandoned by our significant others, and sometimes to exhibit physical symptoms which force us to take to our beds, or at least to narrow the dimensions of our physical lives, giving us the down time we are unwilling or unable to give ourselves.

When this happens, our response is critical.  Medication, though often necessary, only keeps us from feeling our sadness longer.  If we can reconnect to our instincts and to nature, gradually this repressed energy will be released to our conscious minds.  It is then than we must focus on giving form to our sadness by writing, painting, etc.

Reconnecting to nature involves exercising in the fresh air and sunshine,  or sitting by the sea, or working in a garden, and sleeping until you wake up, eating natural food, and being with people who love you or in your own good company.

As the energy is released from the unconscious, engage consciously in painting or writing or some other expression to give form to your sadness.  Simply talking about it won't do the trick.  Some way or other it has to be transformed

And it takes a long time.  Probably the rest of your life, but it gets easier after the reservoir of sadness from your childhood is thoroughly cleaned out.  No other work is more important.  From now on, this must take precedence in your life.  Eventually, you will find a way to meet your financial needs if you keep them to a minimum and don't neglect your "inner work."

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