Is it possible to be depressed and present at the same time?
Thanks so much for your question. Depression is such a common problem – I appreciate your asking about it.
We know depression as a list of symptoms, including sadness and loss of pleasure. For some of us, however, depression becomes an identity – it feels so real, it consumes us, it is who we think we are. When we say, “I am depressed,” there is no space between “I” and “depressed” – they are the same.
But let’s look directly into what we are calling depression. We see that the identity of depression is actually a set of experiences – sadness, anxiety, lack of motivation, negative thoughts, crying, body aches, physical tension. The mind then puts these experiences together and concludes, “I am depressed.”
For many of us, this identity of depression is familiar and “sticky.” We live in the label of “I am depressed,” which is like having a smoky film covering our whole life experience.
Depression, like any experience, can be a gateway to aliveness and freedom. When we bring awareness – or presence – to the identity of depression, it begins to untangle. We notice depression not as a label, but as the actual experiences that are happening – thoughts, bodily sensations, the energy of various emotions.
We can observe these experiences from a place of curiosity, friendliness, and interest. For example, you might say, “OK, sadness is present. What actually is sadness? How does it feel in my body? What thoughts come with it? Where is it? What does it need?”
This investigation shifts the identity of depression from a concept or label to your actual experiences. In the moments of this investigation, you will notice that you stop telling yourself you are depressed – you are simply aware of what you are experiencing.
Here is a paradox: any identity we hold about ourselves is reinforced by lack of attention. If we assume the identity to be true and we don’t directly look at it with a curious and open mind, the identity is likely to continue. But when we open our minds and hearts to see what is actually going on – that is, we bring presence to it – the identity begins to unravel. See how our attention is our most precious resource?
Now, let’s go a step further. Shift your attention away from the experiences that are arising and to the observer itself. What are the qualities of the observer? Is the observer depressed? You may not notice this observer, but it is always present. It has no problem with depression, or any other experience that may arise. This is who you are – clear, spacious, benign, open, receptive.
A few important points:
- If you are feeling suicidal or have thoughts of hurting yourself, seek professional help immediately from a mental health counselor, your family doctor, or emergency services such as 911.
- The way I am describing depression does not negate the need for medication. Personally, I think medication for depression is overprescribed, but if it is appropriate for you, then taking it is the right thing to do.
- This investigation that I suggest is not a technique – it’s not presented as something you try it to see if it works or not. It is an ongoing lifestyle of inquiry that can ultimately lead to the deepest peace. But for most people, this is a process that takes time and patience. It is discovering a new, fresh way of being. The right teacher, guide, or therapist may be very useful.
- As your process deepens, you might discover some old stories you carry around, possibly from your childhood, that affect how you feel and distort your world view. These may need to be investigated in the same way that you investigate the identity of depression – by looking directly at the actual experiences.
Some thoughts about thoughts:
One of the hallmarks of depression is negative thinking. People who experience depression often cling to deeply-held beliefs about lack, hopelessness, and personal inadequacy. In fact, when the world is seen from this vantage point, depression seems like an appropriate reaction.
When we investigate these thoughts with the laser beam of our attention, we realize that they are not actually true. They are ephemeral happenings that appear in the mind and dissolve back into space. We may be able to justify them, but we can just as well find evidence for their opposite. For example, someone might be able to find support for the thought, “I am worthless,” but there will no doubt be equally valid evidence to support the thought, “I am not worthless,” that is being ignored.
Believing depressive thoughts is like putting a stranglehold on our view of the world. Bringing presence to them and seeing how they distort the truth is an opening into freedom.
Back to the question:
Is it possible to be depressed and present at the same time? Presence is the medicine for the identity of depression. When we lovingly embrace our experience as it is in the moment, we are no longer resisting it, and the identity begins to break up and even fall away. This is a journey…with every step taking you closer to clarity, ease, and well being.