On the heels of Robin Williams death by suicide, and as per usual, a slew of articles have appeared reminding everyone that depression is a serious disease that needs medical treatment. Many, if not most, of these articles also repeat the idiotic and discreditted theory, based on no evidence, that depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemistry. I can't begin to tell you how furious this makes me feel, but I can tell you why it does.
I cured myself of depression. When I say "cured", I don't mean that I found a way to manage the symptoms; I mean really cured. I used to suffer from major, clinical depression. It was bad. I was a complete basket-case. I couldn't even go to school because I couldn't stop crying. I was first diagnosed in 1983, at the age of 17. I was prescribed tricyclic antidepressants, and they "worked". About six months after I stopped the drugs, my depression returned. When it got so bad that I couldn't cope any more, the drugs were prescribed again. For the next 15 years, I stayed on that merry-go-round. Drugs. Relapse. Drugs. Relapse. Drugs. Relapse. Drugs. Relapse. Drugs (Zoloft). Adverse reaction. Suicide Attempt. Relapse. I was prescribed antidepressants one more time after that, but I was too afraid to take them. I remember that day, when I finally gave up. I stopped fighting, stopped running from the pain, and instead did the exact opposite. I just didn't have the energy to struggle any more, so I opened myself up to it and let it come. I dove for the bottom. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that, instead of being annihilated by pain, as I fully expected to be, I felt relief and began to truly heal. I believe that a similar thing happens in "let go and let God"-style religious conversions, in which unconditional surrender is immediately attended by an experience of spiritual peace. Many people who have such an experience, interpret it as confirmation of a religious belief-system, but it doesn't really have anything to do with Jesus, or any other belief-based projection. If it did, it couldn't have happened to me.
That was 16 years ago. I have never had a recurrence of major depression since then. I have felt agonizing despair, and overwhelming sadness, but those come and go like normal feelings now. (With major depression they never leave, for months and years on ends. The whole world turns grey and life seems like a sick and pointless joke.) Depression is no joke. It is a very serious and disabling state of being. But it is NOT a disease; it is a call to authenticity, and an open door to positive disintegration. Since I successfully healed myself, whereas psycho-pharmacology spectacularly failed to, I think I'm in a far stronger position to speak to the real cause of depression. It is definitely not due to a brain chemistry imbalance, any more that anger is caused by over-production of adrenaline. Correlation does not equal causation.
Maybe you've seen news of the recently published experiment, wherein the researchers managed to breed mice whose brains did not produce seratonin. They had theorized that the mice would be depressed, but they weren't. You'd think this would lead some people to the same question I asked when I learned that antidepressant drugs are tested for efficacy on animals (usually rats or mice): How did they make the animals depressed? Wouldn't you think that, if it were possible (and it is) to consistently produce depression in mice, that the method used might point to the cause of depression in humans? I thought so, and still do. So how do you make an animal depressed? It's pretty simple. You torture it. You subject it to chronic stress and abuse over which it has no control. One method used is to repeatedly place the mouse in a water tank, from which it cannot escape, and force it to swim around until it is exhausted. Or put it in a cage with a hostile, robotic rat, or deprive it of food and water; or disrupt its sleep/wake cycle.
In a nutshell, depression is caused by on-going, or suppressed and unprocessed, emotional trauma. It usually has its roots in childhood. Our culture systematically traumatizes children (and adults) to varying degrees. Sometimes, the trauma is continuous, or too severe, and/or the one experiencing it is very emotionally sensitive. Then, the pain of the trauma can be felt to exceed one's ability to emotionally cope with it. An instinctive defense mechanism kicks in, wholly or partially suppressing awareness of the emotional injury. The injury doesn't go away or heal; it sits, sealed off like a cyst, waiting in the subconscious. Any subsequent, similar trauma (even a relatively mild one) will trigger its re-surfacing for processing and release. And there will be no shortage of such triggers. The trauma victim will be subconsciously drawn to situations that cause the original injury to resurface because that's the only way it can be released, and finally healed. Psychologists call this phenomenon, "repetition compulsion".
You can't cure the pain of depression by running from it. You have to face the pain. Unfortunately, that is the last thing anyone will ever recommend. Every suggested treatment I've ever seen, consists of some attempt at avoidance or escape. It's just like Alice in the looking-glass world, trying to reach the top of the hill by walking toward it, and always ending up back where she started. The solution I stumbled upon was the same one that worked for Alice.
I know, for someone suffering with depression, it must seem impossible that the monster, with which they battle for life itself, could be defeated by such a simple thing: stop resisting the pain. But you know that that is no simple thing. I know you've probably never done it, and I know why, too. The thought of it is terrifying. After all, you're barely hanging in there, as it is. The pain you resist appears as a bottomless abyss, from whose clutches, you would never escape if you gave in to it for one second. That's why you suppressed it in the first place. Appearances can be deceiving. Ironically, the pain you resist, if you stopped resisting it, would not even be as bad as what you're feeling now. And almost the moment you say, "yes" to it, it will be gone. The wounding that causes depression is the result of denying an authentic emotion. That's it. There is no need to recall the specific traumatic experience. I don't, and yet I am cured. Sixteen years is long enough to say that, I think.