The wisdom of depression
In one of my favorite books about high sensitivity, "The Sensitive Person's Survival Guide," Dr. Kyra Mesich writes evocatively about the sudden depression that sensitives can experience as a result of our unconscious empathic awareness. Her story coincided with my experience.
In my teens, 20s, and early 30s, I periodically found myself overcome with waves of despair. I'd cast about in my own psyche, trying to analyze myself and figure out, "What’s wrong with me now?" Invariably, I could find something to worry about or work on, to try and make myself a better person. But when I began to truly understand my sensitivity, I recognized that someone around me who was depressed often triggered my own depression.
This realization did not mean that I didn't have my own concerns that affected my emotional state. But it did mean that my own emotions were intensified or triggered by interactions with the energy of other people, particularly loved ones or close friends.
Since discovering my empathic sensitivity, I've studied how to strengthen my energy boundaries and shift my perspective about connecting with other people. I teach this information to my clients because I find it to be the key difference between feeling clear, present, and happy, versus feeling lost, confused, and in despair. This includes energy work and tools like flower essences and Epsom salts baths, many of which I've previously written about.
Once I learned to work my empathic sensitivity in these ways, I also recognized the value and wisdom of depression -- along with other uncomfortable emotions -- when it does still show up. My teacher, Sonia Choquette, says that depression is a powerful indication that our spirits have left, while we try and force ourselves to do something that isn't right for us. In other words, we energetically take off when we aren't taking care of ourselves.
I find this to be true in all areas. When I haven't slept enough, I often feel down. When I haven't eaten properly or on time, my spirits flag. When I'm spending time with people who drain my energy, I walk away feeling lifeless. When I try to get myself to do something because I think I "should," I feel depressed and unmotivated.
It's easy to draw faulty, big-picture conclusions from these states of mind. It's easy to go from feeling down to wondering what's wrong with you, to then concluding there is something massively wrong with you, and finally to deciding that you need some sort of intervention or feeling like you might give up altogether. I call this "going global with your emotions." But if you can instead see your emotions simply as information, they will have a lot to tell you.
My coaching mentor, Marcia Collins, says that emotion is an abbreviation for energy (or information) in motion. Asking, "What is this emotion telling me right now?" is a powerful way to work with any emotion, including depression. Listen to what your heart says, in response.
For instance, I have a client who recently realized that her depression was an indication that she is lonely for kindred spirits at work -- as opposed to thinking there is something wrong with how she is approaching her work or her life. Listen, learn, and correct course. Don't make it bigger than it has to be.
Depression can also be a sign that says, "Go Back. Do Not Enter. Wrong Way." Karla McLaren, author of the book "Emotional Genius," calls depression "the brilliant stop sign of the soul." In other words, our energy has left us for a good reason. It's up to us to find out why and bring it back.
McLaren also points out that depression can be called "ingenious stagnation," because it forces us to rest and heal. Depression can be a protective force, sending parts of ourselves into hibernation so our spirit is protected, while we try to force our minds and bodies to soldier on. Our depression says, "No. Stop."
I've also learned to think of depression as "anger turned inward." This sentiment fits with Sonia's wisdom: If my spirit has left because I'm making myself do something that I don't truly want to do, I get angry because I've betrayed my own soul's deep wisdom. My anger lets me know I've crossed my own boundaries. My depression lets me know that I've gone too far.
I started to write a caveat to this article, saying that there is a distinction between mild, everyday blues and clinical depression. That may be true. It may also be true that in either case, our spirit has left and we need to bring it back.
Please listen to the wisdom of your emotions. It is your spirit, speaking to you.
Powerful questions to ask:
-- What is this emotion telling me?
-- What does my spirit want right now?
-- If I am depressed, why did my spirit leave? Why has my energy gone?
-- Are my actions and choices aligned with who I really am?
"Emotional Genius," book by Karla McLaren
"Dance Your Spirit," music CD by Mark Stanton Welch
"True Balance," book by Sonia Choquette
"The Artist's Way," book by Julia Cameron
"Embrace Your Essential Self," coaching program by Jenna Avery
Copyright 2007, Jennifer K. Avery
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Jenna Avery, the Life Coach for Sensitive Souls, offers an original coaching program designed to guide highly sensitive souls to a deep sense of inner rightness, so they are inspired to step forward and shine. You're invited to visit her website at www.highlysensitivesouls.com to take her free online assessment, "Is Your Sensitivity Working For You?"