Major Depressive Disorder

Surviving Depression: "Foundations Once Destroyed"


By Louise from her own experience with depression
Written for Internet Mental Health
March 1998

An episode of depression can be a devastating experience. This is so first because of the darkness and despair that pervades the person like a poison, and second because the failure of others to comprehend in even a small way what a person is going through. But what happens in a depression? To what can we liken the experience?

One comparison we might make is the following. The inner nature of someone with a vibrant, happy life can be thought similar to a house of single level built on a strong foundation. This foundation forms the shell of the basement in which there are several strong pillars upholding the level above. In the case of a happy and productive life, the foundation is securely in place. The pillars may be a strong marriage, children growing up well, an enjoyable and creative job, health, a convincing faith, supportive friends and relatives, financial security, a variety of hobbies, and travel possibilities. With such pillars firmly in place the person can, as it were, live on the upper level. Occasionally the individual may glance down the stairs into the dark lower region and become aware of the pillars that are lending so much support to the current happiness being felt.

Most of the time the person does not question or even notice the pillars at all. People simply abide on the upper level. They do not question; they simply live. The day may begin with a decision of what to have for breakfast. There is no questioning of why one should have to eat. “What's for lunch?” is asked, not “why lunch?” The afternoon may bring a chance for hobbies or sport. There is no thought that such activities are a waste of time. “What is my wife making for supper?” or “what shall I cook today?” are the questions, not “why another meal?” And then the golden hours of evening arrive when families and friends can share joyous times together as the shadows lengthen and fall. There is no questioning during these hours of the timeless value of human companionship and gentle love. On this upper level there may be at times tears and sorrows but, with pillars firmly in place, the tragedies of life can be borne. Time comes with its gentle healing and life in the upper level goes on.

Depression. How it attacks the house! Foundation and upper level: both suffer damage. “Foundations once destroyed”, what can one do? But what happens? A darkness seems to arise in the basement. It pervades upward into the level above, attracting the person's attention. It draws a person downward into the lower depths, as it were. The “eyes of the soul” or the person's inward attention become focused on these lower regions. All the happiness, joy, and brightness that attended the life on the first story disappear. The energy that accompanies the normal activities of life disappears. The sense of purpose that underlay the ordinary activities of daily life is lost. Nothing seems worth doing. All one's past activities seem impossible now to be carried out.

And the basement! Here most of all changes occur. The person focuses on the dark because it seems inescapable. Now nothing is assumed in place and firm. Instead, all the pillars come under scrutiny. Questioning and more questioning, not on a superficial level but rather on a profound one.

  1. What is the purpose and meaning of human life?
  2. Why do some people seem to have so much joy, others, so much sorrow?
  3. Why is there suffering? Why do some people endure pain for years, others, not at all?
  4. Are we suffering because of our sins? If so, what can we do about them?
  5. How does a loving God allow suffering?
  6. If we are going to die anyway, why does God not take us out of our suffering?
  7. Why, why did I get depressed? Where does this darkness come from?
  8. What is the purpose of life? Would not death be desirable? Why should I not choose to die in order to escape this dread inner poison?

And as the questions continue to be asked with few answers given, the pillars holding up the first level gradually incur damage. Everything is questioned and, as it is questioned, is weakened.

  1. Is this marriage really happy? Am I loved?
  2. My children will soon grow up. Will I be lonely? Will they leave this city?
  3. My job no longer satisfies. What could I do instead? Why do I have to work? What will I do with all the spare time if I do not work?
  4. My health is broken. This depression seems so uncontrollable. I used to be so very healthy. What will the future hold if this darkness does not go away? Life is not worth living in this debilitating gloom.
  5. My faith was so very strong! How, how could God let this happen to me? I loved Him so; I served Him so. How can this be for my good? “Oh, God, I have lost You! Where are You in this darkness? Why now are You so silent, when I need You so? Bring me out of the dark pit and show me why I was ever there. Yours is this glorious universe, and yet now all I see is suffering and sorrow. You are love itself, and yet now Your hand is heavy upon me. Enlighten my eyes, for the darkness is terrible but to lose You would be more terrible still. So many people suffering such excruciating pain! If this must be and our minds cannot understand, then comfort Your children in Your tender embrace. Help us to trust when we cannot see.”
  6. Friends and relatives. Some prove so gloriously faithful. They stand by and help in all the ways that they can. But others flee. Some who were so trusted, so loved are gone now. They cannot help and therefore depart. But their departure is like a sword thrust into the heart. As the darkness pervades the soul, the absence of those on whom one relied does further harm. Self-confidence goes; fear of rejection increases; alarm for the future appears. What if everyone leaves? The tears flow frequently and easily. Unhappiness becomes one's mode. And, of course, others then leave.
  7. Financial security becomes of little interest. That for which one might have worked with some enthusiasm seems as nothing in the light of lost health.
  8. Hobbies attract no interest. What are they for? What good do they do? Is not attention to one's own interests rather selfish?
  9. Travel! Where could I go if feel like this?! What would I do if I got worse? I have lost all my self-confidence. Fear absorbs me. The unfamiliar frightens me.

In some cases the pillars holding up the next level gradual crumble. The person's whole focus is on the basement area. Nothing is seen except gloom and broken pillars. The upper level in some ways disappears. No “normal” or average life seems possible. It becomes simply a sweet memory that appears forever lost. What was it like to wake up in the morning and to have little concerns? What was it like to feel energy for the usual activities of life, such as eating, cleaning, walking, shopping, and working? Where has the delightful luxury gone of finding these activities of sufficient interest? How could it ever have been that life was filled with brightness and joy, that little things could bring a smile, that big things could engender positive excitement?

Instead, why is it that I cannot carry on these activities except by sheer force of will? Why is it that all I want to do is to ask these questions about the darkness and about life? Why is it that I want to cling to every person, hoping vainly that someone will have the answers I seek? Why have all the foundations of my life been destroyed? What can I do?

As depression slowly, much too slowly lifts, rays of light begin to appear. The person, as it were, sees light coming from above, down the “staircase” to the basement. At first, for a few fleeting moments only, one can slip up those stairs. Dimly and obscurely the upper lever starts to come into view. Now it seems to be there; now it seems to be gone. Back into the gloom. The darkness swirls relentlessly around. One feels lost and in sadness again. Was the upper level an illusion then? Where, oh, where is it? Once again the light beckons. One ascends. Life opens its hands and calls. One leaps for the gift but it too flees away into the mist. The darkness returns. Yet again a call to the light. Once again, hope begins to kindle. The upper level comes more and more into view. The depression is not yet gone but the chance of recovery seems to exist. The “bright wings” of hope nurture the soul and suggest that the promise of new life will be fulfilled.

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