One of the devastating effects of depression is a gradual and ever increasing loss of a sense of one's own worth or value. As a depression deepens, the world without becomes very unappealing. No activity particularly attracts. Often the company of others brings distress and pain. People begin to avoid and shun one's presence. No one wants to hear about darkness and gloom and yet this is all one has come to know. As outside circumstances become less and less bearable, a person's inner sense of value or worth diminishes. When someone feels worthless, no amount of argument can compel this individual to see the world differently. This person may have accomplished much in life. Families may have been raised well; businesses established; books written; scientific discoveries made. All of these achievements seem to be nothing. “Yes, I did that in the past but now I can do nothing.” “I have become someone who can create nothing.”
Creativity is at the core of human existence. All of us, whether we are important in society or average people of whom the world takes little notice, thrive on being creative. This creative force can have many manifestations. It can range from keeping a house beautifully clean and arranged to the finest sculpture or architecture. All people in their jobs work with creativity. At the end of each day, they have manifested ways in which they create the new. In depression creativity can almost cease to exist. If a person feels no impulse to work or to engage in any activity that used to delight, something starts to die within. Energies that used to flow out so abundantly appear to disappear. Somehow they become toxic within. Instead of leading a person to face a day with glad anticipation of things to do, the poisons make one lethargic and unproductive. If this condition is yielded to and allowed to continue, it can become more and more overwhelming.
A person may have started medication without its having taken full effect. If apathy and lethargy attend the depression that is still severe, this person may withdraw into house or apartment and basically do nothing. The longer a person fails to be creative in any way, the longer recovery is likely to be delayed.
When creativity become impossible, a person feels more and more worthless. In losing creativity, we lose what is closest to our true identity. When it goes, in some sense we die inside. At this time death may seem most attractive. Why live on when one can do nothing, create nothing, enjoy nothing?
Something else happens as this feeling of worthlessness increases. People cease to like or to love themselves. Of all attitudes in depression this one of self-dislike or hatred causes the most harm. It prolongs depression and in some cases helps to make recovery almost impossible. How can people like or love themselves when they are depressed? They appear to themselves to be worthless, unproductive, shunned by friends, unlikely to recover, and having little or no hope.
Other factors may contribute to this sense of worthlessness. The Judeo-Christian tradition, incorrectly handed on and taught, may appear to advocate the suppression of self, the denial of self, the death of self. This tradition certainly recommends that people try to overcome aspects of self that are ugly or immoral. What it does not recommend is that one crush one's identity or fail to use to the full the gifts and talents that have been given. Never is one to hate oneself. A person is a wondrous expression of the divine will. “God delights to be with the children of men and women.” This Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Yes, we are called on to love ourselves. Just as we are to respect and honor others for who they are and what they can do, so we are to respect and to honor ourselves. Only when we can authentically detect in ourselves wonderful traits that can bring joy and happiness to others can we likewise appreciate these in the people we meet.
In depression a person can lose almost completely a sense of being unique and special. People in this state may be convinced that they should be doing good to other people. What they may have lost is any idea of how they can nurture their own being. They do not look inward except to condemn. They look outward but do not feel adequate to help. Only from an abundance of inner strength and joy can someone spread it to others. And this comes only when people like and love themselves.
How can people in depression lose their sense of worthlessness? How can they become creative again? How can they like and love themselves? The key seems to be to focus on their creative abilities. Starting slowly, a person can do small things and come to admit that the energy and skill for this came from within. Gradually the person can do greater things. If going to work has ceased, a return to this may become possible. In some cases work provides the best setting for the creative force to be allowed expression and for the individual once again to start to feel: “I too am somebody.”
As people start to respect and to honor themselves, as they begin to sense the uniqueness of their being, other positive things start to occur. Giving expression to creativity, people begin to have concrete examples of what they can do. In the context in which they are acting, they may reestablish or make new friendships. Once people have a sense of their own worth, they find it much less necessary to cling to others. Instead, a strength and firmness appears in their own characters. They do not need to cling to others; they can rely on their own strength.
The recovery from depression can be very slow. Even if medication appears to be taking effect, the weeks may drag by with darkness a frequent companion. In this period and even after depression has started to lift, the cultivation of love and respect for self can be very beneficial. If making affirmations has effect, then the lilting repetition of “I love myself” may be a good one. If friends realize the importance of affirming worth in others, they may make it a practice to praise and to praise again the wonderful qualities of the depressed individual. Each of us is a unique individual called to manifest a beauty to the world that no one else can show. First we must be aware of this beauty and loveliness in ourselves. Then, without restraint, we should show it forth to others. This behavior is not proud or self-serving. Rather, we bring forth our best and let others enjoy it. We are a gift of the Giver and this gift is one that deserves to be cherished and shared.
Internet Mental Health (www.mentalhealth.com) copyright © 1995-2011 by Phillip W. Long, M.D.