Depression and Anxiety…a matched pair. It’s a cycle like a roller coaster, except no fun at all. You don’t need a psychiatrist to give you a diagnosis. You know if you’re depressed. Your body feels heavy and it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning or find motivation for all the other things you feel you should be doing.
Things that once seemed fun and exciting, like creative or social activities, don’t appeal much anymore. You can’t remember how long you’ve felt this way. Sometimes it seems like forever, other times like it started with a particular event months or years back.
You say a lot of critical things to yourself, like “you’ve got a bad attitude”, and “pull yourself together!” But that only makes you feel more ashamed and discouraged and just want to go back to bed.
With joy gone, now it’s only the guilty, addictive pleasures that offer a little relief.
Sleep is sometimes a great escape, but at other times, you can’t even sleep. The anxiety sweeps over you, day or night, making you very nervous, or even downright panicked. At those times, you think of all the bad things that may happen, your stomach tightens, your breath quickens. Maybe the anxiety drives you to make some phone calls, talk to a friend, or go to a 12-step meeting. But soon, even those efforts seem pointless, and you fall back into lethargy and discouragement.
Sometimes when you’re anxious, you do or say things that hurt or scare others. It seems right and justified at the time because you feel misunderstood or mistreated. But later, you feel confused, ashamed, or fearful that you have overreacted and made things still worse.
When clients come to me with these kinds of feelings, they are often too embarrassed to admit it at first. There’s a lot of shame attached to being depressed, or having this cycle of depression and anxiety.
What they come to realize is that this is not about having a bad attitude or some adjustment problem. It’s actually the reaction of your body’s physiology and nervous system to a past traumatic event, or a series of traumas.
It might’ve been a loss, accident, or violence in adulthood and you didn’t realize how deeply it affected you. Sometimes the memory of the trauma(s) is hidden in early childhood. Things like bullying, the absence of emotional comfort, or child abuse are often overlooked by parents. Through innocent ignorance, insensitivity, or denial, parents may believe everything in their child’s life is fine, so they don’t or can’t offer the extra attention, protection, and love needed for healing at the time. If this happened to you, you grew up feeling poorly, but never knowing why. A child in such a situation will usually conclude, “there’s something wrong with me.”
You reached adulthood with no explanation for your anxious and discouraged feelings besides something being wrong with you.
In youth and young adulthood, with hormones surging and busy schedules, symptoms of depression and anxiety can be suppressed for years. But eventually, in adulthood, some trigger happens…a car accident, a divorce, loss of a job, a loved one’s death. Then those unresolved feelings from childhood come back like hitting a brick wall. And the feelings often come without clear memories, without an explanation that says, “you feel this way because your Mother didn’t hold you much” or “because your spouse left you ten years ago” or “because your Father yelled at you”. No…all you have are feelings of anxiety, depression, and shame. The only explanation for it all seems to be simply that there’s something wrong with you. And that just makes it worse.
I have been down many healing paths to release the trauma of childhood cancer and amputation. Working with Paul got me in touch with a powerful wisdom in my body for healing which I hadn’t previously experienced.
— W.L. 48 year old woman, acupuncture apprentice
You’ve probably heard of the “fight-flight” response. It’s that instinctual, automatic response of every creature and human to a threatening situation — we prepare to fight or flee — to save our lives. But there’s a third instinctual response that is not so well known — “freeze”. That’s what happens when repeated attempts to fight or flee a threatening situation don’t work. For animals in the wild, it often works because predators may lose interest in a prey that goes completely still. Like the animals, we have that life-saving instinct built-in to our nervous systems. If you were small and dependent on others and things became scary or threatening or your needs were not being met, you probably tried to object (fight) by crying. And you may have tried to get away, but for a small child, fleeing is not really an option. So you’re trapped!What do you do?
At any age, if neither fighting or fleeing works to deal with a threatening situation, then you do what wild animals do when their best efforts to escape or fight off a predator don’t work. You freeze. That means that your body partially shuts down the energy flow through your nerves and body. Your breathing becomes constricted. Some areas of your body tighten. The pain diminishes. It’s a lot like an electrical system. If the current is too much, it will burn out the system, so the breaker trips to protect against burnout. In “freeze” you’re not as fully alive, but the pain is bearable now, and at least you survived.
This has another name. It’s called depression.
You didn’t have a choice. It was never your fault. The question now is…how do you make a choice today to move into a better place? I can help with that.
Traditional “talk therapy” focuses mostly on insight into the problem, but that has very slow and limited success for many trauma survivors because it doesn’t touch that part of the brain where the “freeze” is, or where the feeling of danger is being continually renewed. Depression and anxiety don’t easily respond to insight.
I practice an approach which helps my clients to resolve the depression and anxiety cycle relatively quickly.