Depression can descend upon us for any of many different reasons, known and unknown. It is far more than a feeling, or even a biochemical imbalance in the brain. For those who have endured its dark and deadening effect, it is the undoing of everything we are and an unceasing sorrow of the soul. If left to run its course, depression, like an unchecked abscess, can end in disability or death.
Grief, when it comes, can feel very much like this, though its reasons usually wear the faces of those we love, and have lost. Often the loss comes hard and hurts too much to fully feel at first. It’s like having the spiritual wind knocked out of you. The weight of going on becomes almost more than we can bear. In a strange way, something within us hovers at the cliff between life and death, weary from our wounds, wishing to be done.
Depression and grief-- they may feel and look much the same, but are opposite in nature.
Depression must be understood and contested. Situations, relationships, and conditions that contribute to the onset of depression have to be recognized and addressed for mood to improve. When depression is too disabling, however, medication, as well as therapy, may be needed to regain the motivation and ability to act effectively.
Unfortunately, people in grief are often exhorted to do something similar, and “put the past behind.” In short order, we are expected to forget and get on with it. Contrary to our culture, however, keeping up a strong front thwarts healing. For time does not heal all wounds unless we take time to allow healing to happen.
Sorrow comes sometimes as a tsunami, an overwhelming wave of pain; and sometimes it simply seeps. Tears stifled become sorrow dammed; eventually it backs up and overflows. Far better to let weeping have its way, whenever possible. It is not wallowing. It is yielding to healing. Fortunately, grief is deeper than the darkness of depression, and brings with it our spirit’s instinctive wisdom of what is needed to heal.
Usually for the first year after a serious loss, we have only half a heart, and can muster little more than “half-hearted” effort and concentration. The rule of thumb about activity is to listen to the whispers of this inner wisdom. Aside from doing what must be done, we should be still when the need for silence is sensed, and be with people when it is comforting and enjoyable to do so.
Grief does not mend in the manner of a broken bone. There are good days and bad days. We cannot get better by will power or well intended self-improvement programs. Healing tends to happen slowly, far more slowly than we think it should. But grieving is our natural and instinctive pathway to living fully again. It knows where we need to go and how to get there. Cooperating with the process allows light to find its way back into life.