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How Many Heads Does Your Depression Have? Building Yourself to Your Personal Specifications

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Dysthymic Disorder » Featured Article

By: Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

A few months ago Gillian felt lifeless, dead inside and uninterested in anything. Everything was an effort. She just wanted to sleep. She suffered bouts of constipation. She didn’t want to meet anyone, prepare food for herself or take care of her dog. She couldn‘t go to work. Her words came out slow and with long pauses in between. The words were flat, without expression -just like she felt. She couldn’t even cry. Nothing touched her and she moved like a robot from her bed to the shower to a chair and back to bed again. She didn’t care about anything or anyone. This was not the Gillian she knew or wanted to be. She had always been driven to work hard, please those around her and then earn her rest. She had been very sociable and knew how to have a good time.

Now Gillian is very angry and tearful. She cries easily when memories of past hurtful relationships invade her as if from nowhere. She complains of being exhausted and resents having to go to work. She is impatient with herself and others when problems don’t get sorted out quickly.   Anything in her immediate environment that has a glitch feels like another burden on her shoulders. Nothing feels right and that makes her furious. She has enough of her own stuff to deal with. When the world outside also has ‘problems’ it makes Gillian want to give up bothering to face the day at all.

Working and being busy no longer protected her from her past wounding experiences.   Her back and neck pain interrupted her sleep. Skin eruptions came and went. It was as if she had lost control and is the unwilling victim of her history. She was reliving that history and it was unbearable. She wanted to get back to being in total control and able to glide through life as before. Having to interact with a car that breaks down, a dog that barks to be taken for a walk, and insurance companies that refuse to reimburse her for necessary expenses made her crazy. She was irritable, short tempered, unable to wait her turn in lines at the bank or supermarkets. Her interface with the world became brittle, drained of any juice and fractured.

As time went on Gillian’s anger seemed to subside. It had robbed her of space to feel any joy, excitement, softness or empathy. As she pushed it down again for the millionth time, she became more able to function in her job and did the bare minimum to take care of herself and her dog. While she slept for longer periods it wasn’t refreshing and didn’t give her the oblivion she wanted.

She felt disenchanted with her colleagues and friends. Even when friends gave her what she wanted it didn’t register. It was as if she was still starving. The only thing that appeared to satisfy her if only temporarily was food. She would eat and eat when she was alone at home. It calmed her from the moment she began to get the food to the last bite. It was the one sure way she could give herself some peace from her disappointment with others, their unreliability, their ingratitude and inability to satisfy her. She began to put on weight and whipped herself with criticism and loathing. When the self-flagellation became too much to endure she would gorge on food and then drink lots of water, stick her fingers down her throat and throw up. If she got most of it out, she could approve of herself and get a break from the harsh judgments. If she couldn’t vomit it up then she would be consumed with guilt. She continued this cycle of emptiness, bingeing, crucifying herself, attempting to vomit, taking pride in herself if it was successful and drowning in guilt if not. Gillian tolerated this life since it was preferable to the risks she had to take if she allowed herself to be open to relationships. At least this cycle was in her control and familiar. She was the slave master and the slave. Better than being someone else’s victim with repercussions that last forever.

Gillian’s depression had at least four heads. It came in waves. From a sense of lifelessness she would shift to being full of uncomfortable emotions like anger. Hair like triggers would set off bouts of crying that would sap her and make her numb again. When the emptiness came she would fill herself with food that put on weight and that set up a binge, guilt and purge rotation. Each head of the depression acted separately with little communication among them. Each head ruled for a time and then relinquished its power to the next head. Gillian finally came to grips with what she wanted from life when all four heads were vying for supremacy at the same time. Each squeaked a little but didn’t get top billing. They were all dying off, and Gillian was challenged to find out what the costs and consequences were for her of accepting empathy, generosity and care without obligation. It wasn’t till all parts of her got ‘sick’ that she was forced to face the inevitable.

Terry thrived on work. He got a buzz from the autonomy his managerial position gave him. He could   work when he wanted and felt important taking on extra responsibility. He was always ready to stand in for other colleagues when they were sick or on vacation. He would think nothing of doing his job and that of a sick employee simultaneously.   He was well paid and could afford the nice things in life. He had a girlfriend and took satisfaction in being able to buy her expensive gifts. However there were times when he wondered what all this was for. He never had time to enjoy his money in a leisurely way. He never took time off, never got sick and had no long term plans for settling down.

After years of living mostly for the ‘high’ that work gave him, Terry began to feel more tired than usual. He forced himself to continue performing at the same level as before, but his body protested. His concentration span became shorter and he found himself having to ask people to repeat themselves. He read things two or three times before he absorbed the information.   He realized he was less alert when driving when he hit a car as he parked near his apartment.

Terry thought this was just a phase and he tried to make sure that he got plenty of sleep. But it made no difference. He was dragging himself up in the morning and falling asleep before he could eat his dinner at night.   He would go long periods without eating when he was absorbed in the fast pace of work. He was worried about the difference he noticed in himself and tried working even harder to compensate. He never took breaks and delegated fewer tasks. He had no feeling for the issues his work force brought to him which was unusual for him. He went to a medical doctor to find out why his energy was flagging. All test results were normal, and he was told to ensure a good balanced diet with regular meals.

Terry became alarmed when other people commented on the changes within him. He had no idea that it could be so obvious.   He couldn’t bear that his ‘weaknesses’ were visible. His whole image of himself was under threat. The harder he tried to return to his former self, the worse his performance and functioning became. When the first set of wake up calls didn’t lead him to take a good look at what he was doing to himself, the spiral downward came faster and with greater force. He was no longer eager to answer calls from work to bail them out, do shifts for others or sort out difficulties other managers left behind. He didn’t want to have to find time to go out with his girl friend. He didn’t want to deal with paying for the car he hit when he was sleepy at the wheel. When his body   demanded extended amounts of sleep, he had to give in and take a few days off work. He had to be ‘sick’ before he felt he could legitimately separate himself from work.

He got angry with his body for failing him. He was disgusted with himself for having to call in sick and for having to rely on others to do his job. He worried that he would have to do it all again since no one could do it like him. He hated depending on his girlfriend for shopping and housecleaning when he was too weak to do it himself. He didn’t answer calls offering comfort or understanding. He hated the time he got to ‘feel’ himself.

Unfortunately for Terry, as soon as he felt a little more energy he went back to his old ways with a stronger sense of fervor. He was determined to compensate for the time off and wanted to prove to himself and everyone else that he was the same reliable superman. He was terrified that if he showed himself to be as human as anyone else, he would be denied promotion and became ordinary, with a non-descript life. That wouldn’t serve the voice inside him that said he had to achieve at the highest levels at all costs or else he was a failure and hence unlovable. The time periods between his normal functioning and depressions became shorter. The depressions themselves became longer, forcing him to examine his life style and what he expected of himself. What he found was that he was terrified that he was really trash, and that he had used the status of work, the money it provided and the time it used up as a costume to hide the garbage.

Terry’s depression had three heads. He catapulted from lack of concentration and sluggishness to self-disgust and anger, followed by being shut down.   As in Gillian’s case the heads led independent lives and controlled him. He thought he was in control but it was exactly the opposite.

Having many heads to your depression provides extra places to go when one head is tired and used up. As it replenishes itself with your self-hatred and critical voice you can sap the energy of another head. Eventually none of the heads will have the chance to recover. They will all shrivel up and crumble.   You have to feel all the trash, and smell the stink. It is truly awful, but the best news ever. Without feeling, smelling and tasting the parts of yourself you have ignored, you are going to stay depressed - each head waxing and waning through your life.

Depression at its worst is a gift that you are given so that you can be your own master. No more do you have to live according to those voices inside you that won’t allow you to be human, and deprive you of the simple pleasures of life. You get to plan and build in your time, take pleasure and pride in your work and be comfortable in your own skin. For those who need to go through the fires of depression with its many heads, there is a treasure at the end that is not found in any other way. It is the authentic you, that you can accept and be proud of.

Imagine having the chance to build your own self your way. How exciting and thrilling! You can be the architect, give the planning permission, act as your own contractor and inspector, buy your own materials and construct the best you that you want to be. This does not mean that you cannot get relief from medications. If used in conjunction with the work you do to feel all parts of yourself no matter how distasteful, you can construct a stronger and more resilient person. One that you will like and others too.

About the Author...

Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a masters degree in child, adolescent and educational psychology. She has 20 years experience working with adults, couples, adolescents, children and families. She is the author of 2 books for teachers in the UK.

Dr. Raymond believes that the most important relationship you have is with yourself. She sets the stage for you to begin taking care of your most precious gift and ally - yourself. When you can do that, all else falls into place.

Her specialties include distress that shows itself in the body, feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled, fear of intimacy and loss, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-sabotage. If you mask your unhappiness with food, alcohol, drugs, or sex you abandon yourself. If you try to control it by working all hours, with excessive exercise, being busy, cleaning, and over-achieving you are ignoring yourself. Dr. Raymond helps you speak the turmoil that makes you want to go numb, and helps you find the fertile soil to plant your true seeds and flourish.

Dr. Raymond helps parents and children understand one another, and provides adult couples with a platform for having their conversations out loud rather than silently in their individual heads.

Dr. Raymond runs groups and conducts workshops on dream interpretation. She enables individuals to find their voice so that their bodies don't have to speak with back pain, gastric complaints, hair loss, skin breakouts, panic attacks and sleep disturbances. While emotional wounds can debilitate and prevent you from living a full life, Dr. Raymond collaborates with couples, family members and individuals to gain strength from it. She offers the opportunity to rewrite the internal dialogue that may be self-sabotaging and putting obstacles in the way of having meaningful relationships. She honors you and teaches you to honor yourself in a non-threatening environment, allowing you to unfold.

Click here to contact or learn more about Jeanette Raymond

Last Update: 5/3/2008

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