September 22, 2011

Broken hearts and fragile minds

I’ve read tons of blogs about depression. The Splintered Mind is one of the best.

His latest post, “On Heartache and Depression,” is a must-read for those of us who suffer from depression, especially those who are also coping with loss.

So what’s the difference between sadness and depression? And how do we know when we are just sad or when we’re depressed and might need help?  I’ve been asked that before. Here’s what A Splintered Mind writes about his recent divorce, about the difference between sadness and depression.

Sadness is a response to tragic or disheartening events; Depression is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and misery that pulls my heart to the grave. Sadness invites comfort from others; Depression compels me to drive others away.

Brilliant, Splintered Mind. Part of healing, he says, is allowing ourselves to be sad when sad things happen. For me, it’s the death of my father.

Dad, the greatest man I’ve ever known, died two years ago. It took two years for me to slip into the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. A dark, terrible place I never want to visit again.

Did I go there because I didn’t let myself go where my feelings tried to lead me after Dad’s death? (Note to self: Ask therapist about this next week). And was my depression worse than it would’ve been had I properly grieved two long summers ago?

Splintered Mind further opines about the difference between depression and sadness.

When my thoughts are tainted with hopelessness and dreams of death, I know they are induced by Depression and I fight them off. When I pine for the marriage lost and wish things had turned out differently, or even burst into tears, I know it's a response to the tragedy I'm living through. I allow it to happen.

When sadness threatened to overwhelm for the first two years after my first big loss in life, I didn’t let it happen. I shut down emotionally. I seldom talked about Dad and almost never let myself cry.

Maybe it’s not just sappy therapy speak to say we should let ourselves feel feelings. Smart people who’ve spent a lifetime studying it say our thoughts determine how we feel. So when we think sad things, maybe we should allow ourselves to feel what we’re thinking, to let the tears flow.

Looking back, my recent descent into that dark place was the worst time of my life. Yet while there is still a hole in my heart, those tears were like a salve in my wounded soul. It’s getting better.

So thank you, Splintered Mind. Thank you for reminding me it’s okay to be sad. It might even save my fragile mental health.