Managing depression? Surely you mean kicking depression’s ass?
Nope. I mean managing. In fact, sometimes I actually mean managing’s lesser cousin, ‘coping’, because at times, coping is the best I can manage (no pun intended). It’s not that I’ve never wanted to kick depression’s ass, it’s more that my attempts to fight it have been in vain.
What do you mean by ‘fight’?
I mean go toe-to-toe with it. Beat it. Quietly. And on my own. Banish it from my existence.
So, what’s with the Mohammed Ali method?
Cos Mohammed Ali didn’t go toe-to-toe with bigger, stronger, opponents – he couldn’t out-muscle the likes of Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Ken Norton & Joe Frazier – instead, his approach was skillful.
OK, so what skills did you use regarding depression?
Well, I like to think I’ve used a few, but the one I want to talk about here is an approach known as ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (see links @ bottom of page for ACT resources + some notes).
Tell me more about ACT?
In brief, ACT consists of mindfulness, values, and acceptance; and it’s the last of those – acceptance – that I have found especially helpful.
Erm, OK, but how do you fight or manage depression if you’re just gonna accept it?
I know – it took me a while to my head around it as well. But acceptance in this context is a pro-active choice, as opposed to a sense of resignation. To illustrate this point, ACT practitioners (ACTors?) refer to the ‘quicksand metaphor’.
Alright, what’s that then?
Well, imagine you’re stuck in quicksand. The more you fight to get out, the quicker and further you sink in…
Oh I like that – very clever. I’m still not 100% sure how it helps though?
It helped me because my experience was that depression sort of taunted me – “you’ve got it all…why are you depressed? You’ve got nothing to be depressed about…I bet you feel guilty now don’t you? Good – you should! You should be able to kick my ass as well – c’mon, have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”. And I did have a go. And I ended up getting deeper and deeper into the quicksand.
So what happened when you accepted it?
I was able to accept that:
- I am prone to depression
- That I needed medication to manage depression
- That I won’t always be depression-free
- That some days, my mood and energy levels will be so low that I’ll question if I want to go on
- That it will pass
- That it’s OK
So, what difference did that make?
Well, because I used to think I had to ‘beat’ depression, I would try this method or that method, but never make any progress. I then ended up feeling even weaker and more ashamed, even more powerless and hopeless, and consequently, even more depressed – right up to my neck in f*cking quicksand! I also felt increasingly tired, from all the emotional and mental effort. But for me, accepting it is like ‘dancing like a butterfly’ – sure, occasionally it catches me with a sucker-punch, and very occasionally it has me on the ropes, but now I dominate most rounds, and I’m ahead on all three judges scorecards. I’ve also got more energy – I can go another 10 rounds if needs be – and yeah, depression will still be stood there at the final-bell – but I accept that now, and I know it’ll be my arms that are held aloft.
Some ACT resources that I’ve found helpful:
- I have intentionally not attempted to provide anything even approaching a comprehensive definition of ACT
- ACT theory can at times seem quite complex – for an accessible introduction I highly recommend Russ Harris (link above) – he has written several books with different audiences in mind
- As a professional, I have attended training in this approach, including with one of the co-developers – Robyn S. Walser – I found it to really helpful both personally and professionally