The Sunday Times (Jan 2007)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 11:50


Published in The Sunday Times, 28 January 2007

Depression is a prison whose foundation stone is the unquestioned belief that you are intrinsically unacceptable to yourself and other people, and that you have to spend your life trying to be good in the way that you define 'good'. Setting yourself impossibly high standards, you become an expert in feeling guilty. When a personal disaster befalls you, your ideas about yourself and your life no longer fit reality. This feels like your very self is falling apart and being annihilated. You are gripped by terror. You try to hold yourself together by blaming yourself for the disaster. Now you see yourself as being unforgivably wicked. Immediately you cut yourself off from other people because they will reject you, from your past where lies the evidence of your wickedness, from your hopeless future, and from society and nature. Thus, unintentionally, you create your prison of depression. The more you hate yourself, the worse your prison becomes.

The key to the prison of depression is to decide to act as if you value and accept yourself. You do something nice for yourself, something as simple as going for a daily walk. You talk things over with a friend or perhaps a therapist. You decide whether you'll take some anti-depresssants to mitigate your pain (anti-depressants are pain-killers, not cures for depression) or whether you'll use the pain to motivate you to change how you live your life. Gradually and imperceptively you come to value, accept and love yourself.

Thus you discover the recipe for happiness. You learn to see yourself as being humanly fallible like everyone else. Now you work out what proportion of a disaster is your responsibility, what proportion other people's, and what happened by chance. You no longer claim to be responsible for everything in the universe, and, instead of sinking into self-absorbed guilt, you endeavour to right what can be righted. You no longer see the world as governed by a grand design of immutable laws of reward and punishment, but see it as operating as an interplay of chance and human intention, and thus a world where you can enjoy hope and freedom. You can accept that life will always bring crises and disasters because you know that you'll meet them with courage and optimism.

No longer enmeshed in your concerns about yourself, you discover how immensely interesting and rewarding the world and other people are. Involved in all this, it might cross your mind one day that you are happy.

Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison 3rd edition Routledge