Living with depression and anxiety can make you a target for well meaning advice that isn’t well meaning, or helpful.

If you’ve ever felt sad in your life then you’ll understand what it’s like to feel umm…  sad.  That’s because the body’s reaction to the “sad stimulus event” is to generate a flood of “reaction” chemicals.  It’s these chemicals that elicit a specific reaction that should in fact, help you survive.  The feeling lasts for the length time it takes your ever-cycling biochemistry to change.  Then you’ll slowly start to feel better.

For most people, our body can only generate extreme chemical behaviour when the stimulus is present.   For a time thereafter as you ruminate about the stimulus your body might continue to respond accordingly, helping to keep you feeling sad.   Then, once you’ve stopped ruminating and only think occasionally about the stimulus event, you’ll only feel sad when you’re thinking about it.

And this is where many people, including Mr Surprising get stuck.

They know that they only feel sad about something when they think about it.  Ergo, if we just stopped thinking about things that made us feel sad we wouldn’t be depressed!

I’ve tried many times to explain to many people that depression and anxiety are not thinking disorders.  We do not feel sad because we think about sad stuff.  We feel sad and that interferes with our ability to think rationally about our circumstances.  Changing our circumstances will not stop us from feeling sad.  It will only elevate our already exaggerated sadness.

As a community, we seem entrenched in the ideology that we can think and talk ourselves out of depression, anxiety and other psychological symptoms. Today’s psychology is generally based on debunked theorems that were fashioned well before the development of anti-biotics, the polio vaccine and ultrasound technology.  It was a time when smoking was not only fashionable, adults and children were encouraged to do it!

Please don’t get me wrong, for those of us for whom therapy and counseling make a difference I’m all for it!  For me however, years of talking through my problems and sobbing pathetically over all the bad stuff in my life simply engendered my already exaggerated sense of hopelessness.  The fact that I couldn’t stop myself from being this way, to me, meant I was either stupid or hopeless.

But enough about me!

When you feel sad all the time, encountering a sad stimulus can make it almost impossible to cope.  And, it might even lead you to consider self-harm or suicide.  It’s for this reason we can be seen as over-reactors when something sad actually happens.  Of course this “overreaction” can also be seen when we’re reminded of an event, because like everyone else our body is designed this way.  When we’re in counselling or therapy it’s only natural that recalling past tragedies will stimulate a reaction.

I think of our chemical activity like water in a glass.  Everyone’s glass has water in it at varying levels.  When life gets mixed into the glass too, the water levels rise and fall as events come and go.  For people living with depression and anxiety the water starts closer to the top of the glass.  Adding life, makes it spill out and no matter how hard we try, we can’t think the water back into the glass!

It doesn’t matter how our glass got full.  Whether we were born that way or we’re survivors of life’s less tolerable events.  Our glass is always full and we need to be careful not to drown in it.

This is from some guy named Alan Watts:  “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

Deb Shugg is an awarded business woman, wife & mother, author and a sufferer of depression and anxiety.  To contact Deb click here.

If you need help to deal with your symptoms see your doctor.  If you need to talk to someone NOW call Lifeline on 13 11 14.