mental healthAndrew Solomon, a journalist and author who has suffered with severe depression, writes, “The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, but vitality.”

It’s the loss of engagement in life. Your moxie is gone. There’s no lilt in your step. A yawning emptiness pervades your thinking and emotions. “I don’t care,” comes out of your mouth. A lot.

You hate feeling the way you do. Who you knew yourself to be has vanished, and has been replaced by someone who struggles to brush their teeth. You blame yourself. You don’t understand what has invaded your mind that just last year, or last month, or even yesterday, seemed fine. You could laugh. You could smile. And now, everything feels bleak.

There are obvious gradations of depression, from mild to severe, from acute to more chronic. But they all share this sense of loss of what you’ve been able to count on in yourself. Your energy. Your drive.

Your vitality. And it’s far from acceptable.

So what is self-acceptance? How are you supposed to work on self-acceptance when you’re depressed? You don’t want to stay depressed, that’s for sure. How do you make it happen? Does that mean you give up trying to change for the better?

Shepard talked about accepting the self as early as 1979. Most researchers now talk about self-acceptance as understanding what your strengths and your weaknesses are, and focusing on your innate worth, in spite of those weaknesses.

Your strengths are not all of who you are, nor are your vulnerabilities.

When I think about the people I have loved in my lifetime, I realize I have loved them not only for their talents, their wit, or their caring, but I have also loved their vulnerabilities. I’ve understood their battle with insecurity or self-doubt. I’ve accepted the entirety of their being. That’s what love is to me. That’s what knowing someone, truly knowing them, is all about.

Self-acceptance seems to be the act of doing that same thing for yourself.

Self-acceptance when you’re depressed means not denying its existence.

You have to accept having cancer before you can fight it. You have to accept an addiction before you can find the humility to admit its power over you. You have to accept depression before you can learn to understand and alter its hold over your mind.

Acceptance isn’t resignation. Far from it.

If you can accept depression, rather than calling it something else, you’ll be a long way down the path of improving — because it can lead you toward getting help or seeking treatment. If you have the courage to call it depression, you can exercise – you can develop better sleep habits – you can determine if there is an hormonal component. You can go to therapy. You can realize that unresolved pain from your past, early trauma, divorce, or someone’s death you loved, is still governing your present. You can talk to a doctor about medication. You can realize that you were genetically geared to experience depression under times of stress.

All of this you can do — if, and only if, you accept that what’s wrong is called depression.

It means admitting vulnerability.

And it means believing that vulnerability doesn’t make you weak.

If you don’t, you’re far more likely to stay in it. To be paralyzed emotionally. To become someone who is negative, sullen, easily agitated or withdrawn.

This isn’t an easy process.

They’re many of us who have learned to work extremely hard at covering up any emotional struggle. We’ve been yelled at for crying. We’ve been ridiculed for looking sad. It’s our job to please. We’re quick to suppress painful feelings and put immense pressure on ourselves to be successful.

I’ve termed this Perfectly Hidden Depression — a presentation of depression that can fool mental health practitioners. It doesn’t look like emptiness, or loss of engagement. There’s no seeming vitality missing. It’s been carefully concealed with years of practice. These people hide pain so well, sometimes they themselves have a hard time remembering how to feel it.

“The opposite of Perfectly Hidden Depression is self-acceptance.

That’s a quote from me, not Mr. Solomon. People who experience Perfectly Hidden Depression have learned that only the positive, cheery, caring, got-it-all-together side of their nature is worthwhile. The part of them that could be hurting? Or feels vulnerable?

It’s not acceptable.

The importance of identifying PHD is to realize the intricate way you’ve learned to deny your true experience.

It may be effective, at least for a while. You may be able to hide.

But it’s as destructive as any other form of denial.


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