Understanding the Difference Between Feelings, Emotions, and Depression
“It’s only normal,” she said, “that you’re sad.” You’ve gone through two miscarriages in the past year. But you’ll be fine. You’ll have a child. You’ll be fine. They were just flukes. Think about all the things you have to be thankful for. This grief will not last forever.”
If only it were sadness; if only it were grief. But it’s not. It’s clinical depression.
Some people think that depression is a feeling, like sadness, nervousness or even happiness. I disagree. When I think of happiness I can sense a tingle and warmth that radiates from the nape of my neck down through my spine. While I’m nervous, I can feel the knot in the pit of my stomach. When I’m sad, my throat swells and tears well in my eyes.
People who are depressed sometimes do feel sad. I certainly feel sad. I also feel anxious, I worry, and often cry. Sometimes, I’m worse. Sometimes, I feel numb. But, depression isn’t sadness. Depression is not a feeling at all. Feelings are fleeting. You have them for a minute, an hour, a day, . . . and then they disappear. Depression lingers. It tarnishes every thought, every perception, every feeling.
Others think that depression is an emotion, like grief or love. This isn’t true though, or at least I don’t believe it to be so. Emotions are judgments about things. This idea is called the judgment theory of emotions and of the theories out there, it makes the most sense to me. On this view, you’re sad about something. You grieve over something. You love someone or are excited at the prospect of . . .
Depression is not like this; it doesn’t cling to one thing. It’s pervasive.
Sure we speak of being depressed “about” things, for instance, events in our lives. I often say “I’m depressed about my miscarriages.” But this is a slip of the tongue. I grieve over my losses. Their loss may even have triggered my depression, but this way that I perceive, think, feel, act, live, and respond to the world right now is not fundamentally about them; it’s a characteristic of me.
Depression is more like your house; It’s where you live and it’s a part of who you are. It’s where you start the day, sleep at night and it’s full of rooms you can walk through even in the dark because over time it becomes so familiar.
I admit, understanding depression this way might seem bleak, at first. If emotion is about something then, presumably, you can “get over” that thing. If depression isn’t about something, if it’s just the way that you are, then can you ever “get over” it?
The question is misleading.
You can’t just “get over it” because depression is not a thing to get over. Yet, the fact that depression is not an emotion is liberating, even empowering. If depression were an emotion, unless we stopped caring about the thing or the event, (in my case my miscarriages) that led to the depression, it would seem that depression would always be a part of who we are.
Even if it meant remaining depressed, I don’t want to stop caring about the loss of my sons and I wouldn’t want to. I should feel sad about what happened; I should grieve and I should care. It’s appropriate. Fortunately, I don’t have to stop feeling sad or caring about their loss to stop being depressed.
Understanding the difference between depression, feelings and emotions helps me because it allows me to recognize that I have the power to change. I don’t expect myself to just “get over it.” Instead, I recognize that I can take steps to move beyond where I am right now. It’s possible to rearrange my house, rebuild my house, or eventually even change my address. I can become something other than depressed. And so can you.
Making a Move
So how do you change? How do move beyond where you’re at? The way I know how to do something is, well, by doing. When I want to buy a new house I start by doing my research. I hope on Google, look at Zillow, or Redfin or some other site to see what’s within my price range and in an area I might like. Then I check out the areas. I look at the houses and examine whether I can see myself in them. Afterward, I make a selection, set the inspection date. If all goes well with the lender, I eventually sign the mortgage papers.
And that’s pretty much what I’ve done. First, I did my research. I read about depression on the internet: I found out that therapy is helpful, physical movement crucial (results are usually immediate and consistent), and medication sometimes necessary. I found out that diet imperative, communication important, and goal setting beneficial. This last bit is what led me to volunteering—a manageable task that I could achieve and feel some sort of accomplishment in doing. In addition, volunteering gave me some structure–a commitment of somewhere to be, people to meet and something to do outside my normal routine. And this helps.
The fact that you’re reading this blog tells me that you like to do your research too. You’ve already made progress towards your new home by taking this step. Now, keep moving because you do have the power to change. Join us at our next event.