In order to overcome your depression you need to get to know it intimately. Sun Tzu, in ‘The Art of War’, said “Know thyself. Know thy enemy. A thousand battles. A thousand victories.” The exercise we will talk about gives you the chance to be victorious. You are going to use concepts from narrative therapy to externalize depression, viewing it differently. When you know your depression inside and out as a living, breathing, talking being its power over you diminishes. We usually try to avoid conscious awareness of the parts of our lives that cause us the most psychological discomfort. We hope that by ignoring them they will go away. Honest confrontation is much more effective though.
There are several benefits to externalizing your depression and treating it as if it were its own entity. The most obvious is that you get to view it lucidly. Equally as important is that by creating distance you automatically rid yourself of some of the shame and guilt that seem to follow all mental health issues. We have talked about how people who become depressed tend to view themselves as morally deficient, worthless, or unlovable. These feelings have often been in place since childhood. When you separate yourself from your depression you get to regard it as deficient, worthless, and unlovable instead of yourself. Gaining perspective usually means taking a step back. Parts of your life that are shrouded in darkness will become clear when you create a profile and personality for your depression.
Here are some ideas to get you started. Create a timeline for it as if it were a living person and write down how and when it entered your life. Where and how was it born? Was the process of labor painful or easy? How did it grow up? Were you a parent, friend, acquaintance, or distant bystander as it developed? When did it start thinking, acting, and speaking for itself? Write down its most powerful assets. Write down any colors you associate with it. Try to draw a picture of what it looks like. Think of what type of language it speaks and how it talks to you. Does it whisper in your ear? Does it shout and demand your attention? Does is sneak up on you? Is it a trickster? Is it a liar? What is its name? What does it do for diversion?
As much as you hate to admit it to yourself, depression fulfills some vital functions for you too. It might let you off the hook for always having to be at your best, or from having to be social when you don’t feel like it, for example. Depression is a dangerous enemy precisely because it sometimes acts like your friend. What does depression do for you?
You want to know your depression inside and out. Let your creativity and your personal knowledge be your guide. Create as complete a sketch as possible. I usually encourage people to create a powerpoint presentation and share it with family and friends. Doing so lets you take control back over your life by letting go of a little control and letting others in.
If you have the time to create presentations for other relatively meaningless projects in your life the least you can do is give yourself, your family, and your friends the same courtesy. Depression creates distance between you and the people you care about. Presenting your depression to them shows them exactly how and why distance has occurred and simultaneously moves you all closer together. They will better understand what you are going through and so will you. They will side with you to beat depression instead of feeling separated and confused about what’s happening to you.