Wise Women: On Depression

12/02/2015 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2016

With Thanksgiving just behind us, we are fully immersed in the holiday season. Messages of gratitude, togetherness and family are in abundance. While they outwardly communicate positive themes, they can be overwhelming for some as much as it is joyous for others.

The truth is that the holiday season can be triggering for many people. Another truth is that to speak or show anything considered darkness is almost taboo during this time.

It is estimated that approximately 20 million Americans experience depression yearly. That number is thought to be 350 million people worldwide. The causes may be physiologic, genetic, psychological, and situational or any combination thereof.

Though it is present at all times of the year, this can be a particularly difficult season. It's incredibly easy to slip into the space of comparison and wonder why life doesn't measure up to all the picture perfect depictions of holiday celebrations.

As a result, the feelings of aloneness and loneliness are that much more pronounced. Throw in confounding factors such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and there is a lot to be considered during this period.

Let's not forget that generally speaking, women are more susceptible. When compared to our male counterparts, we are 70% more likely to experience depression.

It's a touchy topic with a broad range of opinions. Though the discourse can get messy with differing perspectives on what depression means and how to deal with it, the mess is worth it as long as the discussion can be had.

This month's Wise Women features the overcomers, witnesses and therapists of this pervasive condition. These sages were asked the question, "What do you want every woman to know about depression?" Their answers are varied -- and may even surprise you. Here are their personal insights:

Depression is a gateway to the feminine. When it descends, certain things become impossible: Action. Linearity. Assertiveness. We find ourselves in a dark realm ruled by receptivity, groundlessness, and a strange form of sadness. We find that we cannot do, we can only be.

In Buddhist thought (and my experience), this state of sadness and non-doing is also the ground of compassion, wisdom, and creativity. While on one hand we must combat its deleterious impact, on the other, in depression there is also a chance to acquaint ourselves with our true nature.

Susan Piver
Author of Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart

The cause of depression is simple; you're believing your negative thoughts about yourself and the world. When you're depressed, I suggest that you identify one of the stressful thoughts you're believing, and investigate it as you meditate on the following questions:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

Then turn the thought around to its opposites, and find specific examples of how the turnarounds are true for you.

I spent ten years in a depression so deep that I was suicidal. For the last two years I could rarely leave my bedroom. The Work is a practice, and as a result of it, I haven't experienced a moment of depression in thirty years.

Byron Katie
Author of Loving What Is and founder of The Work

1. It's not normal. It's not a normal reaction to stress, it's not your cross to bear, untreated depression doesn't make you "stronger" in the long run, it's not a normal part of your menstrual cycle or menopause or anything you "deserve" in any way.

2. Learning you have depression doesn't mean the end of the world. Don't think you'll be indefinitely hospitalized, or ostracized in any way. When you realize you meet the criteria for depression it can be a relief. It then gives you a way to start figuring out how to get better, be that with lifestyle change, herbs supplements, medications and/or therapy.

3. Even if you don't want to get help, consider doing it for the others who love you. Being depressed and not getting help means your depression affects your family, your loved ones, and your productivity.

Dr. Belisa Vranich
Advisory Board Member of Philosophy's Hope & Grace Initiative
Founder, The Breathing Class

The stigma surrounding depression and the uninspired definitions we accept troubles me deeply. Having wrestled with it on my sofa shacked up with different clients over the years, I know depression intimately.

We were first introduced before I could even speak; the sadness that lurked in my dad's alcoholic-yellow eyes betrayed his smile. When we met again in college, in the sad eyes that stared back at me in my own mirror, I was not surprised.

It is how unapologetically we've collectively dignified our demonizing of depression that I find stunning and despicable. What would I want anyone to know about depression?

It is a real ordeal of the soul. Anyone struggling with it is deserving of a companion to journey with through the darkness who will bring a robust imagination and heartfelt curiosity to the mesmerizing and unsettling mysteries at play in the unmistakable heaviness that depression can be.

"Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being
something helpless that wants help from us."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

k. Neycha Herford Instigator of Personal Revolutions
Curator of Hope at The ReMixed Life, LLC

The bottom line is that if you are suffering from depression, there is help. Whether you choose the pharmaceutical route, psychotherapy, or other alternative methods, there is something available to fit your specific needs.

There is no one answer as there is no singular experience of depression. The only sure thing is that you must give yourself the permission to reach for the necessary help. You do not have to do this alone.

For more information on depression and helpful resources: