Bridging the Tensions in Depression and Trauma

When depression was at its worst, I found I was immobile, far beyond my ability to receive the care of well-meaning people. Their care was still important. I still needed it. And I would inevitably recover somewhat into a place where their empathy really did help.

I have therefore found that depression is a fluid state, where some days forward-movement is possible, whereas other days it’s futile. And it is best that everyone (those helping and those being helped) accepts this reality, that for those with depression, cannot be changed. Just like it is also best that everyone understands that forward-movement and empowerment on some days is not only possible, it’s necessary. The difficult thing is discerning which day is which.

Perhaps this is why the wisdom in The Serenity Prayer is so commanding:

God, help me accept the days I cannot change. Help me be bold on the days I can move and improve. And give me wisdom to discern the difference between these days.

Can you see the tensions in the above precis?

In depression there is forward-movement and backward-movement. Some days there is hope. Other days, pure despair. Neither kind of day can be changed. It is best accepted, not that care doesn’t help. Sometimes, as an adult, it is good to be alone and be faced with ‘how to get through this’, but there is a limit to that thinking. We need interaction to break us past the sinkhole of thinking we can spiral into.

Balancing tensions is about appreciating the global dynamics presenting in your case of depression.

Like most things in life, there is a lie in suggesting there is a single global truth at play in complex intrapersonal or interpersonal dynamics. There are always more aspects to your truth than that. That can be a difficult thing for you to understand and accept, let alone someone else entirely.

For instance, a victim of abuse, a traumatised subject, must receive unequivocal empathy – they must be believed, and it is incredibly important for their future hope and prosperity to do this. But it mustn’t be left there. Not all the healing is contained in empathy, even if it is a powerful start. The victim, and now let’s call them the survivor (of the trauma), must have more than your belief and tacit encouragement. They must also be gently challenged on their journey of recovery – which suggests, and believes for, restoration – and sometimes this feels tough.

There is a danger for every survivor of trauma. They can begin and continue to be sucked into the vortex of victimhood. We need to watch our language. Not cussing. But how are we lingering in disempowering statements about ourselves that sound like we’re still the victim. We need to work to a goal beyond that.

When we keep saying, “[They or the situation] did this to me!” or “[They or the situation] won’t change!” or “How dare [they or the situation]!” especially if we’re still angry, we cannot fully recover. Don’t get me wrong. The anger and incredulity is justified. But vindication comes when we move past feeling like a victim and tap into our agency (which means action or intervention that produces a particular [empowering] effect). Personal power is needed to fully recover, and we need to find a way to tap into it, to access it.

But agency cannot come until empathy is received and remains. Yet if we were to leave it at empathy, agency may never be fully realised. We need both.

As you suffer, can you hold the tensions in these seemingly opposing truths:

You are believed; it happened, it was horrible, and it is horrendous. But you can also be more than what you have experienced.

Balancing the tensions is not one is better than the other or one is right and one is wrong. Balancing the tensions in restoring mental health is all about receiving empathy that validates what was and what is and challenge that propels us to the agency of what can be. Sufferers MUST be believed, AND sufferers MUST believe they can recover.