If you have been depressed more than once you are all-too-familiar with this story:
Something bad happens in your life and completely derails you. It could be something big, or it could just be a small thing that adds up with all the other factors in your life that sends you careening over the cliff of depression down into the muck at the bottom.
The muck is sticky and feels gross. Spending long enough in the muck makes you want to climb out again, just from being sick and tired of feeling that way. So, you look for a way to get out of the muck and begin the hard work of climbing towards being better.
Hopefully in the past you have had support for this process, but it is possible to do on your own. For some, the muck just dries out eventually and it's relatively easy to climb out afterwards. For others, getting better takes an incredible amount of willpower and courage – the muck is so sticky because the cause of the crash never really goes away.
Will Depression keep returning forever?
Many depressed individuals us have gone through cycles of climbing out only to find themselves back in the muck. Either with major swings deep into a canyon of muck, or just temporary divots of mud that seem to recur with regularity.
Depression keeps coming back to push you down
It's never fun to find yourself back in the muck, and you do your best to get better. But sooner or later, it seems like you always end up there again. Depression seems to have this horrible cyclic effect for many. Especially those who have had recurrent episodes of major depression. More than 2 episodes is a 60% chance of recurrence, more than three raises that to 90% (Moffit et al, 2010)
What causes depression to return?
So why is that? Why don't the lessons and habits you used to get better stick around once you've learned them? Shouldn't it be enough to get better once and then remember the path for next time?
Well, anyone who's been deep in the muck knows how difficult it can be to think clearly or even believe in yourself enough to access what has worked in the past. Is that due to our biochemistry or habits? Both have significant contributions (Abler et al, 2010). It's a real phenomenon that when the depressive tendencies come back, it all too easily gets you stuck in the muck.
There is reasonable evidence that well-worn pathways are created in your brain from these recurring episodes (Cosci & Fava, 2013). And to relate that to established energetic rules: things follow the path of least resistance. So without conscious and continual effort to make new paths, old habits can die hard.
But if we you could see the edge of the depression cliff and the muck below we you could avoid it right?
Okay, sometimes we you get blindsided by a tragedy or hardship that could not have been predicted, but what about those slow-building challenging periods? The ones that just keep piling on the hard stuff until it pushes you off the cliff?
Depression cycles returning demonstrate a lack of habits in healthy mode that prevent a nudge from sending you sliding down
Don't stop at 'good enough for now'
Are you getting better 'just enough' to get by? You recover to the point of being able to go back to work, to see your friends, to take pleasure in life, but you haven't solved the underlying problem. Or maybe you did figure it all out but are still living with the predisposition to falling back into those habitual patterns.
So, you can we get just enough better. But often you we don't take it further, because it's hard work. And then something can come along and throw you us off the cliff again. By this point you might be really good at bouncing, or at least breaking your fall. Some of your friends may even be like "why do you keep jumping off that cliff?", but to you, it's not intentional, it's just what happens.
a Permanent Fix
Aaron Ball. Recovered Academic. Grieving Environmentalist. Evidence-Based Transformational Coach. Electronic musician. Transrationalist.