Depression in my genes?
As I sit here, this week, penning this blog, I am experiencing an old familiar feeling. It’s a lonely, dark feeling; mostly void, but strong enough to register on the emotion scale. It comes and goes as sadness, as disappointment, a feeling left behind. It’s not debilitating, I don’t curl up under a table, I don’t cry, but I do feel it in my body and way deep in my mind. It’s hard to express in words, it’s mostly a body sensation, like pushing down from my eyelids down through my shoulders and cratering in my chest cavity. Is this depression?
My father before he died of a massive coronary, spent time in the hospital, in a dark place. Fearful and absent of hope, he battled his own demons. He was diagnosed with depression. It tormented him and eventually, I believe caused his death. He struggled with a small business, a growing family and responsibilities that exceeded his capacities to cope.
I see the same in one of my children, and possibly the early formation in one of my grandchildren. All the aforementioned individuals are or were HSPs. The question I have is, is depression more likely in HSPs or is this simply a particular genetic component that gets passed from one generation to the next?
This insidious disease – is it just chemistry or it is wayward thoughts?
Research seems to indicate that depression does have a genetic component, at least a propensity for depression. It’s not necessarily a single gene, but could in fact be a suite of genes that causes depression. Of course, there are always environmental factors and it would seem that personality would influence this as well.
Because of the tendency for HSPs to feel things more intensely, it stands to reason that we would be more prone to overwhelm with melancholy. But is it just deep, wayward thoughts that trigger this disease --just feelings gone awry. We all have on occasion experienced sadness and disappointment and loss. Yet, for the majority of people who experience sadness, recovery is inevitable and they eventually bounce back.
So clearly there is more to it than just incorrect thinking. By now I think it’s pretty clear (watch the commercials on the evening news) that there is a chemical deficiency in the brain that can lead to depression. The pharmaceutical industry has stepped in to provide a pharmacopeia of medicines to battle depression, and has provided an array of anti-depressant meds to numb and calm and flatten the experience for depressive individuals.
I have tried these meds and found that they via chemical manipulation remove a whole host of other feelings good and bad. It’s like applying weed killer to your lawn, killing the weeds and your grass as well. I got off of them as quickly as I could. For an HSP, losing touch with feelings is losing touch with self. Our feelings are how we experience the world.
When feeling more sucks – HSMs and depression
Yet as HSMs we do feel more than most. Our highs are pretty ecstatic and our lows are fairly intense. Almost sounds bi-polar, doesn’t it? But is depression a natural consequence of experiencing life with more depth, more feeling and emotion? Would this hint that HSPs are more likely to become depressed than, say the other eighty per cent of the population? Do we swing lower down near the dark waters of loneliness, despair and emptiness?
Is that also caused by some genetic component or a switch that allows us to “paint” with more of the emotional palette humans experience? Do we open ourselves more to the darker feelings because we can or because we have no choice? Mix in our natural propensity to overthink situations and it would be easy to see how this level of intensity could cause depressive episodes in HSPs.
Can empathy cause depression?
Not to pile on here, but add our unusual capacity for empathy, to absorb the feelings of others and you can be certain that at some point overwhelm is lurking just over our shoulders. Even feeling bad about feeling bad, how our sadness affects others, can be a cause of concern. Perhaps, being too empathetic can lead to some of the characteristics of depression, but I really wonder if it can actually cause depression.
Empathy is a survival tool mostly seen in mammals-- social creatures, where collective good is paramount to surviving. It would seem that nature, would have not devised this characteristic if it could be used to undermine the individual’s wellbeing. As HSPs, this is one of greatest assets. Yet, if all the ingredients arrive at the same place at the same time: genetics, bio-chemistry, cognitive distortion and personality type (i.e., HSP), you could bake up some serious depression.
Where in your body do you feel it?
I have always felt this feeling somewhere in my body. It’s just lately that I have begun to pay attention to it. It comes and goes, but I always know in my body when it arrives. Some people feel emotion associated with depression in there chest area; others feel small and compressed; still others feel it in their shoulders, much like a weight; or a burning inside; or emptiness, like the void. I feel it in my chest and throat, a sinking, tingling sensation. Sometimes it rises from my chest area, and then sinks down into my solar plexus. It’s distinct, like a signal flag in a desert.
And it can be ephemeral, coming and going without warning. There’s something very visceral about depression or feeling sadness. The downing is felt in the body as well as in the head. It blankets you, wraps you tightly and not in a comforting filling you with a tight uneasiness. Which is why I think it’s so hard to escape it.
Riding through the avalanche, completing the arc…
Now for the topic of coping and dealing with depression. As stated previously, this is an insidious and potentially dangerous disease. Weathering the storm can be tricky and trying to remain objective in your own head about what’s going on, is a best at fool’s errand. Riding down the avalanche alone can leave you buried alive, slowly suffocating from the weight of forces greater than yourself.
There are a myriad of ways of coping, some simple and easy to do – diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, and taking natural supplements. Others require a great deal of work and connection with someone trained to help – therapy, medicines, and learning new skills designed to help overcome the overwhelm. I found a great article here with some useful tips and suggestions.
Whatever the case, riding down the emotional arc of life, requires a completion of sorts. Returning to a place that’s neutral or even better, a place of peace, will complete the ride. For HSMs it’s all a part of our great adventure. We sample emotions like a truck driver at an all-night buffet. It’s easy to get caught up in our own experiences and not realize that most of the world isn’t even aware of what we are processing. We’ve learned that sharing too much, can be exposing too much, and so we hide in our own world of emotion. This is especially true for the negatively branded emotions. The ones men are not supposed to discuss.
It’s time to be mindful, particularly of those troubling emotions, acknowledge them, share them and process them. We too, have to paint with the dark colors sometimes, to bring the light colors out on the canvas. And it is often our interpretation of that darkness that sheds light for others who suffer likewise, but can’t express with our depth of processing.
So, I take comfort in writing this down. I know now in my heart, that I will survive the avalanche.
When not to be alone in the lonely dark void
As a parting word, if you are truly alone and are facing the void of depression, reach out and get help. HSMs are just as likely as others when facing difficult depressive states, to think the unthinkable and to lose hope. We are cautious creatures by nature, but in the depth of darkness, release from these oppressive feelings can present in many unsavory forms. Realize there is help out there and that you are not alone. Remember, we need all HSMs on deck now. Your life is important.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.