In 1990, American psychologist Diane Tillman met an accident when a female driver broadsided her car towards the rear. As her car turned over three times, Tillman hit her head in different spots. She admits losing some of her intelligence after that, but she did not allow herself to be affected by the accident.
“I used to be really smart, and I’m not as smart anymore,” says Tillman. “If I look at my friends, which ones do I prefer, the ones who are really smart, or the ones who are really sweet?”
To her, depression is an opportunity to learn or to acquire inner power.
“I allowed myself to lovingly accept the things that happened in my life. This is one of the keys to preventing depression and dealing with pain. If we can lovingly accept ourselves and our emotions, then negative ones don’t stay very long. If I’m a little bit sad about something, an event, a death or a misfortune of someone, I surround it with this light of love. As I comfort that part of myself that is feeling sad, it doesn’t stay long. It’s like I’m giving love to the person that I’m concerned about and I’m giving love to me.”
Tillman is a California-based, licensed educational psychologist, family therapist and author of “Living Values” series. She takes the positive psychology approach to dealing with depression.
It becomes depression when the sadness or ill feeling about something lingers for weeks. Depression comes in various degrees—mild, moderate, severe, down to a major depressive disorder with psychosis.
By convention, people are described as clinically depressed if they’ve been despondent and felt hopeless for a prolonged period and if they’ve lost interest in what they usually enjoy.
When something unexpected or against our liking happens, there is a tendency to become either disheartened or arrogant.
“It knocks us off our seat of self-respect and love,” she says.
Another reason depression becomes part of a person’s nature is that there is a deep-seated negative imprint in the subconscious mind.
“For some people, it feels very old. A little thing happened, yet there’s a wailing inside.”
Depression is also caused by the weakening of the core values of love and purity, says Tillman. Over time, people are influenced by ego, attachment, anger, greed and selfishness.
“When I want love and attention from that person, then imperceptibly other people stop being so important to me. As negative traits build up, I lack love towards many and even start abandoning the people I profess to love. I then feel sad or a loss. So every time I feel that loss, it becomes a trait and if I start reacting to that trait, it grows bigger and bigger. For some, this tendency to become sad is like a baggage.”
In therapy, Tillman observes that patients often express hurt and abandonment when they indulge in their old pain, especially when triggered by a minor event. She adds that people tend to base their self-respect on the approval of society. If they don’t get it, they become depressed.
“Take your self-respect from what is real—who you truly are, because each one of us is absolutely beautiful. We all have gorgeous virtues and traits,” she says.
She shares her three-step program to preventing depression:
Step 1: Positive energy
“The first step is to increase your positive emotional and spiritual energy,” she says. Meditate or pray, take in love and peace.
“Have a screen saver in your mind. Think, I’m a jewel of contentment. When there is spiritual energy, it’s really hard to be unhappy.
“At night, write down the positive things, write letters of love to God or letters of happiness. If we can stay in the present and fill our mind with love and peace, then we collect emotional and spiritual energy until we have a reservoir.”
Positive energy can only be increased if there is care for body.
“If you tend to be sad, angry, hurt, tired or lonely, you need to be very careful. Get extra rest, eat well and nurture yourself. When I do therapy with people who are depressed, if I can get them off white sugar and artificial sweeteners, then my job is 50 percent easier. Their depression lightens up! ”
Chocolates can give only a temporary high and artificial sweeteners can deepen the depression.
“Sugar is very destabilizing emotionally. Go off sugar for three months and see what happens. It is an addiction. It will really be very hard for the first two months, then it will really be easy. I know that a healthy diet is bad news. If you have half a cup of brown rice, the serotonin (the chemical for well-being) in your brain will increase dramatically in 30 minutes.”
Step 2: Avoid guilt
“Step two, learn how to avoid automatic negative habits you’ve acquired over the years: Don’t gossip, don’t compare yourself with others, don’t feel guilty,” says Tillman.
“Guilt has been very useful for us because it’s kept us good. But for how long are you going to need it? It is very useful, but only for five seconds. When I do something I’m uncomfortable with, I say to myself, ‘Okay, Diane, join the human race. You, too, are human, you made a mistake. Now, get over it. What would you do next time?’ Then I envision the virtue that I need, I develop it.”
On comparing the self with others, Tillman quotes Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
Tillman explains: “Understand that each one of us has a beautiful puzzle piece and has to make it as beautiful as it can be. If you don’t make your puzzle piece beautiful, the whole picture will not be nearly as beautiful.”
Step 3: Create an inner dialogue
We have to deal with our pain or sadness when it occurs. Just be aware of our emotions and lovingly accept our emotions. “Don’t feel sad unnecessarily. But when you are afraid, feeling down, angry or tired, be aware of what’s going inside.
“Do any of us have a critical voice inside? It’s time to say goodbye to it. In transactional analysis, we have an inner child and there’s another part of our self that is like a critical parent. The latter will try to suppress the voice of the inner child.”
Repression subsequently leads to an outburst of negative feelings. “You get angry, sad, or feel worthless. You don’t know why you’re unhappy. It’s because that negative part is trying to keep the inner child under control.
“It’s time to have a dialogue with the critical parent and say, ‘Critical parent, you are not helping me. Nurture me and love me and then you can help me grow,’” she says.
“There’s a nurturing parent inside that can actually nurse the part that is depressed and give us love, because basically our human need is to be loved. Why do we get depressed? Because we’re feeling a loss of love. We’re afraid we won’t be happy. We’re afraid things will not be okay. When you feel bad, you can actually deal with yourself and find a solution. The nurturing parent is the wise part of you. The inner child is the mind. Take the inner child out of the victim mode.”
Tillman recommends an exercise when you feel troubled: Take out a piece of paper and put the inner child on the left side and put the nurturing self on the right. Write on it the first thing in the morning. Find out where the answers are.
“This wise part can talk to you. You will find then that the child will become an adult. It will let you know when you are vulnerable. If we nurture our inner child, it can grow into the adult that is the source of strength, comfort and protection for us. When you feel bad, don’t commiserate over it for months. Look at the root and see what’s happening so you can change. Find out what needs to be done instead. What is the virtue I need to have, that I’d like to develop, or what is the quality I need to have.”
Walking is a great way to stimulate the endorphins, the hormones that reduce pain and create pleasant feelings. Also, talk to a friend you trust, says Tillman.
Try not to give any solution. When people express a problem and get an unsolicited advice, they just feel rejected as if they’re doing something wrong. “So first, listen,” Tillman maintains. “Appreciate, give them love, and then ask, ‘Would you like the problem solved?’”
Listening to others is a sacred offering that is valued when people feel bad. “Listening is an act of respect and love. Do you feel better when you’ve been listened to? The reason is that we as human beings do not accept our own emotions. So when you are listened to in a sacred space of love, you are getting love and respect. The problem doesn’t feel so big and you’re able to then perhaps deal with it better, accept yourself more, and come up with some other solutions.”
“The antidote to depression is positive thoughts for all others. Always have good wishes and pure feelings for everyone all the time. Then there’s no space for this fear. Talk sweetly to yourself. Create a nurturing parent.”