Depression Can Make You Feel Stuck In A Rut
In a recent episode “You Can Change Your Life” of the podcast Dear Sugars, hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed (with guest Mitchell S. Jackson) answered a letter from “Girl in a Rut,” which made a good case for therapy for depression. In her letter, Girl in a Rut explained she’s a 21-year old who never quite fit into her family. When she was two, her parents divorced and quickly made new families. While she always tried to fit in, she never found her place. Not happy where she is in life and wondering who she is, she notes feeling aimless with no ambition, no direction or drive, and wanting to get away. She keeps trying to make connections to the world, but feels stuck and hopeless.
While not able to technically diagnose Girl in a Rut with depression, she is without much hope or certainty that things can change. Like her pseudonym, depression, in and of itself, can make you feel stuck in a rut. With depression, your life and your situation seem unchangeable and bleak. You have no energy to change your circumstances, even though you see they don’t work and you don’t like them. Often when I describe depression in my NYC therapy practice, I mention that depression can be the lack of an ability to see you can grow and things can change.
How Do You Get Out Of A Rut? Try Therapy
In response to this letter, Steve and Cheryl even replied, “Go to therapy.” I wanted to yell, “Yes! That’s right!” It should be said, though, Girl in a Rut’s letter is an important first step. Acknowledging you are struggling and do not have all the answers on your own, but that someone else might be able to help you get unstuck is huge. In many ways, the Dear Sugars episode was a pre-therapy answer to Girl in a Rut’s letter.
The podcast not only emphasizes how depression is a rut we can get stuck in, but also how therapy can help pull us out. Good therapy for depression can stabilize your mood, give you space to talk about where your depression came from, and help you figure out who you are outside of the depression, who you want to be and what you want to create. To build on Dear Sugars’s suggestion for therapy, here are four ways therapy can help you get out of your depression rut:
1. Therapy Provides A Place For You To Explore Your Backstory
In his answer to Girl in a Rut, Steve says, “Your past is prologue,” which is a phrase that stuck with me. We often think of depression as something that just happened–a feeling that wasn’t there before. Sometimes depression can be organic, but often there are past circumstances that account for how you got stuck. These are essential for understanding depression.
Therapy can be a place to connect the dots of your backstory. As a therapist, I might ask: What was your family like? How did you feel as a kid? How were you allowed to express sadness? In Girl in a Rut’s letter, for example, there was a whole backstory that led to her rut–her parent’s divorce, feeling like she didn’t fit in, wanting things to work out quickly and feeling deflated. Therapy can provide a space to explore the parts, pieces and complicated ideas that form your story.
2. Therapy Can Also Help You Change Your Story
We all have stories we tell about ourselves and who we are. In Steve’s answer to Girl in a Rut’s letter, he prompted, “What’s the new story you’re going to tell yourself? That’s really the path to escape.” In my therapy practice, I always start the first session by asking, “Tell me what brought you in here at this moment in your life.” This suggests the questions: Who am I? What do I want? Sometimes we can get so stuck in these questions with no answers. A therapist can help you talk through this by asking a lot of questions to figure how to fill in the blanks and experiment with reworking this narrative.
In therapy, we may rework your story and explore what you can develop. You might come in thinking, “Well, I just want to get out of bed and not feel so depressed and destabilized.” But, therapy can also help you look at what happened in your life through a wide lens–what you want your life to look like in the big picture and what threads of your story are unhelpful.
3. Finding Ways To Create While Depressed In Therapy
When you are depressed, you are stuck and can’t see out. This often means you lose track of what makes you happy whether it is running in the sun, taking a walk on fall day or painting just to paint. These things are unique to you and are essential in feeling active and more powerful than depression.
In therapy, I like to find ways for patients to be creative while depressed. Creativity can redirect your feelings in a way that makes you feel as if you’re moving forward even if your life is technically the same. Even something small can be transformative. This might mean seeing an art therapist to do both talking and movement in art. Or it might mean sharing your love of music or writing in session while talking and connecting. In creating, we see that we are not alone and have the ability to make things and connections (relationships).
4. Therapy Gives You Permission To Actively Work On Your Depression
Girl in a Rut’s letter seemed like she was asking for permission to start working her way out of her rut and this is what the hosts gave her. Therapy, too, can grant this permission to work on your depression. Therapy provides a space that allows you to no longer just go through the motions of the day, but give words to what you’re experiencing so that you can feel, do and organize in a way that makes you more powerful and active. Therapy gives you the option of deciding, “I’m working on this sadness and on this depression.”
Therapy can also activate your emotions and let you connect with someone–i.e. the therapist– in an active relationship. After you’ve talked about feeling depressed and in a rut, you and your therapist can collaborate to figure out how to create structure so you can feel more in control of your life. Therapy can give you space to ask yourself, “What else do I want to create now that I know I can move?”