The faces of depression

October 7th, 2013

“What happens to you does not matter.

What you become through those experiences is all that is important.”

– Anonymous




Depression: It’s all in the word


Something in us is being pushed down, depressed. Depression is often mistaken as sustained sadness but it is more a state of consciousness, not a particular emotion. It is an attempt to flee from our deeper emotions by withdrawing from our connection to them – our connection to our Self.


Such a strategy is a double-edged sword. We may dull the edge of some of our negative emotions but it comes at the expense of our connection to joy, love, inspiration and creativity – the very tools that could bring us out of it.


All emotion is depressed down into a meaningless mix; a vague grey cloud, untethered from our heart and drifting aimlessly across the empty skies of the mind.




Without the connection to the heart we lose the compassionate care for our self and become self-destructive. When we don’t matter what does anything matter? We lose our sense of meaning, direction and consequence.



The elements of depression


In traditional Chinese medicine depression is not considered a single diagnosis. All dis-ease is seen as a stagnation of qi, our animating consciousness software. Determining how qi stagnates becomes the art of diagnosis.


The nuances and reflections of our Self can be seen through the five elements in Chinese medicine. These are also referred to as the five phases of transformation. This suggests an inward journey to parallel our outward one through life. It is a way to meet the Self again and again from different perspectives. In so doing we evolve and develop.


It also means that qi-consciousness stagnates in a unique way according to the challenge of each element-phase. This gives us five ways to experience depression.[1]


Metal element depression


This is probably closest to what Western medicine calls clinical depression. The metal element rules over our ability to sort and separate. It controls the organs of the colon, lungs and skin. It gives us our ability to discriminate what is important and worth holding onto and what to let go as no longer useful or even poisonous.


When the Metal is imbalanced at this level we can no longer separate and release the toxins of our emotional pain. Erroneously, we hold onto and bury them within while trying to separate ourselves from the world instead.


dep 1


Water element depression    


The deep reserves of our Water element enable us to recuperate, regenerate and renew so we can play another day.


Depression in this element arises from sustained periods of survival stress (physical, emotional, economic or psychological) that eventually exhausts these reserves.


We feel crushed and overburdened from living in fear. Our only escape appears to be into the numbness of depression – a state of mind that mirrors our physical deterioration. We simply give up and ‘check out’. This is why syndromes like ‘burn out’ are considered an aspect of depression and why anti-depressants are so often prescribed to treat it.


Wood element depression


Our Wood (also called ‘Tree’) element gives us the strength to stand our ground and hold fast to our integrity in the swirling winds of conflict and challenge. It is our martial power to stand up for our Self.


If we do not honor and respect our self however we will constantly give our personal power away without knowing it. We will feel ‘skinless’ in a conflict and so retreat inwards or lash outwards.


This only encourages others to either disrespect and dominate us leaving us powerless, frustrated and defeated – or challenge us creating a life of reoccuring conflicts and dramas.


Like a caged tiger we may initially react with outrage at the injustice of our situation. Over time however we cease hoping for a resolution and so, once again, give up. That powerless rage may no longer explode but it can implode weakening us further in self-destructive injury, illness and of course, depression.


Fire element depression


This parallels mania and depression, these days referred to as bipolar affective disorder. The Fire is a charismatic, creative flame. It is also the most vulnerable and mutable of the elements in our energy body. Like Icarus we can fly too close to the fiery sun and lose the connection to the Self.


Depression is one dysfunctional attempt to bring us back down to earth and neutralize these chaotic swings. Imbalanced lifestyles that burn the candle at both ends with work or play or abuse our emotional center can be catalysts. A history of emotional and/or physical abuse may also lie behind it as can the residues of physical poisons like medicines and recreational drugs.


The heart is the organ system most affected in this element. When our flame begins to flicker we find no refuge in our heart. On the contrary it becomes a very painful place to be and we swing wildly in a desperate search for happiness and meaning.



Earth element depression


Mother earth is our calm and nurturing center. It relates to the digestive organs and includes our ability to reflect upon and resolve our problems at the mental and psychological level. It gives us support and understanding.


However, when we let anxieties build up we abandon our centered sense of perspective and lose our balance. We cannot digest and break down our problems into manageable pieces. We no longer believe we are capable of resolving the challenges we face and feel under constant pressure. We lose the trust in ourselves that everything will work out.


Depression accompanied by oral addictions like food, alcohol and self-medicating is the result as we seek to dampen our constant anxiety.


 “If I ran away from me how unhappy I would be. Me and I, oh my.”[2]


dep 2


While depression can show many faces the core issue is the same. We have abandoned the connection with our Self. It is this self-destructive abandonment that maintains our state of depression. It is sometimes seen as an artistic affliction:


Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief[3]


Instead of seeing it as a romantic flight from the ills of the world we need to return to the soul and center of the Self; where our compassion and unconditional love wait for us; where all faces become one.


Till we can face another Monday with love and equanimity,


[1] Well, variety is good I suppose.

[2] Performed by Danny Kaye. Hallmark recordings

[3] U2, The Fly. All rights reserved.




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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