Is a diagnosis really validating?

You are sad more days than not.

You no longer take pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.

You feel a sense of dread as your eyes flutter open each morning.

Your psychotherapist listens to these symptoms and others. After an hour the therapist informs you “you have depression” or if they are really precise “you are clinically depressed.”

Does this really validate your experience of these feelings? Does it point to the causes? Does it evoke a sense of autonomy or ability to manage? Does it outline a path toward your healthiest self? Would you think differently if you knew that calling it clinical depression ensured a billable hour for your therapist?

While these labels are not entirely arbitrary and do describe a constellation of symptoms they fail to recognize the true complexity of human experience. It is much easier to call the experience of loosing a loved one, divorce, affairs, betrayal, job loss, change in career, or one of the other ways in which we as humans are forced to endure change “depression” or “anxiety.”

The problem comes as the public embraces these labels and scientists hypothesize about brain chemicals they cannot measure, leading the consumer to believe these labels are a permanent fixed state.

The true injustice of this issue in our society becomes most clear to me when I hear women repeat in the therapy room, “my anxiety…., “my depression…,” “it isn’t my partner, it’s my anxiety.” In those moments I am reminded of all the ways in which women are trained to be peacemakers from a young age. It is easier for some women to accept a permanent life of depression and anxiety than to set a boundary with a loved one.

These labels, “depression,” “anxiety,” “bi-polar,” can be dangerous generalizations of societal problems like racism, sexism, and poverty. They only keep people stuck and keep providers and clients from talking about the real issues like the affair, the death, the loss, and uncertainty. Or more dangerous they prevent conversations about safety in relationships, what leads a person to believing suicide is an option, the feeling of being an inadequate parent, or the fear of loosing a partner or spouse.

Let’s talk about what is really happening.



3 Ways to be More Mindful

There is a growing awareness of the power of mindfulness in our culture today. It’s a beautiful thing to me, as someone who has practiced yoga for more than a decade. While many want to pretend that mindfulness is a new concept, it is really one of the oldest concepts. Mindfulness, even how it is taught by therapists today, is Vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā a Buddhist practice that has been around for ages. The idea is to gain awareness of your breath and emotions while not controlling or judging either one. It is a practice of simply observing what is happening.

As simple as that may sound, I find people can get overwhelmed with making time to practice this and often have a lot of judgements about meditation and mindfulness. Emotions, breath, observing, it can feel so intangible in the beginning.

So here are a few tangible steps to take on the way to developing your mindfulness practice:

  1. Identify your favorite spaces. Where do you feel relaxed? What places either in your home or outdoors do you feel reflect you the most? What if you made just a little bit of time to linger in those places?
  2. What are you eating? The further science progresses, the more it seems to reflect old sayings like, “You are what you eat!” A lot of foods that are commonly consumed serve only as distractions. Spikes of sugar and rushes of caffeine pull our emotions with them. Could you choose to purchase a few more fresh fruits and vegetables and a few less packaged foods? What if you spent just a few minutes longer preparing what you are consuming? Can you just observe what that process is like for you, preparing and eating? What do you experience?
  3. What do you do to prepare for sleep? What are the conversations you have before you go to bed? What is on your mind when you get into bed? What is your routine?

Becoming aware of these every day habits and patterns will help you tune into yourself. Without sitting on a pillow in a yoga position, tuning into these patterns will offer you insight and begin to develop that ability to observe your experience, the key ingredient of mindfulness.