It’s Not Your Neurotransmitters.
The research I’ve come across, my coaching practice, and my own life experience have taught me that depression is usually not caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance. In almost every case, I believe that depression is a rational reaction to a situation that is fundamentally unhealthy.
Something is going on in your mind, body or environment that is hurting you. Just like pain is a signal from your body not to touch something hot, depression is a signal that this isn’t working for you.
The neurotransmitter explanation is an easy one to settle for. We would often prefer to treat a physical problem than an emotional one, especially when feeling as stuck as we do when we’re depressed – just give me something other than my mind to dwell on, please. But the neurotransmitter theory won’t get any support in this article because it’s probably not the reason you are depressed.
Here is a far more likely one:
You’re experiencing depression because you’re resisting a personal transformation that is long overdue.
This transformation is driven by your energetic centre of connection, the heart centre.
When someone has trouble establishing or maintaining real connections in their life, I look to the heart centre. This is, from an energetic perspective, where these connections form and where the energy (love) that nourishes them comes from. (I also look from a trauma-informed perspective - check out some of my articles written in a more scientific language if that's your thing. This one is written to speak to your heart, not your mind.)
When the heart centre is shut down, we are unable to give or receive love. We literally starve ourselves as a result. The sensation is a deep ache, a heaviness in the chest, and a profound longing for something vital, yet invisible, that the soul knows is missing.
In depression, real connection is missing. Nothing feels worth loving. This is because the heart centre is locked behind hardened, heavy armor. Finding the cause, why the armor was donned in the first place, is part of the journey of transformation.
We don the armor, shutting away the heart centre, when it feels unsafe to love. When intimacy feels dangerously sharp, when trust is low, or when we are overwhelmed by grief. We shut down the heart centre when using the heart brings pain and unwelcome emotions.
The inevitable companion of a heart that is shut down is cynicism. Cynicism, along with pessimism, are often justified as being “pragmatic” when we feel depressed. We think we’ve taken the pretty wrapping off the world and are seeing things as they really are. In fact, this cynicism forms the barrier that surrounds the heart, blocking the flow of energy in or out. It may be proudly worn, but it always hides a starving heart in need of connection.
We don the armor, the cynicism, to survive from trauma. We don it also when we miss connection early on in life, to protect us from the cumulative hurt of many small, unremarkable wounds. Sometimes we may not know better ways of connecting simply because we’ve never experienced them before. Without this skill, the world is inevitably flat and disappointing.
Yet the soul seems to know something the mind doesn’t. It holds the shape of things we haven’t yet experienced. When connection, intimacy or reliable love have been missing, there is still a longing for them. This longing is a homing signal.
When we follow this signal deep to its source, the soul offers a fragile hope that those empty spaces in the heart can be filled. This is as much as we are given in terms of certainty that it is worth risking everything.
We sense that already – that the journey of transformation will require risking everything we’re certain of. We sense the reward is unfathomably wonderful. The risk – taking off the armor – is the most painful and potentially humiliating we can imagine. To even commit to hope feels like jumping off a cliff.
To begin, to take one step and then another, to peel the armor off layer by layer, is the work of courageous heart. It sacrifices itself for the chance to love. And through this, the long-overdue transformation occurs.