Darkness: Cognitive vs Emotional Depression

We live in a dualistic universe. Up vs down, positive vs negative, light vs dark. So far with my posts I have been writing optimistic, hopeful posts. I would describe them as talking about the ‘light’ side of life. However, now I want to discuss the opposite end of the spectrum of human experience — darkness.

A person once mentioned to me that I had ‘insufferable happiness’. I replied that this was because I live with a ton of darkness. Although during the day when I am with people I am smiley, what most people don’t know is that pretty much every morning I wake up in floods of tears from the weight of emotional anguish I feel inside.

Now, in writing this post I am not looking for sympathy. I am finally writing about this publicly because I want to share my experience. For 15 years I have felt very misunderstood, and have explored and learned about darkness in my own way. I am still learning. If the posts I write resonate with anyone out there, I just hope they know that they are not alone in their experience.

On the surface, people may see what I have as clinical depression. If we go by the definition provided by the most famous clinical diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, then perhaps I do. Symptoms include chronic depressed mood, difficulty with sleeping, difficulty concentrating and loss of energy.

However, over the years I have come to distinguish between two types of depression. The first is what I call “cognitive depression”. The other I call “emotional/spiritual depression”. I’ve outlined the differences and similarities between the two below:

Cognitive Depression

Emotional/Spiritual Depression

Often triggered by some critical event.

No attributable trigger.

Comes and goes in large waves.

Always there like a white noise.

Feelings of helplessness, lack of control, despair, sadness.

Feelings of emotional anguish, pain, sadness, anger and suffering.

Clear negative automatic thoughts. Self-critical.

No relationships between thoughts and feelings. Mind can be very clear, even optimistic.

Low self-esteem

Self-esteem not necessarily affected.

Feeling feels like it stems from the mind.

Feeling feels like it stems from stomach region.

Necessary to recognise the negative automatic thoughts for what they are.

Necessary to let go of needing to be in control. Surrender and accept the circumstances that have occurred.

Necessary to accept, love and surrender to all the dark feelings that are bubbling up to the surface.

Empty the mind and let the feelings be.

Difficulty concentrating.

Fluctuations in appetite.

Difficulty getting to sleep.

Need time alone, but also very lonely.

Both characterised by long periods of sadness.

Whilst the two can occur separately, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, you can start off with emotional depression. Even though your thoughts are clear, you are in a ton of emotional pain. Concentrating is difficult. Because you can’t concentrate, work is affected. When you fall behind on work, this can make you feel bad. This can be the trigger for cognitive depression, where this time round you do have critical thoughts that race through your head.

Right now I have emotional depression. Some people find it a bit difficult to get their head around this. “What happened?”, people naturally ask. When I say “genuinely nothing”, sometimes I get funny looks. They think I may be suffering from low self-esteem, but I don’t have that either. I just have a lot of emotional pain. This was why therapy did not work at all for me. The therapists wanted to scrutinise all the thoughts I had. I felt like saying ‘ok, fine, but what you say doesn’t change at all how I feel’.

Over the years I have come to my own understanding of depression. Essentially, I have come to learn that it results from repressed emotion. Whenever you suppress anger or sadness, it doesn’t disappear. It gets stuck inside you. The only way to let it go is to fully embrace and accept the emotions that are desperately trying to be expressed. When you do through techniques such as meditation, you might even get a flashback to the exact incident where this emotion arose.

This may all sound very unscientific to people well versed in clinical psychology, but it is what I have come to understand through both my own research and experience with depression. I hope to talk more candidly about the techniques I use to manage depression in the future.

That’s it for my first of what will be a series of posts on darkness. As I said, I hope to share with people how I manage it, but also perhaps just to write honestly write down the struggles I face too. If you’re reading this and are going through something similar, don’t hesitate to reach out. Also if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in a subsequent blog post.

Recommended Reading

If you are struggling from depression, there are quite a few books I would recommend — please do feel free to contact me.

If you would like a more clinical take on the issue, I recommend The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy) by Paul Gilbert.

If you would like a more spiritual take on it, I very much recommend Dark Nights Of The Soul: A guide to finding your way through life’s ordeals by Thomas Moore.

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