When suffering (C)PTSD, depression is going to show up somewhere down the line. It is one of those symptoms that is almost always present with a post-traumatic state.
It is important to realize that a depressive state is both a symptom and an effect of post-trauma, and is often perceived and treated as a stand-alone mental/emotional illness.
The Nervous System Responses and Depression as a PTSD Symptom
There are various ways of looking at depression when examining the symptoms of PTSD.
While going through trauma, your adrenals and nervous system get geared up for survival into fight or flight mode. Once the traumatic experience or episode has passed, your circumstance or personal mindset may not have been sufficiently capable of integrating and containing that high nervous system and emotional energy charge, and as a result, you remain stuck at “ON.”
Over time, you run out of energy resources. You will start to get allergies and have a sensitivity to various foods; other possibilities are asthma attacks, chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, and a breakdown of the immune system.
Once you have been stuck at “ON” for too long, you will eventually flip over and get stuck at “OFF.”
In this stage, your energy freezes and becomes dormant. You move from a state of being hyperactive and continuously on the alert into a dissociated state where you feel numb and depressed.
When you are hyperactive, the sympathetic branch of your nervous system is running on overtime. Now, the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system is in overdrive and this can result in lethargy, depression, low blood pressure, constipation and other digestive issues– to name but a few.
Furthermore, you will continue to move between those two states of hyperactivation (ON) and hypoactivation (OFF) and experience the emotional responses common to each.
PTSD Depression Symptoms from a Dissociation Perspective
After you have been hyperactive for an extended period, depression acts as a safety valve.
It is, unfortunately, also where you can remain stagnant and immobilized for too long.
However “yucky” a PTSD depressive state feels, though, it can be and often is a preferable state to be in, compared with feeling too much continuous emotion.
It is not that you don’t have energy, and therefore are depressed. It is the other way around; your energy is invested in being in a depressed state, consciously or unconsciously, in order to survive.
Once you become aware of PTSD depression from this perspective, it renders that state more accessibly fluid, and perhaps gives back a sense of control, as opposed to being a victim of depression and having to work through it.
How to Work Through PTSD and Depression
You either fully identify with depression and dwell in it, or fight it to stave it off for some time, but whenever you lose hold of your vigilance you might just slip back into it.
Having read the above, and knowing that depression follows suit after anxiety or any another emotional activator, let us see if we can listen to that numbness, that tiredness, lethargy, depression, and disconnection without reacting to it.
To be attentive to it, so that the energy from the depressed state slowly starts to move back into awareness and observation.
What will happen is, that while you do that, you will start to feel more “your familiar self” again, and will notice that emotional activation which preceded the depressed state. It often is anxiety, but it could be any other emotion for you.
Go gently back and forth between connecting and disconnecting with it and, as you did with depression, do the same with this emotional state that you encounter. Can you listen to it, hold it, not allow yourself to go into thoughts and memories of it, but come back to the feelings which are presenting themselves.
Working with emotions will be a continuous process of moving back and forth between negating thoughts of blame, shame, self-reproach, allowing oneself to be vulnerable and to feel through the different layers of emotional residue.
Through attention to these hyper- and hypo responses of the nervous system, the emotional residue is being transformed into resilience and awareness. There is no other way around it, but to go directly through it!
How do you perceive depression and its relationship to trauma? Leave your comment here below.