QUESTION: I have an 11-year history of depression. I’ve made great steps in the last 12 months especially since discovering that there were some physical issues, which required a change of diet and taking certain nutritional supplements. But still there is an underlying tendency for me to withdraw completely from the world, from myself, and to go into a kind of numb state where I don’t feel. I still get confused about how best to relate to these depressions. Should I summon all my strength to “fight” them and stay on top? It feels, after all, such a waste of life to be depressed even for one minute. Or should I let the depression show me the way and sink into it? I am afraid to do the latter, because I feel scared to let it overwhelm me and that I’ll never come back into life. Do you have any advice?

ANSWER: Good for you in your new understanding and relationship with your depression. Diet and supplements can be tremendously helpful. Physical exercise, which of course is difficult to do when one is dealing with depression, can also be beneficial. Do your best to add the physical part as well, if you have not already.

Most of us deal with life by numbing on some level. It can be through isolation or overstimulation, but the net result is a lack of a genuine relationship with ourselves and others. It is the nature of our culture (and its reflection of us) that so much of what it offers can be and is used to numb, be it overuse of the Internet, media and infinite entertainment offerings. So you are not alone there. Neither are you alone in your use of willpower (“summon all my strength to 'fight' them and stay on top”) to keep the emotions at bay. That never works as the unconscious can not be punked, it will make itself known in unpleasant ways. Your clarity is wonderful, as is your desire for examination and understanding.

Your fear of dropping into the bottomless pit is healthy and needs to be heeded. That does not mean that one runs away from the depression, just that one approaches it with a healthy respect for its power. Depression is a complex phenomenon and there is no "one size fits all" approach. Sometimes, depression can be mostly chemical, and in that instance, feeling the pit will do no good. Sometimes there are repressed emotions involved that need to be visited and given a voice. Often it is a mixture of the two. The help of a good therapist that works with depression can be invaluable here. That person can be your guide in the depth and amount that is safe for you to experience at one time. Given your history of isolation, learning to feel safe, being seen as well as being fed by another can have tremendous benefits. Find someone trustworthy to work with if you are not already doing so. Spend a couple of minutes a day just feeling your body and doing slow deep breathing. See how it feels to be in your body, instead of your head. Literally start with a couple of minutes and no more, and see how that feels. Reach out. You are on your way.