The Brain Remembers.
Many years ago I came up with what I thought was my own little theory about the brain and depression. (Turns out I was wrong but I’ll get to that later). My theory was that once the brain learns how to respond to life events, it is more apt to respond to similar life events in the way(s) in which it responded previously. For example, if a child feels abandoned or neglected, the brain reacts by feeling sad, and depressed. It may even seek to protect itself through anger, or by retreating further into itself and becoming further isolated. As the child grows older, any perceived neglect or abandonment results in similar responses of sadness, depression, anger, or intentional isolation.
I personally related to this theory by comparing it to my then alarmingly increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I knew that in my younger years I had experienced anxiety and some intense feelings of sadness, but as I got older they only intensified. I went from feeling mild anxiety in social situations, to having full blown panic attacks in social situations. I went from feeling sad in response to normal life events, to walking around with what can only be described as overactive tear ducts and my heart in my stomach. I had no experience of trauma to blame for this spike in anxious or depressed responses to life events, so I instead figured that it must be a result of my brain wearing through those pathways.
You know when you walk through a field all the time, following the same route, until you wear a path into the grass? Eventually nothing grows along that path, and as time goes on you automatically walk along that route, as it is the path of least resistance. I figured that anxiety and depression were the paths of least resistance for my brain. And so I figured that my little theory explained why my brain kept falling into this cycle of anxiety and depression.
Recently, I read The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Perry and Szalavitz (2017), and it changed my life. For the first time I saw my little made up theory in black and white, and I felt a little less crazy. It was a real thing. My brain really had learned to be this way. And it was almost reassuring … if something can be learned, it can also be unlearned.