Posted by: jedwardswright | August 28, 2010

No Emotional Compass

Depression has a way of taking away our emotional compass–we can’t tell which way is up anymore, and we certainly couldn’t get there if our lives depended on it.

A pilot consults an instrument called an “attitude indicator” to determine whether or not his plane is level with the horizon. That’s right; it’s not an altitude indicator, but an “attitude” indicator!

Because a visual assessment of the plane’s position is often misleading, or even unavailable, the pilot employs an objective tool to ensure he is accurately appraising the plane’s “attitude,” and to what degree it varies from the horizontal position.

A person dealing with depression is like a pilot steering a plane with a broken attitude indicator.

If our journey is smooth and untroubled, we might be able to gauge our moods and behavior accurately enough to get by. However, when storms cloud our vision, turbulence arises, or our flight plan is altered, stabilizing ourselves is difficult. We misjudge our actions and attitudes compared to social expectations. We lack the ability to adjust our emotional equilibrium to an even position. A potentially lethal downward spiral is often the result.

What can we do to stabilize ourselves? We can

  1. eat sensibly and live actively to keep our bodies as tuned up as possible. A plane (and a pilot) requires adequate fuel and regular flight time to be air-worthy.
  2. consult with professionals and enlist their expertise to maximize our abilities and coping skills. Perhaps therapy or medication can compensate for our areas of weakness, or restore the functioning of certain circuitry. Mechanics check and repair planes constantly to ensure maximum performance under stress, and periodic medical assessments are required of pilots.
  3. enlist the help of people we trust. Friends and loved ones can provide feedback, give suggestions, and warn us when we aren’t on an even keel. Professional pilots rely on co-pilots and traffic controllers for assistance and direction, especially if the plane’s instruments aren’t operating properly.
  4. admit when we aren’t in good operating condition, and avoid situations that place us at risk. A trustworthy pilot won’t fly when impaired or overtired, and we require a lower level of stress and responsibility to manage our lives. Saying no to extra social or professional obligations is our best defense, but when we become overwhelmed anyway, slowing down or coming to a complete stop for a while isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Although people with depression are at a disadvantage when it comes to monitoring and regulating our emotional stability, we have tools available to compensate for our difficulties. When we actively engage in maximizing potential resources and minimizing demanding situations, our ability to cope without an “attitude indicator” improves.


  1. Very wise!

  2. Thank you, Leslie!

  3. thank you, my emotional compass was way off this weekend, and this article explains it so well. thanks for the tips to readjust my attitude indicator.

    • Hi Deb,
      Having lived with a broken emotional compass for the majority of my life, I know how brutal it can be when the dang thing just won’t work.
      I hope that something from the suggestions listed will help you regain your balance. It is a tough world out there, and we need all the help we can get!

  4. Emotional Freedom Technique – Just Another Scam?…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    • Self Help Girl
      Glad you liked it, and thanks for the compliment!

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