When Depression Is Your Reality – and It Sucks
I know, clinical word, right? “Sucks.” But it does. Depression sucks. I’ve seen many people in my practice who struggle with depression, and there’s nothing easy about it. One day you feel pretty OK, and another day you’re suddenly having a hard time getting out of bed again. You may feel like you’re just going through the daily motions, even if you’re out of bed. It can last for days, weeks, months or years. It is not a fun condition, nor is it something any person should take lightly.
People who are depressed tend to have some things in common. They often tend to feel like an outsider, not good enough, not likable, like they are always doing something wrong and like they will fail or be rejected if they try. People who are depressed often question why people like them when they do receive positive attention. They often don’t trust the positivity, and may reject the care they so greatly crave. The vulnerability of receiving the care and attention is almost more uncomfortable and scary than not receiving care. (The threat looms that they could always lose the care again.)
Depression can be biochemical at times, but it can also be from relational failures growing up. For example, this could appear as parents or even siblings who were shaming, misattuned, emotionally absent, abusive or unable to communicate in a healthy manner. This can also include peers who were bullying, demeaning or in some other way were unsupportive. Teachers who allowed bullying and parents who were too engaged in their own worlds to the point where you ended up taking care of them emotionally (parentification) can also fall under this category. The list can go on and on.
The depressed person often wonders on some level if it’s worth getting out of bed, expecting they will fail. They wonder perhaps if it’s better to stay in bed (literally and figuratively) and fail without the possibility of success. The assumption is they will fail anyway. It’s easier to remain in control by causing the failure themselves, rather than enduring the ego injury of actually trying and not succeeding in the way they’d hoped.
People with depression can also quickly lose themselves in relationships. The need and desire to feel understood, supported and truly connected with someone becomes so great they almost want to devour it when it’s finally available. However, resentment starts to kick in when they realize the other person can never fully meet the need they desire, when they realize the other person can’t always be well-attuned or unconditionally loving and supportive.
It’s a dilemma, often an unconscious one that is acted out in different ways. Is it safer to be cared for and let someone in or to stay at arms’ distance without the emotional risk? Is it safer to get out of bed (apply for the job, go on the date, etc.) and have a shot at success or to stay in bed, certain to fail, without having to risk your ego in the process? This is where depression often reinforces itself. This is the dilemma between pushing forward or remaining in the known and familiar place. Sure, it’s not the greatest place. For many, it feels easier to stay in it than experiencing the pain of the rejection or neglect all over again.
Does this mean all is lost? Not at all. The answer for how to approach depression varies for everyone. Either way, a person struggling with mild, moderate or severe depression needs a foundation of support. Tough love doesn’t always work with depression. People with depression might have grown up in some way feeling neglected, not good enough, like an outsider, alone, scared, beaten down (emotionally and/or otherwise) or generally not supported by others. In my experience, tough love tends to push people further into their depressed state, rather than create a safe space to bring them out.
It is possible to have new safe, supportive and attuned relationships, but it’s not easy to use those new relationships to make up for the pain of the old injuries. This is often where disenchantment and disappointment happens in new relationships. This is where there is a realization it can’t completely make up for the old pain. This puts many on an endless pursuit of the perfect relationship.
The common mistake people make (which is a symptom of depression) is the idea that they are doomed to their depression. Those who can muster up some energy and courage to get in the door for professional help have a good chance to get themselves moving forward. (They certainly have a better chance than those who don’t.) Even though the process is not overnight, if you’re struggling with mild, moderate or severe depression, then don’t hesitate to get professional support and help. Talking to friends is good for support, but it’s not the same as professional help. Patterns of reinforcing depression can be broken and rewired to create the space for life fulfillment to be experienced. You may feel like it won’t work for you, but what if it does?