I always tell my patients, “a little bit of depression goes a long way.” In the USA there is a lot of emphasis on managing problems by yourself. Even people who are struggling with serious problems such as the loss of a loved one, a major medical problem or financial difficulty will frequently apologize for “whining”. There seems to be some shame in admitting that things are difficult or that we are having trouble coping even in the face of trouble that is realistically quite challenging. Barbara Ehrenreich in her important book Bright-Sided talked about our relentless emphasis on putting a positive spin on things, even when it makes coping more difficult. That environment put unnecessary obstacles in the way of people who would benefit from seeking or accepting help. I think people not only put up a good front to others but tend to lie to themselves thinking, “It’s not so bad…other’s have it worse (someone always does)….I don’t want to complain…or…I should be able to handle this.” This type of attitude can interfere with solving problems or making things better.
I find most people are pretty hard on themselves and feel they should be able to handle almost anything without feeling sorry for themselves but an ability to feel empathy for our own difficulties is important and helps us reach out for the support and assistance we need. Denying that things are bad leads people to limp along struggling and not really enjoying their lives but feeling that they are doing okay because they are still meeting their obligations. As a psychologist my goal is always to help others re-discover the joy and vitality that make life it’s most fulfilling. An important first step is often recognizing that there are good reasons for feeling blue, that life has become a struggle and that we want things to be better.
NUMBING THE PAIN
There are many strategies people use to hide their feelings from themselves. Anyone who is experiencing chronic, mild depression is at risk for substance abuse. The most commonly used drugs-alcohol and marijuana both act to diminish feelings of anxiety or depression. They can reduce our awareness of our problems but rarely lead us to find solutions. In fact, alcohol and marijuana are both depressants and while the immediate effect of using these substances can make us feel a little better for the moment, chronic use increases depression. Television is another route many take to escape feelings of emptiness, boredom, depression and loneliness. Long hours spent online at the computer is another popular mechanism of avoidance. The problem with these strategies is that over time they create more isolation and withdrawal and can fuel greater feelings of dissatisfaction with life.
THE OPPOSITE OF DEPRESSION IS VITALITY
If you don’t wake up most days looking forward to your day, feeling that there are things you will be doing that you enjoy, consider that you might be suffering from mild depression. Do you go through the motions participating in activities, family events, work, chores without finding enough parts that are challenging and that you greet with enthusiasm? Are you just getting by? Have you stopped reading, listening to music, making food you enjoy, looking forward to sex with your mate, laughing at the antics of your children? If vitality and enthusiasm have been steadily leaking out of your life, consider that you may be depressed. Seek help! Let your loved ones know you aren’t doing well. Consult a psychologist, talk to your family doctor. Make life better know and find out what is interfering. We all have some problems in our life, some much greater than others of course. My work teaches me that almost everyone can find some level of improvement to help them experience greater peace of mind and happiness.