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 okay, and another day you’re suddenly having a hard time getting out of bed again. Or 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 share some things in common: They often tend to feel like an outsider, not good enough, not likable, like they are always doing something wrong, 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’s also often from relational failures, growing up. For example, parents or even siblings who were shaming, misattuned, emotionally absent, abusive, unable to communicate in a healthy manner, etc. Also, peers who were bullying, demeaning, or in some other way were unsupportive. Or, teachers who allowed bullying; parents who were too engaged in their own worlds to the point that you ended up taking care of them emotionally (parentification). 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 — or 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, and it’s easier to remain in control by causing the failure themselves rather than enduring the ego injury of actually trying, only to not succeed 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 that they almost want to devour it when it’s finally available. However, resentment starts to kick in when they realize that 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…what’s safer? To be cared for and let someone in, or to stay at arms’ distance without the emotional risk? To get out of bed (or apply for the job, go on the date, etc.) and have a shot at success, or to stay in bed and certainly fail, without having to risk your ego in the process?
This is where depression often reinforces itself — the dilemma between pushing to move forward, or remaining in the known and familiar place. Sure, it’s not the greatest place, but for many it feels easier to stay in it than experiencing the pain of the rejection or neglect, etc., all over again.
Does this mean all is lost?
Not at all.
The answer for how to approach depression varies for everyone. But either way, a person struggling with mild, moderate, or severe depression needs a foundation of support. Tough love doesn’t work with depression. People with depression have often 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. 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 — when there is a realization that it can’t completely make up for the old pain. This puts many on an endless pursuit of the perfect relationship).
The common mistake that people make (which is a symptom of depression) is the idea that they are doomed to their depression. But 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 (certainly 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, 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?