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  How do I Stop Being so Depressed?  
Share your thoughts with Dr. Bill in 1Community

by Dr. Bill Gaultiere
Executive Director of New Hope


I can't seem to pull myself out of the doldrums. All I want to do is sleep and eat. I just don't seem to have any energy for living. And I have so much to do. We just moved to a new house and we're not settled in yet. My son, who just started college, says that I haven't been myself lately. I guess I'm depressed. I've always been a happy, energetic, positive person — even in some tough times. What's wrong with me now?

It sounds like you're experiencing what's called "Reactive Depression." You mention two major transitions that you're going through: your son has started college and you've moved to a new house. Each of these is probably a good thing, especially your son starting college. Nonetheless, transitions like these also are "losses" that normally and appropriately elicit some feelings of sadness and grief and require that you make adjustments, which can feel overwhelming or anxiety provoking. To react with feelings of depression is quite common and not a problem unless you don't process those feelings and get help. Then it can become a problem. That's where you're at.

Let me explain. You probably miss having your son at the dinner table and just knowing that he's home. His going off to college may signify to you that he?s a young man now and pretty much on his own. He's not a child anymore and doesn't need you in the same way as before. You and your family are beginning a new stage, which will bring new joys, new opportunities, and new challenges. But for now, you miss the way it was.

Similarly, with your new house I imagine that you're feeling a mixture of emotions. Your new house and community probably have some positive aspects that will be good for you. At the same time there are probably some things that you miss about your previous home. And, as you mentioned, the process of getting settled into a new house and a new community has many challenges and can feel overwhelming at times.

It sounds to me like your problem is not so much that your feeling depressed because you should feel that way - for now. Given your transitions and the losses they represent, it is appropriate and healthy for you to feel some sadness, to grieve your losses, and to work through the feelings of being overwhelmed with making necessary adjustments. Your problem apparently is that you've been denying your feelings. Instead of feeling your feelings of sadness and pressure and talking them through with those you trust you've been trying not to feel sad and criticizing yourself for feeling overwhelmed. Instead of putting your energy into receiving the care you need, you're trying to "pull yourself out of it." This has escalated your feelings of depression into your body and your life so that you have become depressed and are not your self anymore. You need help reversing course so that you stop using food and sleep to avoid your feelings and instead get support with your grief and adjustments until you recover your energy and zest for living.

I talk with many people like you who have become depressed as a reaction to transitions, losses, injuries, or traumas. I say to them, "What do you do when the red indicator light on your car dashboard tells you that your engine oil is low?" "I put more oil in," is their obvious answer. "That's how you need to respond to your depressed feelings," I say. "You see, in situations like yours depressed feelings are simply your soul?s way of crying out, `Help, put some care inside!'"

Getting care inside the soul is the main difference between what I call "good depression" as contrasted with "bad depression." Consider the following chart:

  Good Depression Bad Depression
Feelings: grief, sadness, anger, remorse empty, hopeless, isolated, shame, guilt, anxiety
Actions: self-disclosure, assertiveness, boundaries, intimacy over/under: eat, sleep, sex -isolating, inactivity, lack of pleasure
Thoughts: focused, positive distracted, scattered, negative, distorted
Time: present past and/or future
Responsible for: self others or nothing
Progress: improving stuck or worsening

As you can see, it's all in how you respond to your depressed feelings. Do you see them as a part of your soul that needs care and comfort? Or do you treat your feelings like problems that need to be fixed? There's a big difference between care and fixing.

* Care is patient with the process, fixing seeks quick solutions.
* Care understands feelings, fixing focuses only on problems.
* Care is respectful, fixing is shaming.
* Care is responsive to needs, fixing is rescuing (takes responsibility for another's problem or gets someone to do that for you).
* Care is compassionate, fixing is rejecting.
* Care is helpful, fixing is hurtful.

Apparently, you're dealing with a "bad depression," because you haven't gotten the care you need for the sadness in your soul. I encourage you to get help now before your depression becomes even more debilitating. Instead, of trying to fix your feelings by "pulling yourself out of it" seek support for yourself. Feel your feelings. Verbalize your feelings over time with a trusted confidante(s). And receive care by joining your friend in caring for you! If getting support in this manner doesn't start to revive you and return you to your normal self then you'd be wise to get help from a therapist to help you turn the corner. (For additional information on depression, including eight positive steps you can take to get help for depression see my article, "Help for Depression.")

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