by Dr. Bill
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
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.
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
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!'"
inside the soul is the main difference between what I call "good
depression" as contrasted with "bad depression." Consider the
sadness, anger, remorse
hopeless, isolated, shame, guilt, anxiety
assertiveness, boundaries, intimacy
eat, sleep, sex -isolating, inactivity, lack of pleasure
scattered, negative, distorted
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