I am depressed. It hasn't been this bad since second semester of my freshman year of college. I haven't showered in four days, haven't changed clothes in three. I stay up late into the night and sleep or mindlessly play video games or watch videos all day. I avoid doing things I know I like to do because I don't want to do them. It's more than “don't want to do them,” but I don't know how else to express it.

When I do try to concentrate on anything, my brain is foggy and it takes all the energy I can muster to cut through the fog even for a few minutes. Most of the time, I can't cut through it at all, no matter how much energy I throw at it. It's frustrating and infuriating and that just makes it even harder the next time.

I ended that semester in college with my first, and only, failing grade; a boyfriend who thrived on my apathy and dependence on him; and academic probation. I managed to crawl out of my depressive pit over the summer, but it took another year to rid myself of the boyfriend. I was able to rebound from academic probation by arguing that I had already earned a B in the class, having taken it at a local college while I was in high school, so I was only using it as a refresher course. That got my GPA out of the dumps, but the F still sits on my transcript, taunting me, a screaming reminder from the past about my real worth.

I'm much better prepared this time around. I have a wonderful husband of 20 years who understands and wants to support me through my depression; a brilliant therapist who truly sees and understands me; and fantastic friends who have walked emotional paths similar to mine.

What's most different now, though, is that I know what's going on. I know what to call it: depression. I know how to combat it: Medication, Movement, Eating right, Therapy.

I'm going to stop here for a sec to explain something. Depression is not sadness. I am sad about something and that sadness plays a role in triggering my depression, but it is not why I am depressed and, for the most part, I'm not sitting around thinking about the thing is making me sad. The time I am spending thinking about the thing that makes me sad? I can do that and not be depressed. I know because I've done it many times. Something else happened to trigger my depression. I know what that was because I've been studying it for a long time now. I also know how to get out of my depression, but, and this is the really important part, knowing how doesn't mean I CAN get out of my depression. Physically, I am out of energy and I cannot focus my mind. It's taking everything I have, and all day, just to write this article. Don't ever tell a depressed person that they would feel better if only they would (fill in the blank with your favorite remedy). Telling them that they have the means to fix it and are simply choosing not to will make them feel worse. You are not helping.

What you can do is sit with them and “hold space” for them. What I mean by that is allow them to sit with these feelings without judgement from you. Depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain that manifests as a big fat liar whispering that you are worthless and things are never going to get better no matter what you do. Your brain believes it because it is coming from your own brain; it's the ultimate propaganda machine.

So, hold space for your depressed person, make sure they are safe, and then help them get professional help.

The professional help part is tricky because there are a lot of crappy therapists out there. If a therapist laughs at you (as opposed to with you when you're trying to be funny), ridicules you, mocks your pain, or demeans you in any way, go find a different therapist. You don’t have to confront them or even explain why you are leaving unless you feel comfortable doing so; you can just cancel your future appointments and not make any more. It is not your responsibility to make your therapist like you or feel good about his/her prowess as a therapist. Therapy is about you and your agenda, not your therapist’s. This was a hard won lesson for me.

Silhouette of two seated figures. One is a therapist or counselor taking notes while the client talks. The client's head is disintegrating as she talks.
Representing my sense of self disintegrating during early counseling sessions

For years, I would pretend a therapy or medication was working for me when it really had no discernible effect. It may have been tendency toward black-and-white thinking, meaning I was unable to gage progress or regression in small increments, things simply worked or they didn’t in my world. None of it worked, but I didn’t want my therapists to feel bad, so I pretended that whatever it was worked for me.

Thats not totally accurate, though. In all honesty, I think I didn’t want to have to explain how it wasn’t working. I had no way of describing it and I don’t like to have attention focused on me for long unless I have a script or some other way of knowing exactly what’s expected of me.

Even if you find a good therapist, there’s no guarantee that he or she is the right therapist for you. The fit has to be right, meaning that your personalities should be complimentary. Basically, you need to feel comfortable talking openly with your therapist. If you are a person who avoids confrontation at all costs, you probably won’t feel comfortable with a therapist who has a more confrontational style. Unfortunately, some therapy clients may feel the fault lies with them instead of recognizing that it’s just a personality mismatch.

It is now the middle of my second day working on this article and I still haven’t gotten to the meat of what I wanted to say. I said a lot of other good stuff, though, so I’m going to wrap up this post and continue this content in the next article.

If you have tips on finding and/or evaluating a therapist, please share them in the comments.

 


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