“So, what did you come here for?” The doctor asked, pretty much cutting through the small talk to the actual intent. I could get behind that.
“Well, especially with how I was feeling in the bleak of winter, we started to question if I am struggling with depression/anxiety and I was desperate enough to set up an appointment (which is saying something!). I pretty much hated everything about life and felt there was nothing to look forward to.” I didn’t state in in a self-pitying way, but in a “this is my situation and I freaking need something different” kind of way.
The doctor, washing his hands, turned his head my way. “Was there anything to look forward to?”
I may have smiled a self-conscious smile. “I have a lot I should be grateful for. I feel guilty for not being happier with what I have…” Then I continued, “…but, no, I don’t think there was anything specifically to look forward to.”
There it was. I wanted to share honestly, but I was pretty sure I just sealed the deal on the “depression” diagnosis. The person who, in honesty, admits there is nothing to be excited about has something wrong with her, right?
I like doctors who aren’t that predictable.
He responded, “So why would you expect to be excited and looking forward to the future?”
I do think that depression is a real thing, and that there is a healthy level of joy that the average person should have–enough to at least motivate them to keep living. Pain is a signal that something needs to change. If you’re constantly depressed and hating life, I’ll side with you: something needs to change. Normalizing the pain isn’t a safe answer in and of itself.
At the same time, do you ever wonder if the dissatisfaction and general seething frustration in life is–at least to some degree–a self-fulfilling prophecy? For instance, say I find myself generally upset with life and starting to question what there is to inspire life to continue. Then I startle, and realize that I just asked “what’s the point?” Normal people don’t ask “what’s the point?”! They just come pre-programmed with a desire to live! Gosh! Something must be wrong with me! And, holy cow, if something is wrong with me, what the heck is the point??
Yes, yes, it certainly goes deeper than that and the doctor wasn’t trying to “solve” my possible depression simple as that. Recently I read On My Worst Day which included a terribly relatable quote: “I’m in way too much pain to carry the added pain of disappointing you.”
I’m not saying recognizing this world is depressing is going to stop real depression. But some days what pushes me over the top isn’t the actual hurt in the first place, but the sense that I am wrong to hurt.
Some days, months, seasons I hurt a lot. And then I add to that hurt the feeling that I am wrong to hurt. And… I hurt worse.
The doctor’s question didn’t solve my pain. But it did take away some of that extra pressure I was putting on myself–at least for a moment. If there was nothing to be excited about, why am I wrong to not feel excited?
Dudes (talking to myself here!), when you hurt, have some self-compassion. When you recognize that you’re not as happy, as empowered, as brave, or as content as you’d like, maybe–ironically–asking the question, “Why do I expect myself to be happy/empowered/brave/content?” might bring some clarity.
Don’t ask “Would I like myself to feel happy/empowered/brave/content?” That’s focusing on where you’re not. Been there, done that, wouldn’t suggest it.
I am working hard to relax into the belief that I am okay, I am valuable, exactly how I am. I may not like how I am, but I am not wrong to feel as I do. I should not have expectations for myself that, although they may be pretty, idealistic, and make everyone else jealous, are actually only shooting myself in the foot.
Wanna join me in this search for self-compassion? Don’t try to fix me, and I won’t try to fix you. You’re not wrong to hurt. Don’t add disappointment and shame on to the pain you’re already feeling. Life already hurts too much to add that pain too.