I want to talk about depression. It’s complex, it affects everyone so differently, and it’s challenging to understand unless you’ve been there. Equally as challenging is explaining how you feel to those around you and asking for help. As a therapist I’ve seen a fair amount of people who feel like they are “failing” at getting better because their depression continues to return.
Spoiler for the theme of this conversation we’re about to have: you’re not failing.
I usually begin sessions with those coming to me to discuss their depression by talking about the idea that there are two “types” (not literally, there are way more than two types of depression but this will make sense in a minute).
1. Situational- something bad/sad/confusing/shocking/upsetting/negative happened to you or affected you in some way, and the resulting effect on your brain and body are symptoms of depression
2. Biological-You are going about your life, nothing really “happened” so to speak, yet you began to feel depression symptoms creeping in and invading your normalcy
It’s important to remember that depression can be hereditary just as a number of other mental health diagnoses are, so it’s very possible that it might run in your family. If you identify as the situational type, perhaps your depression is returning because the whole situation was not fully accepted, processed, and healed. If you identify with the biological type, this may be something that you will need to develop coping skills for that you will return to over time. Regardless of where you think the depression is coming from, it’s possible it may come back at different points in your life, but that has nothing to do with you or how much effort you’re putting into feeling better. It’s not your fault at all. Give yourself permission to believe that.
A number of my clients that I have seen so far as a therapist have expressed feeling ashamed, guilty, or even further depressed when they begin to feel better and then find the symptoms returning and clouding their minds and hearts. And to those clients I say, it’s okay to have setbacks in therapy and you are not “failing” at getting better. There is no such thing. It’s disappointing to feel better and then worse again; it’s like the depression is taunting you. That does not mean it will win.
Depression is often compared to the ocean. Perhaps at a certain point you find yourself drowning and it’s dark and it’s cold and nowhere around you is there anything you can see to keep you from sinking. Then by some miracle you start seeing light above you piercing through the water and you reach toward it and float to the surface. The sun is visible and you feel hope giving you enough strength to break through the water; progress. Later you find yourself on land; safe, recovered, happy again and grateful that storm has passed.
But it’s possible that in the future you may find yourself once again with your toes in the sand and the familiar cold waves of that vast dark ocean grazing your feet, trying its best to drown you once again.
For many people, depression is recurrent. There may be friends, family members, or partners who do not understand or are not aware of that, and this can surely make it difficult to ask for help more than once. You have permission to ask for and receive help as many times as you need. It is okay to go through periods where you feel just fine and then feel like you are regressing. What is important to remember is that during those low points, there is help. You can restart with coping skills you like or reach out to speak with someone, just please try not to fall into the trap your mind may set of being ashamed for how you are feeling. If you had a chronic physical illness nobody would bat an eye or blame you for your symptoms, and your mental health should be treated with the same empathy and understanding.
Going to therapy, opening up to friends and family, starting medications, using coping skills; all of these things can be uncomfortable and hard, especially when you’re feeling knocked down already. You are a warrior for your mental health and a hero for your life simply for doing the work to feel better, and there is no shame in that no matter how many tries it takes. You are strong for trying even on your weakest days. Keep going, keep fighting, and know that someone is always there to listen. You can reach for that light through the surface at any time.