It sounds like you are depressed
Is feeling depressed a sign of failure and weakness, or a normal emotional phase, which we all can go through from time to time?
When I was in therapy training my therapist* once remarked, that he thought I was depressed. What has stayed with me about this moment is not what he said, but how he said it – calm, non-judging, matter of fact and not frightened or frightening.
At the time a lot of difficult things had come together in my life, and it was not easy. I had known it, and I had felt it. But for another (and a health care professional and trainer of all people) to notice and confirm what I had suspected, that was not easy either.
I remember feeling ashamed and worried. Me a trainee therapist depressed?! Was I not supposed to know better, know how to avoid getting depressed in the first place? Was I weak, a failure and not suited to the profession?
What stopped me from digging myself into an unnecessary and unhelpful hole of shame, fear and discomfort about how I felt was the way in which my therapist told me what he had observed. He was not frightened, angry or disappointed. That helped me stay with the facts and work out what I needed to do to avoid getting stuck in this difficult patch, how to cope and how to get back on track.
We all can experience more or less severe symptoms of depression throughout our lives. No one is spared. That includes people in caring, health or religious professions or those where discipline and leadership are expected (the military, police, politicians or senior corporate managers etc). Ways of coping and treatment depend on the depth and length of depression. Clearly this can vary from person to person.
The issue is not only how to tell when things are starting to take their toll, but also how to cope, how to get better, and how to take responsibility in looking after ourselves. That can take more courage and strength than pretending it is not happening. Ultimately listening to how you feel and doing something constructive about it is the smart thing to do.
Feeling depressed and anxious (the two often go hand in hand) can be triggered by lots of things, but are particularly common when our basic needs are threatened and we have little or no control over the matter: health, employment, home, relationships, death, finances, traumatic experiences.
If we are affected in more than one of these areas, then we need to start taking extra care, as this is a challenging time. If we do not have a good support system (or none) then we need to take even greater care.
If difficulties stretch over a longer period of time and solutions are not easy to come by, then we are bound to experience an emotional drain and exhaustion. If we are traveling through a difficult terrain, our mode of transport will have to cope with extra strain and can only get us there, if we do extra maintenance. The same goes for our emotional and physical well being. We all have thresholds of coping.
Depression can be a frightening position to be in. Often we can doubt whether it will ever get better. Being told that it can, is what we want to hear – even if we may find it hard to believe. Being told that we are the one, who has to take responsibility and do something about it, is not something we may want to hear. We expect the other (GP, therapist, counsellor, life coach or medication) to do it for us.
Alas, it is our own road we travel, and only we can do the job – sometimes with help from others, who are not afraid and who have confidence in our ability to get there.
*Many counselling / therapy training programmes require trainees to undergo therapy for some time. It is common for qualified therapists to continue with personal therapy alongside their work as best practice, personal development and / or an accreditation requirement.
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About Karin Sieger
Karin Sieger is a registered and BACP accredited psychotherapist with a private practice in Richmond (Surrey). She specialises in working with people affected by cancer, anxiety, loss and relational difficulties.