Can Depression be Linked with Optimism?
Sometimes the most capable people find it the most difficult to recognise that they are depressed, until it imposes itself in a way that can't be ignored. Being good at handling yourself and the challenges you face obviously gives you reasonable grounds to believe you can manage your mood. We’re all taught that optimism is a good thing; however, maybe at some point in your life your body, mind and emotions begin to protest under the strain. So here we have an interesting contradiction – the idea that it is possible to be both depressed and optimistic at the same time, and that optimism may actually exacerbate the problem.
It doesn’t even have to be an obviously stressful time, but some part of you – the part that isn’t usually ‘in charge’ – begins to insist on being heard. Maybe this takes the form of finding yourself in tears when you thought you were laughing hilariously at a joke, or crying in your sleep, or for no reason at all at something completely mundane. Another way it might appear is through silly accidents, a sense of withdrawal from others, or forgetfulness, or – “Who, ME?” – breathlessness and racing heart which might be a panic attack.
Perhaps this is when optimism becomes something else – more like a strict taskmaster full of the word ‘ought’ and ‘should’. While you are battling a powerful underlying feeling that is dragging you down, the optimist in you is doing all it can to provide strength, urging "it'll be ok, just battle on, you can manage, pull yourself together, you're strong, you can win, use your intelligence...next week, next year this will change...".
Yet sometimes we’re just not able to do it by ourselves, and ‘the optimist’ is sabotaging any justified thoughts about getting support. We need to be kind to ourselves too. So perhaps the answer to this conundrum is to check in with the character of our inner optimist: does it seem nurturing or stern; is it unremittingly strong, or also kind? If it’s tricky to work out which, a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you to explore. The reward could be a fresh release of energy at your disposal and the sense that you’re back in the driving seat of your own life.
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