How do I know if I am depressed?
Although depression is a form of mental ill-health that has been written about extensively and is a diagnosable category with common symptoms that can be check-listed, the lived experience of depression may vary enormously from one person to the next. It is possible to have a mild to moderate form of depression without being aware of it, usually because it has been a part of your mood state for as long as you can remember and just seems normal.
Our habitual ways of being and the messages we give ourselves, for example, about not being good, clever, or desirable enough can act like glass cages, keeping us stuck in our old patterns of behaviour. We may shy away from situations that challenge our usual mode and stir up difficult feelings, such as applying for a better job or dating someone we are attracted to, for fear that we will not be able to cope with the disappointment of rejection and due to our underlying belief that these good things are not for us.
It is possible to appear, on the outside, to be functioning well in your life, while inside you may feel quite hopeless and despairing. We often push these feelings away because they seem unacceptable or do not fit with our idea of ourselves and the 'Instagram' image we want to show to others. We find ways of distracting ourselves or numbing the feelings; this could be through switching off in front of the TV, regular evening drinking, or through brief sexual relationships that make us feel temporarily desirable and can even allow us to push the feelings of rejection and worthlessness into the other person if we are the one who does not wish to pursue the relationship further. In these various ways and many others, one can manage one’s low mood or self-criticism without ever working through the underlying feelings and self-beliefs. We also tend to be drawn towards others who share the same outlook on life, so we can confirm to ourselves that life cannot be any different than it is. This can prevent us from seeking help.
It may be that someone close to you, a parent - sibling or partner - is experiencing depression, and again this may manifest in a variety of ways that you would not necessarily recognise, such as emotional withdrawal or irritability. This will have an impact on you as their partner and on your relationship. If they are not able to express joy or warmth towards you, then this could make you feel isolated and unwanted, and create serious stress in your relationship which needs to be addressed therapeutically on an individual as well as a relational level.
The root of your low mood or the fact of choosing a partner with a tendency to depression could lie in your personal history. You may indeed have grown up with a parent (or two) who was depressed, perhaps seeming sad for no reason, perhaps often angry or irritable. Then there are the parents who push away their depression by keeping very busy at work or engaging in intensive sports or hobbies to the detriment of their family life. The adults you grew up around will have helped shape your usual state of mind and your choice of partner. Psychotherapy can help you to understand what is going on inside you, and the reasons for your life choices and understanding and insight can, over time, lead to change.
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About Clea McEnery-West
Clea McEnery-West MA, MPhil, member of FOundation for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council. Clea is a psychodynamic psychotherapist working in private practice in Central London. She also trains counsellors and psychotherapists at Birkbeck College, University of London.… Read more
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