Happiness as a choice for the clinically depressed?
January 9, 2013 3:28 AM   Subscribe

I've been constantly told that key to being okay again is to "choose one's happiness" - both by strangers on the internet and the very closest people in my life. I've been diagnosed with mild-to-severe depression and anxiety for three years now (there is a bit more to that, though). Since most of the before-mentioned friends (etc) wanted me to stop taking antidepressants, I am without them for now. So, since everything I found by sending my queries to Google was meant for "normal people" who are "feeling a bit depressed", I would be grateful to know how these approaches apply to those with actual mental health issues, if they do at all.

Sorry if I get a thing or two wrong here. First time using AskMeFi ever. Let me know if I mess this up....

Background: I'm 19 years old (male) at the time of asking the question, and since my life starting to go severely downhill 3 years ago, my stance on this has changes several times. Met a wonderful partner in which I was in a relationship for two years, before she left me - reason: I was too depressed; it was bringing her down. This definitely contributes to the reasons I am asking the question here, but only a question on its own would do the matter justice. I'll spare you the details for now. Still trying to graduate; not having a job right now. Receive a small amount of compensation that the social security on mental disabilities allow; otherwise living with my mother still.

Country of residence - one of those ex-USSR countries, so English is obviously not my first language. We have social security here, and the cost of antidepressants, although not a nice zero, is pretty low.

Mental health problems: depression ranging from mild to severe - occasionally manageable, sometimes even absent, but for the most part, I am down in the dumps. Anxiety - both social, and uh, regular kind - which means that I do not react well to stress for the most part, which, in turn, makes it hard to focus on school, which makes the grades go down, which makes it increasingly hard to stay positive on the whole situation.

Origin of the question: I see that the reasoning of "just choose the path to happiness yourself" has been in the air for a long time, but only when my ex brought it up, I started to really consider this approach. Me being myself, I spent a good portion of my day Googling how the hell I am supposed to do that, but did not come up with much. She did not have a very clear grasp of it either, and the same goes for everyone in the circle of my closest friend I've talked to. Just make the right decisions. Choose to deal with a problem in a positive way.

I guess I'll stop here for a bit.

Despite what the society has been telling me for good nineteen-eighteen years, someone feeling down for an expended period is very much a good reason for others to leave him or her. Had to learn it by experiencing the alienation myself, as spending tons of time online doing research on how to not mess up a relationship did not warn me on this - which makes me think that mental health has become a generally isolated issue; it is not often viewed in combination of close human interaction, such as friendships or relationships. However, I feel that both of them are essential parts off me enjoying my life. I want them. I want people to be able to be close to me. In order to do that, I must either be or appear happy.

In case their own suggested approach is invalid here, let me know of other solutions to look into.
posted by 9080 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Dude. If your depression is medical it needs to be treated medically.just because your friends are ignorant is no reason for you to suffer.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:48 AM on January 9, 2013 [36 favorites]

Best answer: If somebody had told me to 'just be happy' while I was clinically depressed, I would have wanted to punch them in the face, except that I could barely get out of bed and I doubt I could have mustered the energy to actually make a fist and take a swing.

You don't have an attitude problem, you have a medical problem. Go find a therapist you like and trust. Anyone who acts like depression is just something you can shake off with happy thoughts has conclusively proven that they don't know a damn thing about depression.
posted by zug at 3:52 AM on January 9, 2013 [66 favorites]

if you had diabetes and your friends wanted you to stop taking insulin would you go with their ignorant and potentially life-threatening advice? thought not. the anti-depressants will help you get to a place where you can try out different coping mechanisms, take some risks, establish new and healthier patterns etc. but you do need the meds to sort out the chemical imbalance. please don't take medical advice from well-meaning but completely clueless people.
posted by coffee_monster at 3:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just to clarify, I don't actually condone violence. But it would have inspired quite a lot of justified rage.
posted by zug at 3:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can't will yourself out of depression any more than you can will yourself out of cancer.

Since most of the before-mentioned friends (etc) wanted me to stop taking antidepressants, I am without them for now.

You have a physiological illness that needs to be treated. Some of that treatment will include addressing thought patterns that may contribute to and/or exacerbate the underlying biological issues. But nonprofessional nonmedical untrained people who have their own preferences and needs tied into their demands have no business asking you to stop treating your medical condition.

I want people to be able to be close to me. In order to do that, I must either be or appear happy.

No, you need to start by taking care of yourself and treating your illness. The rest will follow, but you need to be 100% committed to your own well-being. That's your job, that's your priority right now.
posted by headnsouth at 3:55 AM on January 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

If you're having a bad day/week in a generally enjoyable life, "cheer up" is fine advice.

If you're having a bad month/year or life seems a constant slog, "seek medical help" is fine advice.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:09 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought of this Hyperbole and a Half, esp. the bit about willing yourself out of depression being like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their arms grow back. Your friends have no clue; I'm sure they're well-intentioned, but they have no idea what they are talking about, and what they are asking you to do.

Depression is a medical condition, and you have been diagnosed with it. It is time to go back to the doctor and go back on the meds. If your friends don't approve, you don't have to tell them -- it's none of their business.
posted by pie ninja at 4:21 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I suffer from depression, so this is experience talking.

Your "friends" are being extremely ignorant and insensitive assholes. Depression isn't something you can just smile away. You have an illness and it needs treatment, not just an attitude adjustment. Just because they can't see your illness in the same way they could see a broken arm it doesn't mean it is made up or that you are being weak. Why are you taking these people's medical advice over that of your doctor's? I am seriously furious for you. How DARE people convince you that you shouldn't treat your illness. Bastards. They are all bastards. (I'm sorry I'm so angry about this, but I have a family member who continues to deny that I suffer from depression and it is terrible and insulting. I know very much how it feels and I am very sorry you're dealing with that.)

To answer your question directly... Is there a choice involved? Yes, to a degree. I too have heard the whole "Decide to be happy" thing and I have taken it to heart, but not as literally as you have.

I HAVE decided to be happy. And that decision to be happy has led me to:
1. have my depression treated and monitored by health professionals and ignore people who try to convince me to do otherwise. They don't have a blessed clue what they are talking about. They don't get to have an opinion.
2. follow their medical advice (which in my case means being in antidepressants) and (again) ignore any people who try to convince me to do otherwise.
3. surround myself only with positive people who care for me/make me feel happy/provide a healthy happy rolemodel/encourage me.
4. reduce my contact with negative people and eliminate unhealhty relationships from my life. If all they bring me is drama and confusion then they're out. I not only don't need that kind of relationship, I don't deserve it.
5. adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular intense exercise since both of those things do a lot to improve my mood and mental state
6. force myself to follow a normal, healthy sleeping pattern. I go to bed at the same time every day (even on weekends) and I get up at roughly the same time every morning (even on weekends. On the bad days when I want nothing more than to hide in bed I do absolutely everything I can to NOT do that because regular sleep is important and has a big impact on mood. I am fiercely protective of my regular sleep routine.

See? I've "decided to be happy" but what that really means is that I've decided to do the things I need to do to be happy. So take their advice to "choose to be happy" if you want, but make sure you take it the right way.

and seriously, I want to internet bitch slap every person that has made you feel like you can just smile your way out of depression. I hope for their sake they never suffer from this disease and then have people tell them not to have it treated.... what assholes...

You have my support and thoughts, friend.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:23 AM on January 9, 2013 [90 favorites]

If you find the anti-depressants help you, it's nobody's business but your own whether you should take them or not. Even my family doctor questioned my need for them, but when I went off the difference was clear. Talking myself through to an even state every time I got a sinking feeling was incredibly exhausting without them. With them, the sinking feeling doesn't come nearly as often and I can get on with my day.

As for the ex, it could just be you weren't right for each other. You sound like a great person, and your English passes for a well-spoken native speaker.
posted by waterandrock at 4:23 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if I were you I would stop talking about your depression with your friends who clearly have no experience with it and have no idea what it is like. It isn't that they are necessarily trying to harm you, but that is in essence what is happening by having them convince you to not take your medication. So go back to your doctor, get back on your antidepressants, start feeling better again, and if your friends comment on your improved mood and want to know why just change the subject. It is not their business whether you are taking medication or not. All they really need to know is that YOU ARE FEELING BETTER and that should be enough for them.

I do understand the need/desire to talk about it, though. I talk about my depression with my fiance more than I think he would like, but he always listens and is supportive because he understands I just need to air out how I'm feeling. Depression is very much a disease that thrives in secrecy and darkness, so I have chosen (see? again, a choice) to always talk to someone (usually my fiance) about the bad things depression is making me feel or think. And seriously, it helps. It isn't fun for my fiance, he doesn't enjoy hearing about the bad thoughts my depression is making me think, but he wants me to tell him. He knows that by listening he is helping me. If you don't have a person like that in your life then maybe finding a counsellor or a therapist is a good idea. Having a safe place to communicate your feelings and thoughts is important. If I were you I would do what I needed to do to find a way to do that.

again, lots of love and support from me. It is a crap disease but it can be managed and you can and will feel better.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:38 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

There was a funny political cartoon a bit back about President Obama. Two panels. First panel: "WHAT PEOPLE THINK THE PRESIDENT DOES." It's him pulling two huge levers, marked ECONOMY and GAS PRICES. Second panel: "WHAT THE PRESIDENT ACTUALLY DOES." It's him stressfully poring over reams and reams of documents.

Your mind is like that. You can't simply choose to be "better" or "worse." All you can do is take in information, act on it, learn from what you are doing, and keep on going.

That said, you can make choices that will help your mental health, as Puppet McSockerson helpfully outlines above. Exercise, therapy, medication, mindfulness, maybe some Zen or stoicism, all of these things can help. No one step will take you from "OH GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING" to "every day is beautiful and everything is in its right place," but as you get from one baseline to the next, things will get easier.

Nothing is ever 100%, but depression and anxiety can be manageable.

So, no, you can't choose to be happy, but yes, it is, to a certain limited degree, within your control, although it is a lot of work.

Best of luck. Wish I had better advice.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:42 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Choose to deal with a problem in a positive way.

Which in your case will more than likely be to use anti-depressants and/or talk to a therapist.

I was going to say that you're at an age where most people are well-meaning but clueless, but most people are well-meaning but clueless about mental health. It is a difficult and awkward subject matter for many. Many people don't deal with it well.

But, here's the thing - if people weren't having a well-intentioned but clueless opinion about this aspect of your life, they would have it about something else. What you have to do is to choose to make yourself better in the way that is right for you. And that really goes for anything else in your life. Because everyone will always have an opinion about how you should be living your life, but only you really know you.
posted by heyjude at 4:43 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll re-quote the thing from Hyperbole and a Half that pie ninja mentioned, because it's put so well and deserves emphasis:
But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn't going to work.
Also, I recently saw this letter from Stephen Fry to a woman with severe depression, and I think his comparison of depression to the weather is apt:
Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It's real.
You can't change it by wishing it away.
If it's dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can't alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.
I've been depressed, and I've experienced successful (and sometimes not-so-successful) treatment of it. You can't reason your way out of severe depression, or fool it by smiling.

If you're going through treatment and it's starting to take hold, however, there will be a point where you'll be able to pull back a little bit, notice triggers and changes in your mood, and take successful steps to alter them. You can choose to change your reaction to something, to give yourself the self-care you need, or just to wait out a bad day, but all of this requires a certain baseline of wellness. If you're not at that level yet, the goal of antidepressants and other medical treatments are to get you to that level.

I often visualize depression as being stuck in a hole in the ground: some holes are shallow and easy to step out of. Some are deeper, and you can climb your way out, but only with plenty of effort, patience, and ingenuity. And some holes are so deep that you can't possibly escape on your own. People who say you can think yourself out of depression have only ever seen the shallow holes.

Good luck, and I hope you find friends to talk to who understand what you're going through. Some people are perfectly good people, but have absolutely no experience with depression, and I think your friends are among them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:59 AM on January 9, 2013 [22 favorites]

All of the above advice is good, but I'm also struck by how much of your problem solving you describe as online research. Sometimes you just have to live through things, and get hurt, and figure stuff out. Being 19 can be hard. Your first breakup can be hard. I'm in no way suggesting that your depression isn't real or that you shouldn't seek treatment, but life is meant to have ups and downs and learning how to live that is the task of life - one which you'll be able to manage much better when your depression is treated.
posted by judith at 5:03 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If medication helps you manage your depression, and your friends tell you to stop taking that medication, you don't do what they tell you. You get new friends who are supportive of your efforts to be a healthier, happier person. Fuck them.
posted by elizardbits at 5:14 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

All these answers are true. But there is another component besides that, which is making positive choices when you have the opportunity to do so. You may not be able to control your mood, but you can control how you react to it and how you let it affect your life. You can choose to look for the positives in a situation rather than focusing on the negatives. You can choose not to go out drinking on a weeknight so you can wake up refreshed and have the strength to choose to meet that day's responsibilities. And so on.
posted by gjc at 5:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

You may find it helpful to look into cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness. These are therapies that involve training yourself to think in ways which are less distorted and destructive to yourself. For example they could help you avoid the destructive spiralling stress you describe with school and your grades. They have been shown to be very effective for many people and can be used alongside medication. There are a number of online resources in English if you're fluent enough to use them.

However as you've discovered it's nowhere near as simple as "thinking yourself happy" and your friends are misguided to advise you to quit medication without proper discussion with your doctors. They may not understand that clinical depression is a long way from the sort of mild sadness you can cheer someone out of. Severe depression is a serious disease and you should no more rely on your friends advice than if you had diabetes or liver disease.
posted by *becca* at 5:33 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Stephen Fry analogy Metroid Baby quotes up here lead me to an epiphany -

Okay, let's say that depression is likethe weather. And yes, you can choose to do something about it, the same way you can choose to not get wet when it rains. However - the sort of thing you can choose to do about it is use an umbrella, just like the sort of thing you can choose to do about depression is use medication which has been prescribed to you.

Saying that you can get over depression by "choosing to be happy" is like saying that you can go out in the rain and not get wet by just smiling at the clouds or something - it doesn't work like that. And yes, taking medication to treat your depression does count as choosing to be happy - just like deciding to go outside in the rain, just so long as you have an umbrella, counts as a way to not get wet when it rains.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:43 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

Speaking of weather, be sure you are getting enough sunshine. You're in eastern Europe, right? Long gray winters! And take a vitamin D supplement, it might help, and get plenty of exercise. My sister was one of those "snap out of it" people when it came to dealing with depressed people, including our mother and me. And then she had a colicky screamed for hours on end baby and postpartum depression. She called me to apologize, said she finally understood. Maybe your friends will too, but don't hold your breath.
posted by mareli at 5:54 AM on January 9, 2013

For me, choosing to be happy means choosing to take my medication (just as "choosing health) for a diabetic means taking their insulin) and go to therapy. Depression meds aren't "happy pills" for people who are taking an easy way out- they're medicine for people whose physiological processes don't function as they should.

It also means doing research on what happy people do and imitating those behaviours. It means deliberately noticing what kind of an effect different media has on my mood and eliminating most of it. It means making an effort to distinguish between what is my depression or anxiety, and what's a healthy level of sadness or fear. I check in with my therapist if I'm not sure. It means doing everything in my power not to let my depression get the better of me and not to let my anxiety rule my life. It means taking care of myself even when I don't want to. It means not giving up.
posted by windykites at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've struggled with depression for decades, but have come to appreciate the 'happiness is a choice' advice . . .

Your friends are mistaken. They are repeating advice they've heard but applying it to something they don't understand. The 'happiness is a choice' advice doesn't really apply to clinical depression -- it applies more to the negativity and acceptance of 'bad thoughts' that most people have at some point, and which can become habit if one has lived with depression for a long time.

If your neurotransmitters are out of whack, only medication is going to fix that. But after the medication has been in your system for a month or so -- after you've found the right medication and the right dose (and it often takes 2-3 meds before the right one is found) -- sometimes it becomes useful to decide to ignore the thoughts telling you that you're useless and you should stay in bed. That decision is not always possible, because one has depression, and depression is a medical condition. But for me, it's been possible enough times that I aim to remember to *try* deciding to be happy, just in case.
posted by MeiraV at 6:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Unless your friends are a group of doctors, try to not take medical advice from them. There is a reason you were prescribed medication, and a reason you should be taking it. You are always entitled to a second opinion, but that second opinion should come from a second doctor and not Steve Who Looked Up Anti-Depressants On Yahoo Answers.
posted by griphus at 7:09 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is any of this the result of your country's people's general outlook towards mental health? Maybe your research time could be better spent finding "new school" doctors to treat your depression?
posted by WeekendJen at 8:28 AM on January 9, 2013

There are some non-drug ways to deal with depression. Here are some ways that have worked for me:

Light box
Vitamin D supplements
Keeping a written journal
Following daily routines (like making my bed every morning)
Eating healthy food (cutting down on sugar)
Allowing myself some caffeine
Doing the exercises in The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns
No alcohol! (It's not an anti-depressant, its a depressant. Don't drink a depressant.)

If you google "depression and" any one of these, you'll find a ton of information.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:39 AM on January 9, 2013

EmpressCallipygos' comment adds something really important that Stephen Fry's letter neglects to mention: you always have a choice to do something. You can't choose to simply stop being depressed, but you can choose to ask for help, or to take your medication every day, or to get out of bed and take a shower. You may not be able to singlehandedly will yourself out of depression, but that doesn't mean you're resigned to letting it walk all over you.

And every time you make one of those small choices to treat yourself well, it gets a little bit easier and you get a little bit better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:40 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

One thing I've learned is that people who have never had clinical depression or anxiety fundamentally do not understand it on a gut level. They've had their dog die or had some personal tragedy that has made them sad for an extended period of time, but that many people that is still markedly different from clinical depression. So they just don't get that your brain is different and that there is no way to "snap out of it."

I'm amazed how many people consider themselves experts on antidepressants who have zero medical background or personal experience with them. Ignore such people completely as you would if they were giving advice on something like a hip replacement.

I think the happiness is a choice thing more applies to the low level discontent that is the reality for most people. Basically not allowing the fact you don't have your dream job or dream house or dream relationship to define your outlook on life. To choose to be happy with what you have, not to dwell on what you don't. But such thinking has its limits and sometimes happiness is not realistic under your present circumstances, such as when one is suffering from untreated depression. Then the best and really only thing you can do is plan a path back towards happiness by treating it, but expecting someone to will themselves to happy in such circumstances ridiculous and counter productive denial.
posted by whoaali at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's impossible for mentally healthy people to understand what depression feels like. In fact, even I can't fully know what it's like, because I'm properly medicated and my severe depression is under control. The flip side of that is that when I'm in periods of even moderate depression, I have very little hope that I can be helped. I understand that that's normal, and you may be feeling the same way.

I'm sorry your mood problems are so debilitating. Please go back to treatment...if the meds you tried weren't really effective, there are so many others you can try.

Friends mean well, but what they're saying is really the equivalent of telling an insomniac that the solution is to sleep more.
posted by wryly at 10:39 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am so sick of people who just pass around cute-sounding quotes and think they're gospel. You can't *will* yourself out of depression. Please listen to the advice above and get yourself some help. Maybe antidepressants are the answer, maybe they're not, but that's your choice and yours alone. They don't have to be something you take forever, and you might have to try a few before you find one that works. Definitely talk to a counselor/psychologist/therapist too, they can help you get better too.
posted by radioamy at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2013

I have a cousin with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (stick with me, I promise it's relevant). She struggles every day just to do anything, and she also struggles with other people. They suggest things like getting more exercise and taking vitamins. They think she should just suck it up and power through it.

The thing is, these are not bad people. Hell, I had these thoughts myself, until she explained to me what it was really like. The problem is that there is nothing in my experience that matches that level of fatigue, so I reach for something that seems close, but that I have experienced: being really tired. But this is a qualitatively different thing from being really tired, and so the things that I do when I'm really tired don't apply to her situation at all.

Similarly, your friends do not understand depression. They're not bad people, but they do not have any experience of clinical depression so they reach for something that seems similar to them: being sad. But being sad is a totally different thing, and so you should consider their advice to be well-meaning but worthless.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:04 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

In my experience, people who have never been seriously depressed have absolutely no idea what it is like. They tend to try to understand it (if they try at all) by relating it to their experiences of sadness at a breakup or the death of a pet or loved one, and so they end up concluding that you can get over it however they got over those things. They probably mean well, but this is not going to help you.
posted by thelonius at 11:08 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only choice involved in depression is the choice to seek the treatment and lifestyle changes necessary to minimize its effects and enhance one's ability to cope. For example, taking medication, going to therapy, exercising, sleeping, and dropping asshole friends who pressure you to take their dumbass advice regarding mental illness.
posted by Anonymous at 12:07 PM on January 9, 2013

It's been said by everyone above me-- and more eloquently-- but I just had to come in to say that the only choice you can make in this situation to be happier is the choice to treat your depression with your doctors. Your friends are not doctors. They are not trained in this issue.

I am not a doctor. However, I know people who have suffered from depression that have been talked out of treatment because it should just be a choice to be happy. It doesn't work like that. Get the help you need, that you deserve. Take your medications regularly, check in with your medical team, and don't give too many details to people who don't know what to do with them.
posted by RainyJay at 12:27 PM on January 9, 2013

The only good thing about 'choose to be happy' advice is this little kernel of truth about choice.

I can choose to do things that help me. That's all. I can't choose to be happy, but I can choose to try and sleep early, I can choose to eat breakfast, I can choose to go for a walk.

I can choose to take my medication.

These things may or not make me happy - they do make it easier for me to live comfortably though. If I am not exhausted, if I am not hungry, if I am not lethargic, if I am nt battling all of those things and my own brain chemistry, then it tends to be easier for me to be happy. That's all. Happiness may or may not come, it may take a month for the storm to clear, so to speak, but those are the choices I can make.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Telling someone who is clinically depressed to 'choose happiness' is like kicking someone in the balls and telling them to 'choose being pain-free'. Try that on your friends and see how they react.
posted by jacalata at 3:22 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The things about "choose to be happy" is that, to the extent it's even possible, it's an advanced, advanced level skill. I mean, black diamond ski run kind of advanced. Felix Baumgartner jumping from five miles up advanced. When it's even possible, it's difficult and challenging.

My own experience: I've been struggling with major depression for 35+ years now. I've been taking antidepressants for 20+ years. Through trial and error I've figured out which nutritional supplements help me (Vitamin D, fish oil, iron) and that physical activity is essential.

I also have 5+ years of Zen practice under my belt that started when I found one Zen teacher's book about depression. I've been practicing long enough and diligently enough that I've had the experience, more than once, of observing my thoughts and recognizing, in the moment, that I was in the grip of distorted, depressive thinking — and, more importantly, that I could choose to drop that thinking and not be depressed at the moment.

And you know what? It's hard. It's so, so hard. I can be watching my mind spin itself into a miserable little ball of confusion and self-destructive thoughts and feel completely unable to stop it. As painful as it is to be depressed, it can be almost more painful to watch myself and realize I'm making myself unhappy here. I could choose not to be unhappy, but I'm making myself unhappy. Wow, I suck. Could I suck any more? and down the slope into the Pit of Despair I go.

As Zen teacher Edward Espe Brown has written, "A little awareness is such a difficult thing. You see what a fool you are being and continue helplessly in the grip of the same foolishness, but the awareness does not go away. What an embarrassment."

I would say the awareness is worth it. After having been practicing for a while, even watching that kind of seemingly-willful self-destructive suffering starts to lose some of its charge and it becomes possible to let it go. For now. It'll come up again, and I'll get stuck in it again, and then I'll come back to awareness and let it go again. And later it'll repeat. Again. But each time is generally easier.

I doubt it would be possible if I weren't taking my antidepressant and doing the other necessary self-care like eating well, getting enough sleep, getting physical activity and sunlight, and taking the appropriate supplements.

In my experience, finding an antidepressant that works is like putting on a life jacket. Once that's taken care of, then it's reasonable to think about patching the hole in the boat. But if you try to patch the hole while the boat is sinking and you're not wearing a floatation device, your odds are much worse.
posted by Lexica at 9:26 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm quite late to reply to this. But I, too, was made angry by your friends' comments (though I am sure they are just attempting to help), and I, too, have heard an awful lot of that sort of thing. It's patronizing in the extreme, and kind of demeaning, even if they only say it out of love.

My husband also doesn't Get It, and he has driven me to distraction with his "just change your outlook" comments over the years, even though he is the one who convinced me to go on meds to begin with. This is a very good description of the situation, to my mind, from an extremely intelligent, extremely funny, extremely bipolar person who really knows what she's talking about. It might, or might not, help explain matters to your friends. But I expect it will help you (or anyone else who comes across this question later on search) feel a little less terrible and strange and wrong about your (or their) own situation. It did me.

And, sure, depression is a sufficient reason to leave someone. So is sexual incompatibility, or political differences, or dietary preferences, or being seriously turned off by the shape of someone's nose. If your girlfriend was not willing to accept you for who you are, warts and all, then it is, in the end, a very good thing that she is your ex-girlfriend now. No one is worth complete self-abnegation, even if it were possible. It's hard to find someone who is really right for you. But don't beat yourself up over the fact that someone wasn't. You're depressed. You beat yourself up enough. There is someone better. I promise. Hell, if I've found someone who can put up with me, you're almost guaranteed to manage.
posted by Because at 3:25 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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