When you wake up crying and feeling hopeless, it does not bode well in terms of "having a good day." When you are really depressed, there are no good days -- only OK, or relatively pain-free, moments. Depression sucks all of the joy out of your life, and there is no room for actually feeling good.
I have had several bouts with depression in my life. The day that this last one started, I found out that my best friend from college had died, I lost out on something I really wanted to do, my daughter told me to "get some empathy" when I asked for a favor (that stuff always hurts), and my housekeeper of 15 years, more of a family member, got a full-time job and had to quit. A minute later, the pandemic hit. This was all within 48 hours, and my brain said, "To hell with this. I'm going to not feel good for a while."
When you've had a major depression or even a moderate one, you are more prone (some say 50% more likely) to get depressed again. My creativity and the love I get from my wife and clients is what keeps me going -- but sometimes my head forgets, and the unhealed emotions get triggered, and bam! Tissue city, and it usually hits first thing in the morning. I've found that coffee with half-and-half is a good antidepressant.
Yes, I am working during this pandemic. I'm on the second line, counseling for doctors, nurses, and hospital workers, as well as consulting with the city, to help with the homeless and do grief work. But I am not in the field, not in the studio. Like many people, I have barely left the house in weeks. Anybody in this situation would be depressed, despite all the good that life has brought. And of course, life is even harder for those without work.
You may ask, "How can you work if you're this depressed and unmedicated?" The answer is that I have learned to deal with my depression naturally, and I have tried many treatments. My work and my wife are the best antidepressants I have. I'm always better when working, but if my mind isn't occupied, those uncomfortable thoughts slip in, and I begin to feel sad, and then mad that I'm depressed. Sound familiar?
Right now, the battle is raging, and with the pain I am seeing around me, it's hard to get any distance. I empathize with those in my care, and I'm scared, myself. It takes effort to keep it together, but I am motivated. I want to be there to talk with people who are in very deep pain because they've lost a patient or a loved one, or their life's work, to this plague.
My friend who passed away, also a therapist, once told me, "You just can't do this stuff forever. It gets to you." He was talking about the experience of listening to others and absorbing their pain, and he's right, but you also have to step up when you've been called. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do my part.
Most of the time, I brush away the tears and just notice that I'm having a bad moment. I take it in stride because it happens so often, but the truth is that I hate feeling this way. I am very sad. I am sad for myself, for the state of our country, and for the world in this pandemic. I have a reason to be depressed. That doesn't make it okay, but it does help me feel better knowing that I'm not crazy and also not alone.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.)
(c)2020 Barton Goldsmith
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