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I'm not just "Choosing to be Depressed"

If you have ever been depressed, you know that the crushing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and fear can be debilitating at times. As much as you want to feel better, practice your coping skills, talk to your therapist and take your medication, feelings of depression can take time to go away.

Recently, I had someone close to me accuse me of being selfish for being depressed. This is someone I had deeply trusted to talk about with my feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. I had reached out for help in the lowest of my low moments, only to be called theatrical, manipulative and selfish.

When Positive Vibes Only becomes toxic

Hearing that really hurt. It made me regret reaching out for help and being honest about my feelings. People don't want to hear about your pain. Only happy feelings are 'good' and only happy feelings matter.

According to Intrepid Mental Health, this is #9 on their list of 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Depressed Person:

"Don't be selfish." Those with depression may seem like they are only focused on themselves. The truth is that depression can consume a person's thoughts and actions. When people are overtaken by feelings of hopelessness, it is difficult for them to see beyond their own pain. This does not make them selfish. It makes them hurting human beings. By calling them selfish, you are adding to the guilt and shame that accompany feelings of worthlessness and isolation. Instead, suggest that they take care of themselves. Offer to give them a break by babysitting for them or bringing them groceries. Help them practice self-care, such as getting a massage or meeting with a therapist.

When you reach out for help, only to be told that your feelings are wrong, selfish, not valid, or that you should "just be happy" this is an extension of the toxic positivity that is overtaking our society in general.

You see this a lot on Instagram and with the Law of Attraction group in New Age spirituality. While yes, trying to be positive and lift yourself out of a bad situation is valuable, having to constantly hide the fact that you feel bad from everyone can make you feel increasingly isolated, and cause guilt about your real feelings.

I am all about saying affirmations and trying to create a positive mindset, but blaming people for being depressed, sad, unhappy, or going through a bad situation isn't helping them; it is just absolving yourself from any responsibility towards helping them. There is a difference between trying to be positive, and Toxic Positivity.

If you don't want to help people, fine. You do you. Not everyone always has the mental bandwidth to cope with hearing about someone else's situation. That being said, you can let someone know in a more kind manner that you just don't feel able to help at this time, and suggest they talk to a therapist or someone else.

Please stop blaming people for being mentally ill or being victims.

You don't just see this with depression. Victim blaming and shaming is also common for victims of domestic violence and rape. Often, there are questions of "what were you wearing" or "had you been drinking" when a woman reports being a victim of abuse. Regardless of what a woman has done, there is only one person that is responsible, and that is the abuser.

Repressing your emotions stops you from getting help

In many instances, people refuse to seek help for depression, talk to friends or family, or go on medication because they believe the stigma that having depression means that you are weak or bad.

There have been a lot of times in my life when I have felt like I am a bad person for whatever reason. Sometimes it is regrets over past actions, sometime it is judgment from others, sometimes limiting beliefs about myself. As someone who grew up with a narcissist, I have spent a lot of my life feeling like I had a fatal flaw, or something was wrong with me that I couldn't fix.

According to Very Well Mind, many people do question at times if they are a bad person:

However, for some people, wondering, "Am I a bad person?" isn't a fleeting thought or existential question—in some cases, it can be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression. This makes it important to be aware of the symptoms to watch for so you can seek help.

If you buy into the Toxic Positivity viewpoint that your mindset is creating your life, or that you are making things bad for yourself on purpose, you are going to be much more likely to dive more deeply into self-blame, instead of seeking help for what could be a very damaging mental health condition.

In many cases, this type of judgment can lead us to bottle up our feelings for months or even years, until they reach a breaking point. This can lead to all sorts of problems that would haven't have occurred if you felt safe talking about your feelings in the first place, instead of bottling them up out of shame and self-hatred.

According to Kentucky Counseling Center, here are some of the negative consequences of bottling up your feelings:

1. You Feel Worried and Anxious All the Time

2. You Resort to Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

3. There Are Changes in Your Eating Patterns

4. You Experience Frequent Headaches

5. You Find It Hard to Express Your Emotions

6. You Overreact to Everything

7. You Avoid Confrontation

In addition to negative effects that bottling up your feelings can have in the short term, this can lead to long-term health issues as well. You may even be more likely to develop a chronic illness, like heart disease or cancer. Your mental and physical health are interrelated. If you aren't taking care of your mental health, your physical health suffers too.

Long story short, if you are having a lot of negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, it is best for your recovery if you consult a therapist or other mental health professional right away, instead of letting the emotions fester and trying to pretend that they don't exist.

Benefits of Therapy

When you speak with a therapist, they provide a safe space where you can talk about your feelings without being judged. If you have been feeling isolated and alone for a long time because of your mental health or the need to hide your feelings, therapy provides a space where you can finally open up and share everything about yourself.

Having a good relationship with your therapist can allow you to get further in your treatment than if you are working with a therapist where things don't click. If you feel like you aren't connecting with your therapist, you can talk to them about what isn't working and ask for a different approach, or try going to a different therapist.

I know that, in my personal experience, working with a therapist why "got me" allowed me to open up more, and make quicker progress.

According to the International Society of Substance Use Professionals, Elements of a Positive Therapeutic Relationship include:

  • Respect

  • Empathy

  • Understanding

  • Clear boundaries

  • Trust

  • Openness

  • Self-awareness

  • Genuineness

  • Supportive

  • Warmth

  • Professionalism

  • Confidentiality

  • Good Rapport

  • Good Communication

  • Acceptance

When you are working with a new therapist, look for these qualities in the services they are providing you with. If some of these things are missing, it can be a red flag, and something you may want to bring up in your session. It can be scary to think about having a confrontation with your therapist, but healing your mental health is important, and the relationship you have with your therapist is a key element of this.

Learning Emotional Self-Regulation

If you are anything like me, you may struggle in dealing with "big feelings." I grew up with a narcissist, and anything other than happy feelings was quickly dismissed as being bad or wrong. My parents would yell at me for being depressed or unhappy, making much of the problems even worse.

When you feel like you have to stuff your feelings down or pretend you don't have them, then you are missing out on key emotional self-regulation skills that you should have learned in childhood. Unfortunately, many parents can't teach what they don't know themselves.

I realized that I was struggling with this when I was having difficulty helping my daughter to co-regulate her feelings. I didn't know what to do to help her calm down, because I didn't know how to calm down either.

According to Psych Central, here are some tips to start working on controlling your emotional reactions in a healthy way:

  1. Label the emotion

  2. Be OK with uncertainty

  3. Take opposite action

  4. Get to the core of anger

  5. Self-care

Learning about your feelings is the first step towards learning to manage them effectively. To do this, you can study about emotions through therapy and reading additional self-help guides. This is a great way to learn to work through feelings.

For me, it was helpful to look at ways that children learn about feelings, since I was starting from such a basic level with my own feelings. It is important to realize that all of our emotions are a natural part of life. We don't need to label our emotions as good or bad. Doing this can add additional layers of shame, guilt and self-blame that we will need to work through.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Then get curious about them. Explore why you feel as you do in the moment, or why a reaction was so intense. Again, this can be done in a therapy session, or on your own through journaling. Getting to the root of your feelings can help you move through them more quickly.

Accept yourself, accept your feelings, and you will be able to move through them more quickly.

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