For so many of us who suffer from depression, it seems an eternal struggle to reach that point where we can say that we feel happy. Why is it that happiness seems so elusive? One reason we seldom think about is our own resistance to feeling better. Sometimes the greatest barrier to feeling happy is you.
I must point out that this is not some diatribe to place blame or deny the existence of depression as a real neurobiological disease. I am not saying that your environment, past and present circumstances, life stressors, and your biological make up does not contribute to your depression. I will not ever utter the cliché about picking yourself up by the bootstraps. What I am saying is that sometimes we may fear what is over on the other side of our depression more than the depression itself. There are times when it seems that remaining depressed is easier than fighting for our happiness.
How do we sabotage our happiness and why do we do it?
When I was about ten years old or so my mother was taking business classes in order to become a secretary. I was especially proud of her not just for having this aspiration but also because my mother had so many knocks against her. My mother has a severe mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia. She was doing well at the time with taking her medication as directed and I had never seen her so mentally well. But with only one class left to complete her degree, she abruptly quit. My mother blamed me for her decision. She claimed that I needed so much help with my homework that she did not have time to finish her schooling. This was a total farce as I was a straight "A" student and seldom needed any help with any homework. I always wondered why she had quit right before she would have obtained her goal. I realize now that she was very afraid of her own success. The reason for her fear is why many of us, particularly those of us who have a mental illness, sometimes sabotage our own success.
I believe my mother was frightened that had she completed her schooling and had gotten a good job then she would have the pressure and expectation of maintaining her mental wellness. As anyone with a mental illness knows, it is very hard to stay well consistently. By using me as an excuse, my mother could bow out of this tremendous responsibility more gracefully than had she consciously admitted her fear to herself.
One of the reasons we may sabotage our happiness is that we fear the expectation to maintain this level of wellness.
The fear of success is really the fear of failure. When we are sitting at the bottom of our emotional well there is nowhere to fall. But should we rise up to feeling and doing better we risk experiencing the fall to the bottom again. We subconsciously tell ourselves, "Why bother trying because I am just going to sink again." My mother was just not ready to take this risk.
It is very difficult to take risks when you have a mental illness or mood disorder. But how will you know what you can do unless you try? Look at it this way, everything you do or do not do, for that matter, is a risk. Doing nothing means you are forfeiting your chance at happiness. Movement in the direction of our goals, however seemingly futile, ups our odds for at least some moments of happiness along the way. Life isn't an outcome, it is a process. And even if we never get to where we think we are going we can at least enjoy the ride.
There have been many times in my life when I have been guilty of sabotaging my happiness. I remember the years following my youngest son's diagnosis of autism. I would research into the wee hours of the night to find some answers. I spent every waking moment thinking about how I could help my son. I was using so much of my energy for caretaking that I had little energy to spend on myself. I was sinking into a depression and had forgotten how to feel happy. Feeling happy seemed frivolous when I had so much to do. More so, I felt guilty for times when I did things just for me. I felt as though I didn't deserve to feel happy.
Another reason why we may resist happiness is that we feel we do not deserve it.
I think this is a common feeling for people who are living in difficult circumstances and who are caregivers for others. It may be difficult to feel happy when one of our loved ones is having a hard time. What I have found though, is that if we feel happy and care for ourselves then we are better able to give to our loved ones. When we feel happy we are more likely to pass this on to others including the people who are in our care.
During my graduate school training for social work I had met many individuals who have mood disorders. And one of the things expressed by so many of the people I met was that they worried that if they got well, their families or spouses would no longer like them.
In some families or relationships there can be a codependence upon the "ill" individual. When the status quo is disrupted by the person with the mood disorder becoming stronger and happier, others in the family may not be too pleased. Of course you would think that the spouse or family would support the person in their growth but this is not always the case. One of the greatest fears of the codependent spouse or family member is that they will no longer be needed. People seldom operate in a vacuum. We co-exist with other people. When we suffer from depression, the depression does not just affect us. It affects everyone around us. And likewise so does the process of recovering from depression. Some people will support us in our efforts to grow and some people will live in constant fear that we will no longer need them and push them aside.
Sometimes we stall our own emotional growth because we want our loved ones to like us and feel needed.
This is never a healthy situation. You deserve to feel happy and to be mentally well. It is good to surround yourself with positive and supportive people as much as you can during your recovery. If your whole relationship hinges upon your dependence on another then you will either give up in your struggle for happiness or will grow to resent the people who are holding you back. A healthy relationship allows for both growth and happiness.
I have listed just a few ways in which it is very possible to hinder your chances for happiness and emotional well being.
Now how about you? Have you ever sabotaged your own recovery from depression? And did you find ways to overcome your resistance. Please do share your story here. We want to hear what you have to say.