When someone slips into depression, the physical and emotional changes they experience can become overwhelming. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be and one that most people are only too pleased to see the back of. Or are they? The idea that a person can fear recovery from depression is actually less puzzling if we examine some of the possible reasons for that fear.
Mild and major depression
Depression over the short-term, say a few weeks, may weigh heavily but it often doesn’t affect life routines. Recovery in these terms is a welcome relief because it generally means the lifting of an unwelcome burden. This is typical of something like mild depression where balance is eventually restored, often by the passing of time.
Major depression is different. Here depressive symptoms are more severe. Symptoms may last months or possibly even years, and they have a dramatic effect on lifestyle, relationships, work, and self-confidence. People who experience major depression often describe how empty and pointless everything feels. They feel exhausted, negative, and anxious.
These sensations are abnormal and at first the brain tries to resist. Over time, however, resistance seems to give way to a kind of acceptance: this is the new normal. The person’s view of themselves begins to change as their world narrows. There comes a point where the person has difficulty conceiving going back to the person they were. It’s sometimes hard to recall who they were, what they did, how they lived.
Recovery: A double-edged sword
I remember being taught that the most dangerous period in major depression was when the person started to recover. As the very worst symptoms begin to subside it isn’t uncommon for the person to reflect on what has happened to them. This is still a bleak period and at its worst the signs of recovery are just a mask. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of knowing people who have taken their own life at such a point. Fortunately, most move on toward full recovery, even if they are still fearful about what the future holds.
Don’t go back, go forward
Some of the greatest concerns during depression recovery involve going back to a life that may well have contributed to depression in the first place. Not only are the sensations of increasing wellness alien, but the security that sometimes comes with depression is also being left behind.
To put it bluntly, there can be benefits in being ill. The “lucky” ones find that people around them are overly supportive. They will do the shopping, make the meals, wrap their loved one in cotton wool because they fear for their wellbeing. But while these are comfortable and reassuring benefits, there are also costs. The longer this goes on, the less life becomes self-directed and the more dependent we become on others.
Going forward can be a challenge, but if going back to your old work and lifestyle is a major concern, some major decisions are in order. If this affects you, talk things over with a loved one, or friends and family, in order to weigh up the options. Take time to think things over so that when you do make changes, they are more likely to stick.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.