The “Think Positive and Feel Happy!” movement often makes it hard to accept that feeling down occasionally is part of life.
Life is not always as bright and shiny as an Instagram filter. My stepdad (let’s call him dad) lost his voice because of cancer. He needs a hand-held device to talk and sounds like an electric shaver, but he is a successful consultant/salesman who loves to tell stories. How? He doesn’t let life get him down. My dad stays optimistic and never gives up.
This is probably one of the reasons I am an optimistic person too. Besides that, I am very aware of the fact that I was born in a rich country full of opportunities, I am healthy, I have a job, friends and family. Not only that, but I live in Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
My positive attitude helps me a lot, but it can also make it hard for me to accept my dark side. I don’t like to feel sad “for no reason.”
Fortunately, these moments are rare, and normally it has something to do with premenstrual grumpiness or a lack of sleep after a night out. But when the dark side does take over, I tend to lock myself up in my apartment, eat four pudding desserts and trigger the Everyone-Is-Having-Fun-Except-Me-Stupid-Happy-People feeling by scrolling through Instagram and Facebook posts.
I hate to feel sorry for myself, because I don’t have any reason to complain. But I also know that feeling down once in a while is completely normal.
The dark clouds blow over quicker if I embrace my sad feeling. And at a certain moment, normally after a couple of hours and a good night sleep, I start to count my blessings again, think of my dad, and say to myself: “Hofman, 4 desserts is the max, close your laptop, stop whining and get off the couch.”
The moment I stop whining, I grab my notebook to write, cook something healthy, go out for a coffee with friends or drag myself to yoga or kung fu. I’ve learned how to lift myself up pretty easily, and I have my friends and family to help me with it.
But there are also a lot of people who suffer from a chronic depression. And you can’t just think or yoga your way out of a depression.
If you always try to stay positive and you don’t know what it means to be depressed, you can fall into the trap of judging people who are battling something you don’t understand. Besides that, it is hard to see the people you love struggling with heavy thoughts and it can be difficult to recognize depression.
Diagnosing should be done by professionals, but there are some signs that could indicate there is more going on than a Leave-Me- Alone-I-Want-To-Eat-Pudding-But-I-Will-Be-Fine-Tomorrow day.
In certain cases, depressed people don’t seem to care about anything anymore. They can lose interest in work, sex and hobbies. They can be extremely tired and suffer from headaches, stomach problems, and back pain. Depression can make your loved ones say hurtful things or lash out in anger, because they can’t connect with the person they love most. Problems with alcohol or drugs can also be a sign.
Putting that extra pressure on by saying “there is so much to live for” or “look at the bright side of life” can cause a lot of harm in cases of a depression. Someone can start to blame him or herself for being “so negative.”
Depression is an illness and can’t be solved with a positive pep talk. Yes, you could encourage your loved one to join you to for a long stroll along the beach, because exercise is always good and scheduled activities help those struggling with depression avoid ruminating. But more importantly than giving advice – and sometimes very challenging – is listening without judgement and with a lot of patience. Ask how you can help and check in on them! Let them know they aren’t in it alone and that you are there to offer support.
Don’t be afraid to tell your person you are worried, or to ask if your loved one has thought about getting professional help. Keep in mind you can’t “fix” or “rescue” a person, neither is it your fault for not being able to. And never forget to take care of yourself, because you can collapse under the weight trying to help someone else.
Don’t ignore your own feelings. Embrace your own sadness caused by seeing the person you love depressed. And most of all, just be there.