I met a young girl just the other day, in her mid-teens. She was sweet, strong, all-As, member of the orchestra… On the outside it appeared as though she were living an normal, average life. On the inside, she was being ravaged by thoughts of worthlessness and guilt, pained by feelings of sadness and despair, tormented by thinking that no matter what she did or how hard she tried, she would never be good enough.
Talking to her, discovering her truth, was like peeling back the layers of an onion. At first, she didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know if she could trust me enough to let down her facade. After all, even her parents were under the impression that she was doing fine. How was I, a total stranger about twice her age, going to understand? But I did understand, and as our conversation progressed she came to realize this and allowed her guard to slowly slip down.
It was a relief for her to finally have someone who would really listen. Initially, she attributed her symptoms- being tired, having difficulty getting out of bed, restlessness, worry, difficulty concentrating, withdrawing from friends and family– to stress (as her father had as well). She discounted her struggle as being one that everyone goes through. So many are plagued by this idea that life has to be hard, that it has to be a struggle.
When I told her that it didn’t have to be this way, that she could find peace, she cried. She told me that she was afraid… afraid that she was just weak. After all, so many others appeared to be doing the same, if not more, and appeared to be doing well. That’s when I asked her what others thought about her life, looking upon it from the outside. And she said that they probably thought she was fine too.
It’s easy for many, I told her, to put on that mask when they are in so much pain underneath. This is the danger of having high-functioning depression and anxiety. I told her that she is likely not the only one that she knows who is struggling just beneath the surface- fighting to keep her head just above the water.
There is hope for her and for people like her who struggle to pull themselves out of bed each morning. You can find clarity, peace, and purpose again. For many people struggling with dysthymia (another term for chronic depression), they have been to counseling. They may have even found it to be helpful for a time. However, perhaps on its own or after a major life event, the depression returns. Since she was in orchestra, I used the analogy of playing the violin; the more she practices, the less she has to think about what she is doing.
The same is true for the negative thoughts that occur when people are depressed- the more frequently the thoughts occur, the more rapidly the mind will return to them when one’s mood becomes low. So something that may make someone else sad for an hour or even a few days, will make someone who has dysthymia sad for much, much longer. This sadness then leaches into other areas of their lives and thus the spiral downward begins.
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective at curbing the return of depression in those who have struggled with it the longest. In fact, it has been shown to be more effective in those who have had more episodes of recurrent depression. While we are still learning the hows and whys as to what makes this true, the fact is that there is hope for those who have struggled for many years to manage their symptoms.
If you or someone you love may be struggling, give me a call. I would love to talk to you further and walk with you on your journey to a more satisfying and fulfilling life just as I will be doing with this young lady.