Rethinking Psychology

How to shed mental health labels and create personal meaning

Can You Be Mentally Healthy and Hurting?

Can you be mentally healthy and hurting? Aren't there more varieties of mental health than just "mentally healthy" and "mentally ill"? Read More

This is excellent. I have

This is excellent.

I have been dealing with a chronic injury for years, but other than that and some allergies, I am healthy. It has never even occurred to me to describe myself as unhealthy on the days my knee hurts and I feel a bout of sinus congestion coming on. Those are things I deal with but would never define myself by.

I'll remember that the next time I describe myself as "depressed" or having "depression" simply because I don't like my job but am otherwise satisfied with life.

I probably would never have come to call myself depressed if my primary care doctor had not labeled me that way...

Labels often contradict

If a person considered themselves well but had a loved one die, and experienced no sadness, that would strike most people as a serious warning flag. If they experience the expected sadness, they're "depressed". This is not the only area in life in which people get labeled by opposite extremes; if you are sexual, you're a "slut", and if you're not, you're a "prude"; if you're assertive, you're a "control freak", and if you're not, you're a sap. I don't know if it's the influence of sensationalizing media, or what, but we don't seem to allow for a healthy middle ground on much of anything.

Thank you

Fabulous, fabulous stuff.

Thank you.

Thank you

Thank you so much for this!

Spot on.

I loved this.

Last winter, I was fired from my job for being "unhappy" as a long-term contractor who had been promised something better nearly a year and a half before. I was lucky to find another job very quickly, but that lingering sense of shame and embarrasment persisted, and I went through a period of probably three months of sadness. As I described it to my husband, I just felt like all my armor had been stripped away, like a fragile baby bird who couldn't quite stand to be out in the world more than I needed to.

What's interesting is that everyone told me I was depressed. Having actually be quite severely depressed in my teenage years, I'm always pretty hyper-vigilant about examining how I feel. I have no desire to go back on medication, so I feel like if I can catch myself before I really feel that sense of hopelessness and despair, I can get help in CBT before resorting back to pills.

But nobody said, hey, this is normal. Hey, you just experienced a traumatic life event that totally shook up your sense of life. Hey, it's probably pretty common that you feel freaked out and don't have a whole lot of energy for socializing, and choose instead to stay inside and take care of yourself.

This is going to sound silly, but one way I dealt with these feelings was to remind myself of everything you said - only, my touchstone for this kind of thing is to imagine what a French person would do. I've had some great talks with a French coworker about the way they have different expectations of life. When someone asks you how you are in France, you're not expected to just say "fine." And if you DO say, "Eh, not great," nobody tries to fix it. You're allowed to just BE glum sometimes, because sadness is a part of life.

So that's what I thought about. That sadness was just a part of life sometimes and that it would pass, sooner or later, and all I had to do was sit with it, keep it company, and let it do whatever it was in my life to do. And it worked.

Whoa!

I just had that happen! I'm not a receptionist or anything, don't deal with the customers, but I got fired for violating the unwritten "smile or die" rule that my employer wouldn't admit to. Like you, I've spent three months being alternately humiliated and angry, because I moved here specifically for the job and have no other reason to be here.....and this place SUCKS for finding a new job. There simply aren't any.

Rather than go through what Joyce above me mentions, I'm just keeping to myself so I don't have to fake happiness for the comfort of others.

I hate when other people

I hate when other people think you should be happy when you're hurting. Other than that, I'd be fine. I'm "as well as can be under the circumstances" but I'm allowed to not have to be "happy". You feel how you feel. It is possible to feel sad, stressed, etc. and still cope, as long as people aren't making it worse by telling you you shouldn't feel that way.

Question

Eric (or anyone else), I really appreciate your insights here. I am very curious when or if you would ever acknowledge a chronic state of emotional pain or anxiety a disorder or illness?

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Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of forty books, among them Rethinking Depression.

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