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Fear of Sadness

Most people find it difficult to tolerate negative feelings like sadness.  This task is even more difficult when you suffer from depression, because any time your sadness feels too intense or lasts too long, you worry that the depression is coming back.  And if you’ve ever been depressed, you know how terrifying the prospect is of going back to that dark place.

Your loved ones also become hypersensitive to your sadness, which just exacerbates your fears.  If you’re feeling down, they ask you if you’re taking your meds, or if maybe your meds need to be adjusted.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for meds.  I’ve tried to go off them several times, and each time I got depressed again.  But it’s unfortunate that once you’ve been depressed, every feeling has to be scrutinized for potential pathology.

There’s also this added sense of failure associated with relapse.  Like you should have been able to prevent it this time, since you’ve been there before.  And even though you recovered before, you fear that if it happens again, you won’t be so lucky the next time.

And even if you do recover, you fear that the wait will be agony.  I fear depression much more than anxiety because when I’m anxious I can take an Ativan and I feel better immediately.  But antidepressants don’t work that way, so there’s not much I can do to feel better right away when I’m depressed.

Whenever I am afraid I’m becoming depressed, I journal about my fears, my sense of failure, and my pain.  And when I look back at these entries, I realize how strong I am.  There are a lot of things that suck about depression, but I have no doubt that it has made me a stronger person, even while it tries to convince me that I’m weak.

But how do I know when I’m sad versus depressed?  To be honest, I don’t always know.  Sometimes I feel depressed for a day.  Sometimes I feel sad for what feels like an eternity.  The line is not as clear-cut as we’d like to think.  But regardless of whether it’s sadness or depression, the best I can do is to control what I can control.  This includes therapy, meds, stress management, and self-care.

And most importantly, for me, it means practicing self-acceptance–of my sadness, my depression, and everything else that makes me who I am, for better or worse.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

4 responses »

  1. I have a fear of sadness too, that it will turn into full blown suicidal depression. It's also a bit hard sometimes to tell whether I'm sad or depressed. Sad goes away quickly, I think? Depression could last years? Add frustration to that also. I don't think I feel sad without frustration that may turn into anger. I'm getting more confused.

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  2. It is confusing. I think that it helps to get an outside perspective about your feelings. Even for me, it's hard to diagnose myself. Sometimes writing helps to have some distance. Sometimes you can use other people like friends or family. But ultimately that is what therapists and doctors are for, especially if it can become a suicidal depression. I would err on the side of asking for someone's feedback sooner rather than later.

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  3. From my experience and talks with some doctors and counselors, the general rule is if it last for three weeks or longer it can be classified as depression. Now the severity can be the big difference. Mild vs Severe. Depression can also translate into being easily aggravated depending on what your depression looks like.

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  4. I was trying to avoid a technical discussion of the criteria for depression, but it sounds like I should cover it. In order to receive a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, you need to be depressed for at least 2 weeks, although most people are depressed for much longer than this before they seek help. The depressive disorder can vary from mild to psychotic. However, there is also a short-duration depressive episode, which lasts from 4-13 days and requires fewer symptoms to make the diagnosis. My professional advice is that if you have been depressed before and know that your depression can be severe, contact your doctor/therapist ASAP. I am fortunate in that my therapist and psychiatrist will respond immediately if I call, and I have called them after feeling depressed after a few days. You may have to wait longer to see someone, so it's better to set something up sooner rather than later.

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