Aside from some drunken escapades in strange cities, I was a good girl growing up. I followed the good life template and did what I was supposed to. I got straight As and went to college. I married the boy I met in high school. I got a graduate degree. I got a respectable job in a fancy building. I was good at my job and kept getting raises. I bought a house.
By every measure, I was successful.
Except that I wasn’t.
You see, I was terribly unhappy. So unhappy that I checked off most of the little boxes on the “symptoms of depression” list.
But I was a good girl following the good life template. So again, I did what good girls are supposed to do. I sought professional help for my problems. I went to therapy.
Now, therapy does help a lot of people. We all know that. But it didn’t get me where I needed to be. I don’t think it caused any irreversible damage, and in certain ways, it probably even helped. But it didn’t get me anywhere close to where I needed to be. It didn’t cure my depression.
Many years have passed since all this happened, and after a lot of reflection, I know exactly why it didn’t work for me and what eventually did. So if you have tried therapy – and I do think it’s worth a try! – but you are still seeking solutions, I want to share my experience in case you can recognize some of your own struggles in my story.
REASONS WHY TALK THERAPY DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
1. I’m an introvert
I’m an introvert, so anything with “talk” in the name is probably doomed to failure from the get-go. 😉
In all seriousness, the typical format of therapy sessions – a 50-minute session once a week – just isn’t ideal for the kind of introvert that I am. My brain doesn’t work fast enough to fully process conversation as it’s happening. And even if the other person pauses to wait for me, I’m too distracted by the presence of the other person to engage in deep thought. I process all conversations later when I’m by myself. So this means that in therapy I ended up having lots of half-assed conversations, reacting to whatever the therapist was asking or saying without being able to really consider it or think about it until I was home. And then I would think of a way to say what I really meant. Except I couldn’t say it until a week later and by then I would have forgotten all about it and we would start the whole cycle all over again.
Now had the therapy been conducted via written correspondence, I think it would have had half a chance. 🙂
2. I’m a future-oriented person
As I have become more aware of what makes me tick, I’ve realized that I’m a very future-oriented person. I’m most content when I’m making plans and implementing them. I love coming up with ideas on how to improve things (hello, this website!). Whenever I get close to falling into depression again, the first sign is that I get “stuck” in the past or the present. I lose my ability to daydream of a better tomorrow, and therefore, the one thing that consistently makes me feel good.
Now it just so happens that traditional psychoanalysis is very past-oriented. As in let’s talk about your childhood and every other thing that has ever happened to you and let’s nitpick and analyze it from every possible angle. I did have a somewhat troubled childhood, so it probably wasn’t a terrible idea to address it briefly, but for a person like me, it wasn’t helpful to dwell on the past as much as the therapist wanted to. In this sense, I feel like therapy might have held me back in the “stuck” place much longer than necessary rather than help push me forward.
3. I needed change – not sympathy
Every week, the therapist would start the session by asking how my week had been, I would present my current complaints, and she would give me sympathy. And the sympathy was nice. I lapped it all up. But it’s not what I needed to get out of the funk.
It was never stated this bluntly of course, but here’s what I now understand the mental health establishment was telling me: There is nothing really wrong with your life. Your depression causes you to not like your life. Here, have some tissues and a phone number of a good psychiatrist who can get you a prescription.
But the thing is that I was unhappy before I was depressed. I became depressed because I felt stuck and didn’t know how to fix the things that I was unhappy with. My work and relationships were not meaningful. I had entered adulthood full of hope and then been slapped in the face with the unpleasant reality of it all. I felt hopeless because I had no clue what to do about it. I was too young – too short on life experience and self confidence – to know that I had options. That I could change things. That I could follow a different path.
And that is what I needed to learn.
I didn’t need help learning how to love my current life. I needed help learning how to change my life.
WHAT HELPED CURE MY DEPRESSION
In the end, curing my depression wasn’t just a matter of one quick fix. It was a combination of several things. And I’ll talk about the specific combination of things in another upcoming article.
But if I had to pinpoint a few overarching realizations, they would be these:
- The good life template is not good for everyone.
- It’s ok if you need different things to be happy than most other people.
- If you have lost your will to live, let that life go. Create another life worth living.
- You can change things. You may not know how yet. It probably won’t be easy. It probably won’t happen overnight. But you can learn how. And you can nudge your life in a different direction little by little.
HOW I VIEW MY DEPRESSION NOW
Nowadays I like to see my depression as an alarm. An alarm that rings from my brain telling me that something isn’t quite right. I’m in an environment that doesn’t work for me. Or I have a need that is going unmet.
Depression is an alarm that propels me to seek change and to improve my circumstances.
P.S. WANNA UP YOUR CHANCES OF THERAPY SUCCESS?
I no longer need therapy, but if I did, there are a couple of things I would do differently.
- I would set clear and measurable goals to make it easier to track whether I was actually making progress.
- I would use writing alongside talk therapy to help clarify my thoughts.
There’s actually a workbook that helps you do these things. It’s called My Therapy Companion and it’s written by a social worker. You can check it out by clicking here.