I once knew a young woman whose father was an internationally recognized scientist. She was a college student, working part-time in the research laboratory where I came to know her, and I was impressed by her intelligence and work ethic, but soon began to see that she was putting a lot of pressure on herself--no doubt because she was trying to live up to somebody's expectations. Whether they were her father's or her own, I never did learn.
One day she came to work obviously distraught, and I asked her what was wrong. Practically in tears, she told me she'd just gotten back an exam that had earned a B. Now this was many years ago, when a B was considered a very respectable grade and A's were harder to come by. Furthermore, it was only an exam, not a semester grade, so an A for the semester was still a realistic possibility. We talked for a while, and I asked her how she thought that B would impact her life five or ten years from then. Her eyes widened as she realized it would have absolutely no effect.
In the years since, I've observed friends who have been crushed by disappointments that led them into a period of depression while other people took similar blows in stride. I came to the conclusion that the difference was whether
they took a long-term or a short-term view of life. Fact: Life is not a bowl of cherries! It is a long journey during which both good and bad things happen--sometimes extremely bad things, and it's unrealistic to expect otherwise.
When our first child was stillborn, I remember thinking that, although I was only 26, I felt a hundred years old, and I would never be able to laugh again. There is still a pain in my heart for that lost child, but I have since experienced many years filled with joys and satisfaction along with some pretty big bumps in the road of life.
A few years ago, I spoke with a young woman who told me that she and her husband had lost a job, a pregnancy and their home in a matter of months. Shocked, I asked her how they were coping. She replied, "Well, things are really rough right now, but we're still young. We'll get through it." They were taking a long-term view.
It's important to know that there are millions of people who have gone through and survived whatever pain you're experiencing, that there is help available if you're not too proud or too stubborn to seek it, and there are plenty of people out there who care.
In the beginning of my journey through depression, we moved several times, so I ended up seeing different therapists. Sometimes I would try to explain how I felt, and the therapist would say, "Why don't you think about it this way?" My reaction would be, "This person just doesn't understand."
What I didn't understand was that the therapist was asking me to use my intellect and I was wrapped up in my feelings. Eventually I came to realize that there is a big difference between feeling and thinking. Depression is all about how you feel, but how you feel is a result of how you think, and if your reasoning is faulty, your feelings are, too. If that sounds confusing, let present a true example.
A young man I know had become pretty depressed because he was in his thirties and every romantic relationship he'd had had gone badly. "I'm no good with women," he moaned. "And now, all the good ones are taken."
Consider that statement carefully. Was he expressing his thoughts or his feelings?
Now this was a man with a big heart who was willing to try to help anyone who had a problem. When he looked at his past relationships, he realized that he attracted needy women who expected him to fix their problems. After reflecting on this fact, he set out to make two lists: one that contained the elements he absolutely needed in a relationship, and one that listed things he absolutely could not live with. When he saw that the purpose of dating was to find a partner, not a project, it became clear that no matter how much he liked a young woman, she could not be a suitable partner if she didn't meet his needs. At this point he began looking at his dates with his intellect instead of his emotions. He also learned an important fact: people very seldom change. What you see is what you get. Red flags began to appear.
"She's pretty, she's fun, but she isn't the least interested in my work. Her eye glaze over when I start talking about what I do."
"She's generous, she's intelligent, but she's careless about money. I see a future of being hounded by bill collectors."
The young man realized that as soon as there was a "BUT," there was no sense in pursuing the relationship.
Interestingly, it was only a few months before he met a lovely woman who fit all his criteria. They have been happily married for several years.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.