When we have depression – particularly when we have had depression for a long time – it can be hard to trust any improvements in our mood. Happiness is so unfamiliar, it feels scary and unpredictable. We might not know how to cope with it.
Here we share some of the reasons that happiness can be hard to trust – and some ideas for managing these feelings.
There is comfort in the familiar
As hard and horrible as depression can be, it can be comforting in some ways, because it’s familiar. We know depression. We can almost predict what it does. Beginning to feel happiness again can be different, unfamiliar and overwhelming.
It can be helpful to talk this over with those we are close to. It’s absolutely okay to feel scared and want to retreat back into depression – change is scary. It could be worth having a think about other things which can provide comfort (e.g. low lighting, soft blankets, our favourite TV programme) so we can soothe ourselves.
Walking on a tightrope
Feeling happiness can feel like balancing on a tightrope. It can feel wobbly and tentative. We might be hypersensitive to any change in our mood, just waiting for things to go wrong again. Recovery isn’t a linear process, and even people without depression have good and bad days. We will have good and bad days too – we might just find that our bad days can feel a little more tricky than those of people without depression.
It’s okay to feel. It’s okay if we’ve been getting better for a while and suddenly our recovery halts, or we begin to feel worse again. It might be frustrating, but it’s just part of life. Tracking our mood can be helpful: it can help us to spot any patterns in how we feel, show us if things are improving, and help us to trust our feelings a little more.
We might not know who we are without depression
Depression can infiltrate every part of our lives and it can begin to feel like it is almost part of our identity.
Emerging from depression and beginning to feel happiness again can be confusing. We might not know who we are without depression – we almost have to rediscover ourselves again – but that’s okay, everybody changes as they grow.
We want to do everything all at once
It can be tempting to run head first into doing lots of things the minute we begin to feel better. We might not be sure when we will feel ‘okay’ again, so want to get as much as possible done. Or we might feel like we’ve missed out on lots of things while being unwell, and want to catch up on all that we’ve missed.
If we run into everything too quickly, it could become overwhelming and we could run out of steam very quickly. It can be a good plan to sit and write a list of all the things we want and need to do, and then pace ourselves – spreading the activities out and planning in some vital down time.
It can be hard to plan
Once we feel a little better and can begin look towards the future again, feeling unable to trust our mood is frustrating because it can make it hard to plan things. We might begin to want to look at moving forwards with our career or relationships or living arrangements, but it’s really tricky because we don’t know whether our mood will dip again.
To address this, it can be helpful to take some time to consider the things we’d like to achieve and the steps involved in getting us there. We can look at this with the people that support us and plan in contingencies in case we do dip again.
The support we need might change
When we are unwell, we may get support from a few different people. We might worry that once we begin to recover and feel happiness again, we could lose some of this support. It can sometimes feel as though others see our mood improve before we do, and remove the support too quickly. At other times, we might be okay, but can worry that if we begin to feel worse again the support we need might not be there any more.
It might be helpful to make a plan to reassure us that help is there for us if we need it. A Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a good place to start with this. In a WRAP, we note down what we’re like when we’re well, the signs we’re becoming unwell, the things we can do to help ourselves, the things others can do to help us, and the people or organisations we can contact if we need help.
It’s not just happiness
Depression can numb our feelings. Emerging from depression and beginning to feel happiness again opens up a whole range of feelings, as well as happiness. We might not be able to name all of the new things we feel – they can feel alien, wrong and scary.
This influx of new emotions can be quite distressing . We can manage our distress by distracting ourselves or safely exploring our emotions. Talking over our feelings with those close to us – or those in similar situation – can also help.
It might show us what we’re missing
There can be a fear that when our mood improves, it won’t last – and that if we have felt happiness, the low mood that follows will feel even worse because we will know what we’re missing.
Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future – we can’t know whether or not our mood will deteriorate again at some point. This doesn’t need to stop us from ever feeling happy, though. We are allowed to feel happy, and if our mood does drop again, we can reach out for the support we need to help us improve it.
We might not feel like we deserve happiness
Depression can steal our self-worth. It tells us that we don’t deserve to feel happy. It tells us that we aren’t worthy of feeling good and that we deserve to feel rubbish all the time.
Depression is lying to us – we absolutely deserve to feel okay. Upping our self-care game can help us to feel better about ourselves, and give us permission to feel happy again.
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