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A 'Boring Childhood'

Hers was a sadness so deep it penetrated my own sense of self as she described what she felt was 'unreasonable sadness sitting over the top of my happy personality'. It took effort on my part to not fall into her sadness, despite all the experience and training I have in staying separate from my patients' felt experiences.

As she speaks, the sadness in her is punctuated by high humour and a real sense of fun. Is this really depression? So I asked her. Tell me more about the sadness, the depression as it arises in you..... the conversations were long, short, numerous, as we teased out the various emotions of grief, shame, sadness, rejection, loneliness, separateness and the lost feeling underlying much of her life thus far.

Her sadness was deep enough that it led to devastating relationship choices, she put her trust in friends who consistently betrayed her, people who 'were honest' as they put her down / kept her down in the state of depressed expectation of herself she had become accustomed to. Self harm in small, excusable, 'socially acceptable' ways (her words) became daily routines that dulled her need for company, for acceptance of her naturally gregarious and happy way.

Expressing happiness had become "weird, unacceptable, it was like I was a villain, not to be trusted somehow just because I'd be happy about things I'd achieved, or for simple things, like playing with the family dog". Family criticism and accompanying anger led to questions like "What are you so happy about?" making her feel wrong, bad somehow.

She admitted she'd only taken the antidepressants for a few days before deciding she doesn't need them, "But I'm not depressed!" I have to agree with her, despite the depth of her sadness, because of her ongoing, albeit staccato-like, access to fun.

As we talked about her childhood - 'It was pretty ordinary & a bit boring really, nothing dramatic at all, no abuse or violence or anything' - she said something interesting that shed light on this sense of a boring childhood. "I thought celebrations were just for birthdays, Christmas and sometimes easter when we could afford chocolate."

Hmmmm... really? Celebrations are relegated to those few things? What about when you did well in your studies? What about when your team played a great game? What about when you finally 'got it' and broke through that barrier?

As it turned out, she had not felt the 'right' to celebrate her life wins.

Dysthymia - inhibited pleasure responses; growing up without celebrating, without recognising your strengths, without being 'allowed' almost to do well / be well / achieve beyond what's expected; stifled happiness; "contain yourself" styled messages, direct & indirect.

Perhaps the easiest and hardest of all depressive states to shift out of - yes, both - is the learned depressive state. Because now it's become safe. The shame of being happy when no-one else is, of being joyful out loud, of not grieving overly, erodes the permission others assume, to be happy, to not be depressed.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be totally happy, to be fully alive in your happiness? Happiness comes from deep down inside, and from very superficial places as well. Pretend to be happy if you're not feeling it, because in this situation, pretence can lead to very real happiness.

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