Monday, January 22, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Advice when friends' happy news makes you feel bad about yourself

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Friends' good news just makes depression feel even worse

Q: How do I stop the "woe is me!" voice in my head? My best friend is expecting and another good friend is engaged. I'm going through a rough divorce and major depression (I'm being treated). Their happy news makes me feel terrible about myself, which also makes me feel terrible. I want to be happy for them, I just don't know how.

Ending the "why me?"

A: You're in treatment (yay for you!) so you probably know this: Depression puts everything through the "It's all about me" funnel.

Your friends' happiness underscores your failures; their struggles are one more thing to worry about; your own bad news proves nothing in your life goes right; your good news proves that even good news can't cheer you up; the bad weather is just the cosmos piling on; the sunshine is the cosmos flipping you the bird, rubbing beauty in your face. It is relentless.

But, more important, it's not true. It's a deceptive filter through which you receive (and everyone else with depression receives) the random, unrelated messages of the outside world. When you aren't depressed, bad things don't suddenly become good, but you're able to see them as the isolated incidents they are, as opposed to elements of a vast conspiracy of pain.

Even if you know this — or just take my word for it — that won't automatically render you able to cheer for your friends, but it's a start. When you're forced to process other people's milestones, keep reminding yourself that neither bad feelings nor good ones are permanent. Celebration is a moment, as is grief. Everyone gets to happy points through miserable points of their own.

If you find that hard to believe, then force yourself to recall the times these friends have leaned on you. "Happily ever after" isn't something that actually exists; it's just lazy storytelling.

I suppose it's theoretically possible for someone to get through life without genuine suffering (and not be a psychopath) — but would you even want to be that person or be close to that person? Who has never felt emotional pain, who can't sympathize with it, and who will never really know how good it feels to feel good?

This is not to glorify suffering, but instead to celebrate the transience of all emotion states.

Between encounters with your friends' happy news, it's okay to concentrate on the small steps of getting through your divorce, depression and days, without apology. The better and more carefully you take those steps (particularly in taking care of your basic health, like diet, exercise and rest, but also in placing an occasional, even scheduled call to your friends to wave the flag for them), the better you will feel about yourself. Just keep moving.

The divorce will eventually be behind you, and the depression, and the low points associated with both — and they will be even if you can't conjure any mental image of this future besides a gray horizon, so keep reminding yourself of that, too.

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