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August 17, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Mental Health

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What is wrong with me?

Question:

I am 16 years old and about to go on the do A levels (which are advanced qualifications at senior year in the U.K.) I am severely depressed and agitated. I have spent 6 years in a class with people who didn't like me because they felt I was smarter than they were. It was a suffocating environment. I, in part, suppressed all my talents to avoid confrontation. All of my friends aren't really friends.

I feel depressed all the time now that I am heading towards senior education in a more mature environment, I don't know whether I'll be able to cope. I have tried suicide but failed in my attempt, what's more, my parents discovered me, and since I have felt overwhelming guilt.

Why do I feel so depressed? I should be happy: I have loving parents, I do have good friends, and I am relatively smart. What is the matter? Thank you for helping.

Benji, 16-year-old man

Answer:

Dear Ben,

It is not really necessary for you to know why you are depressed, though looking for a cause may be satisfying. You need to know what to do to fight it.

Depression is a sort of a monster that sucks happiness from your life, and takes away your energy, and paints the world in gloomy colors. Short as your cry for help is, I can detect two voices in it: yours and Depression's.

You write: "I have loving parents, I do have good friends, and I am relatively smart."

Depression writes: "I have spent 6 years in a class with people who didn't like me because they felt I was smarter than they were. It was a suffocating environment. I, in part, suppressed all my talents to avoid confrontation. All of my friends aren't really friends."

See the inconsistency? It cannot both be true that you do have good friends and that all of your friends aren't really friends. There are two distinct voices here: yours when you are being rational and accurate, and the distortions Depressions tricks you into.

Depression makes you feel miserable. Its tools for doing this are thoughts, and a selective filter.

The thoughts aren't always there. When they are, they are often so habitual that they slip by you without you noticing them. But if you look for them, they are definitely there. Different people have different thoughts inserted by Depression. These thoughts tend to form three groups:

  • I am no good (or some version of this);

  • The world is a terrible place;

  • There is no future (the misery will continue forever, help is impossible].

So, the first step in fighting Depression is to do a little scientific investigation. You need to identify the Depression-thoughts. The tool for doing this is a sort of a diary. When I was working on defeating my depression, my diary had entries like this:

Date, time, placeTriggerThoughtConsequence
17 June, 1999.Rejection notice from publisher on a book I know is goodWhat's the use of trying?Couldn't think of a thing to write, dried up
19 June, 1999, at homeDiscovered a mistake in something I was doingI always stuff upFeeling miserable, cranky with my wife

You can see how the thought led to depression. Now, these thoughts are statements about the world, and so are testable. It's simply not true that I always stuff up. Like everyone else, I sometimes make mistakes, then I learn from them and improve as a result. As for the b... publisher, they probably rejected my book because...

  • They are about to release a book they have contracted for that in their judgment is too similar to this one.

  • Or they have already committed themselves to as many books as their budget can carry this year, they can't take any new ones on for the moment.

  • Or I made a mistake in submitting to them - this mob doesn't publish this kind of book.

  • Or the person reading it had a fight with her husband that morning, and wasn't going to like anything.

  • Or...

Just like you know that you do have good friends, I do know these things. And so I can argue back against Depression.

Now for the selective filter. When you are in the grip of Depression, everything looks terrible. Anything bad is emphasized, anything that doesn't fit the bleak view is not even noticed, or dismissed as unimportant, or swiftly forgotten. So, another way to beat Depression is to scour your memory, and find exceptions. You have already done this. You know that the world is not really a terrible place because you have loving parents, good friends and a decent level of intelligence. These are generalities: look for specifics.

These two approaches I have suggested are "Cognitive Therapy" and "Narrative Therapy". They both work against Depression, and they work really well in combination. You can find out a little more about them at my web site, If you can't apply them unaided, you might need to find a therapist near you who uses them. Look up psychologists and counselors in the phone book, and ask them if they use these methods.

I need to mention a couple more points. I'm very glad that your suicide attempt failed. It proved to you that your parents love you, didn't it? But also, it made you feel guilty.

Guilt is one of the most counterproductive emotions you can feel. It's done. You can't undo it. OK, it was a mistake, and mistakes are learning experiences. Learn from it. Make sure you don't hurt your parents this way, ever again. Then work off whatever guilt you can't get rid of through public service: justify your continued existence on this planet by doing something good for other people.

And remember, you could be dead. Every day of your life from now on is a gift to be savored and enjoyed.

Even worse, the suicide attempt could have left you with permanent brain damage. I am a nurse as well as a psychologist, and have cared for a number of unfortunates who had attempted suicide, then were left with an active, knowing mind in a useless body. This is far worse than whatever they were trying to get away from. Imagine, spending the next 50 or 60 years, trapped in a hospital bed!

Finally, you expressed a bit of fear about going on to higher education. Well, you disliked the past six years in school. You can now escape! You will be going on to an environment where excellence is valued and admired. You will find new friends, many of whom will be smarter than you, and therefore good to learn from. You will be one of a crowd of equals, where you will be free to be yourself.

Of course, there will be problems too. "Problem" is another word for "challenge". Rise to it.

And let me know how you get on.

All the best,

Bob Rich

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.

For more information visit the site or contact information page on QueenDom.

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