By Linda Kelly, MSW, RSW
Are you just going through the motions and wondering what it’s all for?
Are you questioning your purpose in life? Do you feel like you even have one?
Or worse, are you blocking out negative thoughts and feelings with impulse shopping, binge-watching, emotional eating, or an unflagging need to stay busy?
You might be experiencing functional depression, which is one of the more common, unacknowledged issues impacting the quality of our lives.
Functional depression is different from the more well-known Clinical Depression (or Major Depressive Disorder) because it doesn’t come with a major breakdown. That means that you still wake up on time, perform adequately at work or school, and meet expectations in the variety of roles in your life.
Mom can be struggling with this issue but still taking care of everyone around her. The family might notice her irritability, but she keeps busy enough so they don't ask her what’s really going on. And when things slow down, she experiences a profound sadness; an emptiness that plays on her fears of inadequacy and self-doubt.
In other words, she lacks joy.
She seeks constant fulfillment in short-lived, impulse activities that ultimately leave her feeling worse. Shopping feels good while you’re doing it, but you regret the money being spent, and you struggle to keep your place tidy when impulse purchases keep piling up. You romanticize a new vehicle, thinking this is what you’re missing out on. This void you feel in your life will be remedied with that 4-wheel drive, sleek, roomy dreamboat.
But it doesn’t help. Eventually, that vehicle reverts to being an expensive mode of transportation. And you continue to seek connection and fulfillment in the wrong places.
And speaking of connection, you don’t feel like doing things you used to enjoy. The guitar sits in the corner gathering dust. The weed-ravaged plants stay alive, but just barely. Painting seems like clutter and mess. It’s too hard to get the bike out of the shed and it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile exercise when there are so many more important things to do.
The longer the feeling persists, the more we function like a cell phone at 5% power with 50 apps running. We malfunction. We put almost all of our energy towards productivity, devaluing the time we should be spending connecting with ourselves. But instead of shutting everything off and recharging, we keep opening new apps to stay busy while we somehow expect ourselves to recover.
But it’s not all bad news.
A depressive episode represents an opportunity for significant change. Take it as a muted message from your mind that has been screaming that something is not okay. It is an opportunity to examine your life to make real decisions about where you need to go next.
Maybe this path you’re on isn’t what you thought it would be. And you need to do some work, taking time to get back to basics, finding joy in the little things so that you can come home to yourself. Once you rediscover the person that 10-year-old you imagined you’d be, things in your life will truly start falling into place.
That’s the connection we long for. It’s not external at all. It is within.
1. Be introspective. Ask yourself questions to reflect on how you got here, and tap into your own passions once again.
2. Turn off electronics. Recharge. Stop accepting new information until you deal with the things that are leaning too heavily on you. Get lost in the quiet.
3. Get your body moving, not to lose weight or build muscle or look good in a bathing suit, but to clear your mind and get to know yourself. Revel in the sensations of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.
4. Notice the thoughts you’re having. Notice the feelings. Don’t react. Just be aware. Let them pass without reacting to them.
5. Do something that you used to enjoy, even if you can’t find the motivation to do it. Get on the bike. Pick up the guitar and play around with it until it makes a sound you enjoy. Force yourself. The momentum to continue will come AFTER you get started.
6. Take time for yourself. Get the other adults in your life to rely on themselves, make sure the necessities (e.g., kids, dogs, work) are cared for and then postpone the rest. Don’t worry, they’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready to take them on again.
7. Get off of autopilot. Do something new and unexpected, like getting a friend in the driver’s seat and pointing in random directions to have a new, unplanned adventure.
8. Make a commitment to do one thing for yourself every day. Journaling, napping, walking, listening to a motivational podcast, and even forcefully complimenting yourself in the mirror are all ideas that take barely any time at all.
9. Step back and look at the big picture. If you had the chance to do anything over, what would you change? Get comfortable with your own judgment and the decisions you have made, because you can only take one of two possible roads: be proud of what you’ve done, or grow wiser because now you know better.
10. Talk to a professional. When we feel disconnected, we want to talk about it. But the negative feelings can make us feel like a burden to others if we disclose too much. If this is a problem and it has lasted for more than a month, talking to a professional can help with getting you back on track to feeling in control once again.
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