Depression is when you feel sadder than your circumstances dictate, for longer than your circumstances last, but still can't seem to break out of it.
It's almost inevitable if you have lived in an abusive environment for any appreciable length of time that you will experience some kind of depression or negative effect. You may have emotions that confuse you or frighten you. You may not be "yourself". For abuse sufferers, this is normal. It's not to be expected that a person suffer abuse and feel nothing afterwards or have no scars.
Knowing we are depressed is one thing but doing something about it is another. It can be possible to know all the facts, the diagnosis, the prognosis and the technical details and yet be powerless to fix it. We can even know we are depressed but we can't just "snap out of it". If someone tells us to just "snap out of it" or "get over it" we may feel ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed or angry at them. Such advice, however well-intentioned can be as poorly timed as a comedy routine at a funeral.
Symptoms of Depression
Here is a list (from Mayoclinic.com) of common symptoms of depression:
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
- Feeling sad or down
- Feeling hopeless
- Crying spells for no apparent reason
- Problems sleeping
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Being easily annoyed
- Feeling fatigued or weak
- Feeling worthless
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Depression symptoms can vary because different people experience depression in different ways. For example, a 25-year-old man with depression may not have the same symptoms as a 70-year-old woman. For some people, depression symptoms are so severe that it's obvious something isn't right. Others may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.
Depression While in a Relationship
If you are in a relationship and experiencing some of the symptoms of depression it is important to know that what you are experiencing is not uncommon. It is quite normal to struggle emotionally when faced with challenges which chronically and significantly affect our quality of life. It would be abnormal not to suffer from some kind of depression from such an experience.
Depression while in a relationship with a person who has a personality disorder can develop for a number of reasons:
Loss of "the dream" - Everyone dreams of having an idyllic life and we all experience disappointment and frustration when we discover that our own lives have not turned out the way we had hoped or like the heroes and heroines of popular fiction. It can be hard to accept the reality that our life is going to be different.
Disregarded Priorities - When we are in a crisis-fighting mode, it is common to relegate our other "non-essential" priorities. This is OK so long as the crisis is short-lived. The problems come when the crisis never goes away. You may find yourself neglecting important goals in your life - such as family, career, friendships, dreams and aspirations which all take a back seat while you deal with the issues that come up from your relationship with a personality disordered individual. The frustration you suppress under the surface has a way of "coming out sideways" and depression is a natural consequence.
Reaping the Fruit of Poor Decisions - It is common to make choices which we later come to regret when in a relationship with a person who suffers from a personality disorder. Sometimes these less-than-perfect decisions are made in a frantic effort to "keep the peace" to pacify a raging partner or family member. You may do things like sacrifice friendships, career opportunities, you may decide to avoid family, you may spend money on fruitless projects to try to fill the seemingly bottomless pit of need of your loved one. You may give up things which are important to you. The trouble is that these sacrifices have long-term effects which you have to live with for months, years - even a lifetime. Living with the consequences of those decisions can make you feel very depressed.
If Only ... - Those most tragic words: "If Only...". If you have lived with a person with a personality disorder then you have probably had such thoughts. It's almost impossible not to think about what might have been, what could have been, what should have been - if only things were different - as they should have been. Why me? Where did I go wrong? What did I do to deserve this? Many people will tell you that you shouldn't think that way. The reality is - it's difficult not to.
Lingering Depression After a Relationship
What is not so obvious - and harder to understand - is how depression affects us even after a relationship is over and the apparent source of all the trouble is gone. This happens to people who become separated or divorced, or who break off contact with a family member who suffers from a personality disorder, or who experience the death of a loved-one with a personality disorder.
What causes depression after the dust has settled isn't so clear. Perhaps it is because we have a quieter more tranquil place and time to dwell on our own feelings rather than on the feelings of the people we have cared for. Perhaps it is because we allow ourselves to stop suppressing our own feelings. Perhaps it is like letting go of a tightly wound spring. Perhaps it is because we look ahead to the future with uncertainty, fearing that things will not get better or regretting the wasted years and the lost treasures of time and kindness and love. The reasons are uncertain but somehow our brains seem to be wired in such a way that we cannot instantly forget or move on from the traumas in our past.
So it is that people who exit a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder often feel worse immediately following the separation - not better. This can be hard to understand and sometimes can lead a person to doubt the wisdom of their decision to leave or get out of the relationship.
There can be some obvious explanations for that depression - post departure.
Drop in adrenaline - There can be a surge of energy or "buzz" that people feel when embroiled in a crisis. When this is taken away we have to fall back on our more "natural" energy sources. You may miss the thrill of the fight or the immediate gratification of the short term fire-fighting lifestyle. It may take some time to adjust.
Ongoing consequences - While removing yourself from someone who suffers from a personality disorder takes away one source of trouble, it doesn't immediately remove all the trouble. You may have debts, children, fatigue, bad life choices, any number of long term consequences of the relationship which don't just evaporate when the relationship is over.
The loss of someone to blame - After removing yourself from someone who suffers from a personality disorder, you can no longer point the finger at that person for your situation. But the instinct to fight can take some time to subside. Faced with sudden quietness that aggression can sometimes be turned outward towards people who we come into contact with or inward towards ourselves.
Loneliness - Leaving a person who abuses you can be an extremely lonely experience. You may be relieved at the sudden removal of the trouble and fear but you may find yourself feeling very alone - facing an uncertain future, scared and longing for companionship again.
Fear that history will repeat itself - As you look to the future, you may find yourself with a pessimistic outlook. You may begin to wonder if perhaps you contributed to the troubles you have experienced - or that you don't make good decisions in relationships or in life. You may feel unlucky, cursed, unlovely or unattractive. You may find yourself believing that somehow you don't deserve a better life or that you are not smart enough or good enough to improve your situation. You may begin to believe that history will repeat itself. And when you feel powerless over your own destiny, or hopeless about your own future, you are experiencing depression.