Category: Depression

nontraditional kind of loss

What Might Have Been: A Nontraditional, but Significant Kind of Loss

Ah, spring. The time of year when a sea of gold descends upon us here in Nashville. And no, allergy sufferers, it’s not just the pollen. It’s the jersey-clad, rally-towel-waving, banner-flying, Nashville Predators fandom that takes over the city during the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. And it was never more rabid than during the team’s Cup Final run in the spring of 2017. For a couple of months that year, it was unlike anything Nashville had ever seen. And we believed that team could win it all. But suddenly one night in June, it was over. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Not to a team that had been the last to make the playoffs, a team whose players had suffered injuries galore, and still had somehow made it that far. And yet, it just wasn’t meant to be. If you were around that spring, or if you’ve ever rooted so long and so hard for something that didn’t come to pass, you’ve probably experienced the same kind of heartsick letdown that followed that Game 6 loss. To be clear, sports championships aren’t exactly the stuff of life and death. But they illustrate a type of loss that isn’t talked much about: the loss of what might have been.

When we hear that someone has experienced a loss, or is grieving or mourning, we usually make the assumption that they have lost a loved one or something vital to their happiness and well-being, such as their home. It’s long been that way in our culture, though more recently we’ve expanded our notions of loss to include experiences such as infertility, miscarriage, and the death of pets. However, just like in the hockey reference described above, what happens when something that we expected to happen, doesn’t? This type of loss often goes unrecognized because it doesn’t fit into our culture’s traditional definition of something that is “worth” mourning. And when we (or others) don’t recognize something as a loss, we don’t feel like we’re allowed to grieve. But when grief goes unresolved, it can morph into something else, like depression or anxiety. In fact, unresolved loss is often the “root” of the problems that bring people into therapy. Let’s take a look at some common nontraditional forms of loss around what might have been.

In my experience, one of the most common nontraditional losses of this kind occurs in close relationships, when there is grief about what a relationship could have been. This type of loss can occur in friendships, relationships with siblings, and romantic relationships. But its impact seems to be felt most strongly when it happens in the parental relationship. Most mothers and fathers strive to parent in the most effective way possible, and don’t intentionally set out to hurt their children. But certain circumstances can lead to an ineffective, often outright hurtful parenting style. Those who struggle with alcoholism, for example, parent while under the influence, when they’re usually not at their best selves. Or those who grapple with severe depression parent while being unable to function at the most basic level, let alone at the level that healthy parenting requires. Regardless of the reason, parents do sometimes become unable to offer the unconditional love, support, and acceptance that their child needs. And just because a child reaches adulthood doesn’t mean that that need goes away. This is why most people with this kind of loss report that they continue to try to please their parent, despite having been met with rejection their whole lives. They’ve become tired of trying, yet may be reluctant to accept the loss of hope that their parent will ever truly approve of them. They often enter therapy when they just can’t try anymore. And the grief work done in therapy involves deciding whether to continue to expect anything from the parental relationship, and how to make peace with what it could have been.

Another “what might have been,” nontraditional form of loss occurs around career paths. This kind of loss can occur anytime during a person’s career. However, I’ve noticed it coming up so frequently among college and university students that I’ll use that population to illustrate it. Maybe more so than ever, students these days begin thinking about their career paths in high school, or even earlier, as they discover their talents and passions and start focusing on a particular educational track. Maybe they’ve got a knack for numbers, and they’re encouraged to pursue accounting. Maybe their talent lies in science, and they decide to shoot for medical school. Or maybe their athletic prowess has paved the way to a full scholarship and talk of professional play. But what happens when there’s a bump in the road and those plans don’t come to fruition? Consider the mathematically- or scientifically-minded student who runs up on some required classes he can’t pass. Or the star athlete who has a career-ending injury. Not only are these students left to redirect their course and find a new career path, but they’re left with the loss of what might have been. And if well-meaning parents, friends, and advisors emphasize the importance of finding that new path, the student can draw the conclusion that the loss wasn’t worth grieving. But when unresolved grief is suppressed, it can make it difficult for such students to move forward. College is stressful enough without also having to rewrite your life’s career path. But therapy can allow students to process the emotions surrounding the loss of their original career expectations, begin to heal the pain of that loss, and start writing their new career story.

Finally, let’s consider losses that alter a person’s lifestyle. These kinds of losses are often physical in nature, having to do with significant illness or other changes to the body or mind. For example, let’s say a person’s spouse develops early-onset dementia. Shifts must be made not only in the couple’s daily lifestyle, but in their expectations about the long-term. What happens to their plans of traveling abroad after they reach retirement age? Or to all those hopes and dreams they had about being grandparents together? There might also be regrets about not having gone after those hopes and dreams earlier. Or guilt about acknowledging the sadness and unfairness of the curveball life’s just thrown them – after all, the last thing the wife wants to do is blame her husband for getting sick. But it’s crucial that she give herself permission to mourn the loss of her old reality, as well as the loss of what might have been. If she doesn’t, it could complicate the grief she experiences when she faces the impending loss that will eventually come with the progression of her husband’s disease. Talking with a trusted professional in counseling can ensure that all the facets of loss, both traditional and nontraditional, are acknowledged and honored. And difficult though it is, doing the work of grief goes a long way in ensuring that it doesn’t shift into something more.

 

If you have experienced or are currently experiencing this kind of loss, and are struggling with the emotions associated with your grief, contact Brentwood Counseling Associates and connect with one of our experienced therapists.

 

 

depression counseling

Managing Holiday Depression

“’Tis the season…” You probably know the rest. It seems there’s a general expectation that this last month of the year will be merry and bright. But those who struggle with depression know that it doesn’t go away just because it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” In fact, all those good tidings of joy might actually worsen existing symptoms. After all, depression is a hard enough battle without society sending the message that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t feel the holiday joy. If you’re finding it even more difficult than usual to manage your depressive symptoms this holiday season, read on for some tips on self-care as well as advice on when to seek depression counseling.

Set realistic expectations

When depression sets in, it can take more energy than normal to do the things you need to do to get through the day. Daily activities like going to work, taking care of your kids, grocery shopping, and cleaning the house suddenly become exhausting chores. And sometimes some of them don’t even get done. That can make the added tasks of the holidays seem particularly daunting. It’s crucial, then, for those who are managing depression during this season to prioritize. Don’t expect yourself to do it all this year. Talk with your family about realistic expectations around all the holiday extras such as card-writing, decorating, gift-preparation, baking, and attending parties and other holiday events. Decide which are most meaningful to you and your family, and figure out where you can trim or even delegate some of the responsibility. The extra time you’ll have and the reduced stress you’ll feel will go a long way toward keeping depressive symptoms from worsening during this hectic season.

Tune out some of the holiday “noise”

It’s inescapable this time of the year: the holiday music playing in all the stores, the movies showing on all the cable channels, and the endless ads on TV, the radio, and in print. It’s hard to ignore, and bright and merry as it is, it reinforces the belief that it’s a happy time of the year for everyone. But if you’re struggling with depression, it simply may not feel that way. Because depression can lead to increased feelings of guilt, anyway, why should you also feel guilty that you’re not as happy as you should be this season? You have control over how many of these holiday messages you take in, so why not consider limiting them? Be a critical consumer of all the seasonal “noise” that’s thrown your way this season. If the holiday music or movies lift your mood, immerse yourself in them. If, on the other hand, the store ads leave you feeling guilty about lacking the energy to do all the shopping this year, watch commercial-free movies instead. If you’re struggling with depression, you know that your baseline mood on most days is lower than normal. Give it a little extra TLC this season by structuring your holiday media intake with that in mind.

Seek depression counseling

So far, we’ve identified a couple of self-care techniques to manage depression this holiday season. They both involve setting limits in order to lift your mood and allow more time for the self-care that is so vital to staving off depressive symptoms. And if you’ve grappled with depression for any length of time, you probably already have other self-care habits in place that help. But if you find that it’s particularly difficult to continue managing it on your own, think about depression counseling as an additional option. Find a professional you feel comfortable with, whether it’s a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or clergy member, and let them share in your efforts to combat depression. Proper depression counseling can supplement the hard work you do every day to keep those depressive symptoms in check. And counselors’ understanding can help you normalize the challenges of finding the holiday joy when depression rears its head.

Anxiety and Depression in Teens

Anxiety and Depression in Teens and Young Adults: When is it Time to Talk to a Professional?

by Stephanie Insko

You may have heard about the alarming increase in anxiety and depression among college students. I have seen this concerning trend firsthand in the couple of decades since my first job in a university counseling center. Sure, I worked with a lot of students who were dealing with depression and anxiety back then. But the majority of the students seeking counseling were simply struggling to adjust to the newfound responsibilities, decisions, and relationship dynamics that came with college life. In other words, they were in the thick of the learning curve of becoming adults.

The challenges of adjusting to adulthood have not gone away in those nearly 20 years. But they are inherently more difficult for the average young person to navigate while also struggling with untreated anxiety and depression. Therefore, it’s more crucial than ever that young folks address any mental health concerns before they’re on their own, trying to perform in college or on the job. But how do you know when it’s time to seek the help of a mental health professional?

Clinical anxiety and depression can sneak up on us, and may go unnoticed until functioning is affected. In teens and young adults, this often shows up as a decline in school or work performance. There might be a lack of interest or motivation to improve, and problems concentrating might make it nearly impossible to do so. Social functioning might change, too, with increased isolation from friends. A loss of interest in previously-loved activities is another warning sign. Other signals that this is more than a “rough patch” include changes in appetite, sleep, and overall energy levels.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it might be time to consult a therapist. Anxiety and depression in teens are manageable concerns, and therapy is a collaborative effort to develop a plan to do so. Maybe you’re a parent noticing some signs that worry you as you send your child off to college. Or maybe you’re a young adult struggling to balance depression or anxiety with the demands of school or a job. Whatever the age or stage, a good relationship with a therapist can help you figure out how to manage it all.

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nontraditional kind of loss

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