You’re down, but you’re not that kind of down. Jeanne Sutton delves into dealing with discouragement.
Language around mental health is so important. Unwise words can have a domino triggering effect on the vulnerable and even the unsuspecting. Take the verb to commit suicide, it suggests the act akin to a crime, when it is far from it. In fact, mental health organisations have to constantly caution media outlets about using the term, with died by suicide being the preferred descriptor. To those not situated in the eye of the mental health crisis storm, this might seem an insignificant alteration, but the outcome is world-changing, stigma stripping and humane.
This is why I have a bugbear with the overuse of the word depressing. In the era of clickbait, our online feeds are inundated with stories using the adjective with abandon. You’ll Be So Depressed When You Realise The Baby From The Nirvana Video Is 47. These Unexpected Celebrity Splits Are Majorly Depressing. Nope. Depression is depressing. It’s an actual mental health condition. The World Health Organisation defines depression as “a common mental disorder, characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration.” You can’t appropriate it to hit your word count. And you shouldn’t appropriate it in your personal live either.
One of the positives of modern Ireland is that we’re way more open than we used to be when it comes to talking about our feelings. Public figures are open about the pressures they face. Talk shows regularly devote time to conversations around mental health. The Green Ribbon campaign, Pieta House’s Darkness Into Light walk and the website Lust for Life are high-profile iniatives reaching out to those who are suffering. These are all amazing. Yes, more needs to be done. We need more counsellor hours, better infrastructure, the start of a solution to the housing crisis. But there is an evident hunger for change. Here’s hoping we get there.
It’s because of this reality, and the reality thousands are barely coping with around the country, that my body grates when someone I know describes a minor setback, one they will definitely recover from, as “totally depressing”. If a brownie/lipstick purchase/blowdry makes you forget your worries, you’re fine. You can bounceback. You don’t need a GP appointment, a prescription, or a referral to a professional.
Most people who are in a bad place, it’s a temporary thing, it’s not a real depression
That’s not to say setbacks can’t be bad, but we should separate them from medical language and frame these bumps as incidents of discouragement. These obstacles can wreak short-term havoc. Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and told me that dealing with discouragement is very common. “Absolutely. There’s no question, there’s a lot of people coming through the door,” Owen says. He points to one recent example involving the current housing market. One client “was really in love with a house he was chasing. He bid on it and it was bid against and he bid again and so on. The price went so high that it was an actual hundred thousand over the asking price. At that point, he dropped out, but he didn’t realise how over the six weeks he was pursuing it and looking at and imagining it and he could see himself living in it. When he lost it, he was completely down and flattened.” All that visualising and then the carpet being pulled triggered a loss grief.
Breakups, professional upsets, “most people who are in a bad place, it’s a temporary thing, it’s not a real depression,” Owen cautions. “All of these kinds of things generate the same kind of tugging at your heart, feeling that you can’t breathe, not wanting to get out of bed, all of these things can happen. Owen thinks the aforementioned mental campaigns are good for all of us. “If it goes somewhere in encouraging people to speak to somebody, that’s the big thing,” he says.
The problem-solving part of your brain can go into a spin
“Talking out the situation to someone who’s able to listen empathetically with you and understand the normality of how you might feel and feed that back to you, that’s a really good recovery process.” Keeping the emotions bottled will only intensify the damage. “The problem-solving part of your brain can go into a spin and write a script that is worse than it really is,” he points out.
And what about relationship ghosting after a few online or even IRL interactions? Owen puts this trough of feeling like crap down to you having imagined the ideal outcome. “We’re all capable of having a wonderful imagination,” he says. “We can see ourselves in a situation with a person, going out with that person, in a more intimate relationship.” It’s this painting “a picture of expectation” that causes the hurt. “Our own beautiful wonderful brain” can be a weapon against ourselves. “It’s like someone promising you something when you’re little, and it never gets fulfilled? That actually stops children having confidence in someone,” Owen says. The same thing happens to adults.
What are the coping mechanisms to get through discouragement? “Any type of grieving needs to be understood as a hurt,” says Owen. “You really do need somebody who is able to understand the efforts you made, to compliment them on that and understand the efforts you made to do something. All you need at that point is to be comforted.” A hug even can be a “tremendous relief”.
To counter these feelings, begin to think about the things that you did well
Sinead Brady is a career psychologist and says there are ways to counter feelings of discouragement in your working life. “Often when your job is a source of negative feelings the first thing to suffer is confidence and self-belief,” she says. “To counter these feelings, begin to think about the things that you did well, that you enjoyed or that you learned from during the day, the past week or past month. These are your momentous moments. To help remember them buy a notebook and dedicate 60 seconds per day to recording them. Over time you begin to see a pattern of information develop and as you do you slowly rebuild your confidence and self-belief.”
If you feel you need to upskill but find the prospect of a masters or diploma daunting, and financially unfeasible, look to online courses, like Futurelearn, which Sinead points out is free. This is a risk free way to upskill and begin to plot a path out of your current role or into a new career,” she says. Sinead is also adamant you keep up your hobbies and friendships, they’re vital for navigating a tough time at work and help you switch off. Meanwhile in work, always take your breaks outside the office. Plot walks or a lunch with a pal working nearby.
When you are prepared to make your move do so as quickly as possible
And what about just flatout leaving your job? “When you see the tell tale signs of rust-out or burn-out that is affecting your mood, sleep, happiness and relationships outside of work it is time to make change,” Sinead admits. “Begin to plan your exit strategy. Start with your momentous moments, work on your CV, use LinkedIn (but turn on your privacy settings) and meet people in your industry who might be able to help you get a new job. When you are prepared to make your move do so as quickly as possible.”
“I don’t think anyone can stop themselves from being hurt,” Owen observes.”You’d have to be almost devoid of feelings and emotions. We need to fall and understand what falling is and get back up again. We need to have the experience of life. There’s going to be mistakes, there’s going to be people who let you down. Our experiences of that help us to survive in the world. It’s how we recover from the hurt is the most important part.”
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s October issue. Our November issue is on shelves now!