Mary was experiencing low self-esteem and worthlessness.
She’d say her eyes were “broken faucets.” She’d cry often, and would easily get irritated and explode at her children and husband. She had gained weight in the past year. She snacked all day and would finish a bag of chips in minutes without even noticing. She had difficulty concentrating, felt muscle tension, and above all, she was feeling like the “worst mother in the world.” One day she reported she just wanted to “escape her world.”
She was not suicidal but just wanted a break. She didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel any time soon. Sometimes she would say things like “I feel my heart being crushed. I am a bad person. I am exhausted and ready to quit. Things haven’t gone my way.”
Why was Mary so depressed?
She had a supportive husband and three children. Her husband had a good job and she had not worked outside of the home since she got married. Everyone in her family was in good health – except her. Her adolescent son was making choices she didn’t like. His latest choices were against the family’s religious values and beliefs. It pained her to see her “baby” go against what she taught him for seventeen years! She felt like a failure.
Mary was attributing her son’s misbehavior to herself. Intellectually, she agreed her son had a choice. After all, she had taught him about freedom and power to choose. But her guilt kept nagging within her: “It didn’t do me any good to stay home. Maybe if I had worked outside of the home he would not be so spoiled. I should have been stricter. I should have spent more time with him. I should have home-schooled him.”
There were a lot of regrets, tears, and grief. Her handsome, well-groomed, intelligent, and healthy-looking son was becoming a memory. Things were turning out differently than expected. Her pain was intolerable and she tried to hide it. Arguments, yelling, and silence were only increasing the emotional gap between mother and son.
She was focusing on the half-empty glass.
She rehearsed in her mind all that “she should have done, should not have done, and could’ve done.” Mary was focusing on the half-empty glass. She could not forgive herself. Her thoughts were getting her deeper and deeper into a black hole. At night she would go over things she had said or may have done in the past that “could’ve caused” her son to take a different path than what she had anticipated for him.
She found herself in my office at her husband’s request. She actually didn’t believe she needed help. She believed she was a strong woman and could handle any trial. “After all, isn’t that what life is about? We need to endure our trials, don’t we?” she’d say. I agreed with her, but reminded her enduring to the end doesn’t mean we have to suffer in guilt and pain the rest of our lives. She was experiencing many errors in her thinking.
Mary’s story represents stories from other women I have seen and counseled in my office. Many of them are experiencing emotional pain, difficulty sleeping, concentration problems, anger, regret, guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, loneliness, discouragement, and more.
The good news is that there is hope, People who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders can learn the skills to overcome their challenges.
Mary learned what was going on in her body and determined she needed to see her physician for medication. She made a plan to improve her physical condition by eating healthier and exercising. She learned relaxation skills such as progressive muscle relaxation techniques, visual imagery, and simple mindfulness exercises. Her sleeping habits also needed some readjustment.
She had forgotten to take care of herself and find joy. She took small steps to attain goals to develop new hobbies. She resumed activities she had abandoned. She had previously believed that she should focus all her time and attention to help her son figure things out. She realized her son needed to do most of the work. She finally recognized how her thinking errors and self-defeating beliefs had affected her emotions negatively. She identified the source of her negative core beliefs. She was able to change them by working diligently outside the weekly sessions. She learned a series of writing exercises and became an avid writer; that contributed to her healing also.
If you can relate to Mary’s feelings, remember there are answers — there always are. Talk to a loved one you can trust. He or she can help you find the right therapist for you. It is possible to have joy despite the trials and challenges of life.