Mailbag: Am I Suffering from Depression?

Plus making important relationship decisions and coping with guilt.

Hi, Doctor,
I’ve always had high-power jobs. Most people regard me as fearless but, in fact, I’ve always been anxious to a point of terror. I have absolutely nothing to worry about: sound physical health, as much money as I’ll ever need, a 55-year marriage, two wonderful and successful children and three cherished grandchildren. My get-up-and-go has gone. I can’t get absorbed in anything and even the daily routine of getting up and getting started is daunting.

Rationally, I know there’s nothing to worry about, but worry I do. I’m often called upon to help others and always rise to the challenge. I just can’t help myself. Why? What on Earth can I do? MAYDAY! – W.S.

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Dear W.S.,
It’s confusing and frustrating when we can’t put a finger on what is causing us to feel badly. However, from what you described in your email, it sounds like you may be struggling with depression. It is not uncommon to feel anxious and have difficulty concentrating when we are depressed. Another common symptom of depression is morning depression, clinically called diurnal mood variation (DV). Morning depression is one of the core features found in major depressive disorder (MDD). People with DV experience a worsening of depressive symptoms in the morning as opposed to in the afternoon and/or evening.

I recommend you see a mental health professional to be assessed for depression. Depression is treatable with psychotherapy, medications or a combination of both.

Good luck!
Dr. Paula Durlofsky

Dear Dr. Durlofsky
I have just come across your article called, “Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Cope with Ambivalence and Decision-Making.”

I found it extremely interesting because I believe that it applies to me. I find it very difficult to make decisions and tend to just get swept along with other people’s lives and decisions and a lot of the time become unhappy. I have been in two long-term relationships that I was unhappy in because I didn’t make the decision to leave. They both became mentally abusive and I am now 33, getting divorced and still worrying over a decision about whether or not I should keep the marital home my husband and I shared. My constant worrying about which path to take affects every aspect of my life, including my new relationship. The same patterns seem to repeat themselves over and over again.

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Is there any advice you can offer me around how I can overcome/solve this?

Kind regards,

Dear Emma,
It’s good news to hear that you are aware of your ambivalent feelings being a pattern in many areas of your life. Self-awareness is a major step toward making real-life changes.

Although a certain amount of ambivalence is perfectly normal, when we are consumed with ambivalent feelings, we are often left feeling “stuck” and unable to move forward with our lives. Oftentimes, we feel ambivalent because we are afraid that we will make the wrong decision, believe there is only ONE right answer, have unrealistic expectations surrounding our decision, and afraid our decisions will be irreversible. All of which is not a reality but can make us feel very anxious.  Therefore, anxiety is commonly associated with ambivalence. Our anxiety prevents us from understanding and asking ourselves important questions surrounding our decisions such as, “What do I wish to achieve with this decision and why?” Fully understanding our needs and wishes helps us to make better decisions and consequently to live more satisfying lives.

One significant way to decrease crippling ambivalence is to learn how to tolerant our anxiety. This is no easy task, but can be achieved with therapy. Once we are able to “sit with” our anxiety we gain the opportunity to understand the root of it, and we are in a much better place for making healthy and satisfying life decisions!

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Talking to a professional can also help you to better understand the ambivalence you have about leaving unhealthy relationships and maybe even with intimate relationships in general. Once you understand the root causes of your ambivalence you will, no doubt, be more confident in your ability to make the right decision for you.

Good luck!
Dr. Paula Durlofsky 

Hi Dr. Durlofsky,
I came across your article on guilt this evening and it really had me thinking, How do I control this guilt feeling?

Tonight I was supposed to attend a work buddy/acquaintance’s film project. Like I said—acquaintance. He is someone I see often at work but we have never met up outside of work. He is in the process of creating footage for his independent film.

On a side note: The past two weeks I have been looking for a new roommate. My current roommate, who is truly a good friend of mine, made a big decision to move in with her boyfriend. To get the ball rolling I’ve been conducting multiple interviews for the past two weeks to find a similar replacement.

This has not been an easy process. On Thursday I met with someone who appeared to be ideal! She had everything I was looking for in a roommate: respectful, clean, hard worker, eco-friendly, athletic, active, healthy, easygoing, and a homebody.

I got the news last night that she found a different apartment closer to her work. I was hoping to share a living space with her, but it turns out it wasn’t meant to be. This event in itself has been stressful and now I feel like I’m back to square one. Although I have other potential roommates in line this feeling knocked me down today.

I made a commitment to show up at my work friend’s event but I ended up letting him know I had to cancel. Due to the stressful roommate situation I felt like I wouldn’t be much fun if I ended up going to this all-nighter event.

My friend’s response to my having to cancel plans made me feel like a horrible person. He texted me, “Ugh…really? Well, OK.” An hour later he texted, “Good luck with your living situation stuff.” It made me feel like I am letting him down.

I can’t help but feel guilty when I decline someone. I know I am a great friend to those around me and typically I do try to attend the events I am invited to. I am such a giving person and usually I am right there when someone asks me to do something for them. I take it personal when someone responds to me in a negative way because I would always try to understand where the other person is coming from.

I constantly feel like I need to validate my reasons or come up with a better excuse. I don’t though, and try to keep it short, sweet and honest. But it doesn’t always seem like that works out for me.  Do you have any idea how I can get around this feeling and stop getting caught up in a guilt trip?

All the best,

Dear Ellen,
For most people it is hard to say “no” to other people’s requests of them. So, you are not alone in this struggle. You wrote in your email that one reason why it is hard for you to say “no” is because you fear disappointing others and feel guilty when you do actually say “no.” The truth is that when we neglect our own needs at the expense of others we end up disappointing ourselves most of all.

Learning how to nurture and attend to our emotional needs is crucial to our sense of well-being and good mental health. One step in achieving this is for us to believe our needs are reasonable and that WE are ENTITLED to the needs we have—whatever they may be (e.g. finding a roommate, wanting to rest rather than go out, and the right to change our mind)—as long as our needs are not intentionally harming another. Once we feel entitled to care for ourselves in positive and helpful ways, feelings of irrational guilt should diminish.

Good luck!

Dr. Paula Durlofsky

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