When depressed, withdrawing from life can protect us from pain. But it also deprives us of joy, writes René Brooks.
Depression doesn’t just affect the life of the person who’s been diagnosed. It can also impact that person’s interactions and relationships with their loved ones.
Being depressed has many unpleasant qualities. It makes me irritable, angry, and oh so tired. Much too tired to talk to anyone, catch up, or connect.
It’s best for me to avoid contact with people when I’m having a particularly nasty episode of depression. At least that’s what my mind tells me.
The funny thing is, disconnecting means that I don’t see the people who matter most to me: my friends and family. And family time is what keeps me energized.
Spending time with my friends laughing and joking is an incredible stress buster for me. Yet I usually find myself pulling away from the safety of their company at my lowest points.
When I feel myself doing so, it’s critically important to break free from the isolation and reconnect with the people I love.
What it feels like to isolate myself
Isolation starts off alright. It’s peaceful in my home. I don’t have to worry about how the outside world might affect me.
The quiet does me good, I always think. I tell myself I need a little downtime.
Soon I’m taking up too much time watching trash TV and brooding over problems that seem to have no resolution. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own home.
The worst part is that my mind tells me I’m too tired no matter how badly I want to go out. It’s too much work to see people. It takes too much time to get ready. They’re far too busy to spend time with me anyway.
So I stay in prison a little longer. I become more frustrated by the moment, and that makes me feel even more like I’m not fit to be around.
What’s actually happening
Depression is tricky in the sense that it can lead to pulling away from the people and things you normally enjoy. It convinces you that you don’t deserve happiness.
Feelings of worthlessness are a common symptom of depression. For some of us, that plays out with our minds telling us that the people who love us most don’t need us around.
I feel too sad. Too grouchy. Too much of a burden to place upon others.
These feelings increase exponentially when I’m isolated. I think it’s due at least in part to the fact that nobody’s there to contradict me.
What isolation does to the people around me
I push away the people who care about me when I’m depressed and in isolation mode.
Invite me over for dinner? I’ll make an excuse not to come.
Did I promise to attend an event? I’ll be there. But I’ll stay as far back from the fun as I possibly can.
Depression convinces me that I’ll taint the fun with my presence. I feel I’m protecting others from having to put up with me.
The people who love me see my withdrawal as rejection. They think I don’t care about them.
Over time, some people have gotten used to my moments of isolation. They know that it’s just me and that I’ll come out of it.
Those who don’t know me well enough get insulted. I’ve lost friends.
Sometimes this saddens me. Other times, I feel that we wouldn’t make good friends anyway if they’re genuinely distressed by my tendency to withdraw.
Too much isolation can be negative, but we need a certain amount of it. I don’t want anyone in my life who doesn’t understand that boundary.
How I break the cycle of isolation
Sometimes you can reason with depression. Other times you have to get things done by force.
I find that the only way to break the cycle of isolation for me is by force.
That means making plans and keeping them. Even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I’d rather curl up in bed alone with my dogs.
It means finding events that I think I’d enjoy. I force myself to go out and be around people. I take someone I care for with me.
It means doing a mundane activity with my niece and nephew that seems silly but makes for so many wonderful memories.
I’ve realized that my isolation is actually trying to protect me from disappointment. I think it’s a way of protecting myself, so I don’t get hurt again.
Withdrawing from life can protect us from pain, but it can also deprive us of joy.
We have to risk pain to experience joy. Breaking the cycle of isolation that often comes with depression is about being brave and willing to open ourselves up to receive joy.
Know that we will survive if the pain comes.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
NPS-ALL-NP-00816 FEBRUARY 2023