When A Positive Psychologist Meets Depression

A month has passed and my irritation isn’t gone. Neither my sadness nor my compulsive urges to overeat. The fact that I moved to a flat next to the beach and that I have been watching the sunset from my lovely balcony whenever I can has also not been enough to wash those negative feelings away. Today I decided I had to do something about it and I answered a depression questionnaire featured in the book “The How of Happiness” written by Sonja Lyubomirsky, who is one of the top international researchers in the field of Positive Psychology.

I studied Positive Psychology in my first year as a Psychology undergraduate student. Positive Psychology was one of the available optional modules and I took it, because it sounded ‘right’. It was 2009 and I soon felt that this particular field within Psychology was very close to my philosophy of life: our human existence is made of ups and downs; we must make the most out of the good moments and learn from the bad ones.

I soon realised that Positive Psychology is not very well accepted among most psychologists in academia. We are often accused of seeing the world through a rose-tainted glass or labelled as hippies. Over time, I lost my faith in being able to practise as a Positive Psychologist and, worse than that, I lost my faith in being able to be my true self. The Positive Psychologist in me slowly died throughout my doctorate. The dissonance between my internal beliefs and external expectations collided. I forgot about my own happiness and wellbeing. I put my ‘Psychology of Happiness’ teaching materials aside and I tried to fit in the best I could – people weren’t comfortable with an intellectual unicorn, so I thought it would be better to hide it in a closet.

Today, however, I grabbed Sonja’s book and I stopped to think about my own happiness. Well, I found no happiness left, and the scoring results indicated exactly that – I have been experiencing depression. Actually, when I look inside myself, I can only find sadness and hurt, and I have been trying to numb it out with food. I have been eating to the point of feeling sick, something that had been under control for almost a year. So where is all this coming from? Why am I so sad and waking up defeated every single day? After giving it some thought, I realised that I have been ignoring the cumulative effect of last month’s several little negative events on top of the ones I was already experiencing before. To dig deeper, I took a pen out and wrote them down.

Moving out

By the end of May I decided to move out. I could no longer stand the majority of people I was living with, especially the girl I had to share the bathroom with. The energy was too dense for me and the fact I was not talking to her at all didn’t help to make me feel better. I was feeling bad for not talking to her, even though it was to protect myself and my wellbeing.

I decided I had to leave the house and I moved in to a house at two walking minutes away from the sea, which always renews and nurtures me.The move was not, however, smooth. Stubbornly, I ended up having to move everything by myself, using public transports. I made several trips, carrying heavy stuff from one place to another. I thought I hadn’t many things to carry but when I was half-way through it, I called myself stupid. It was the most stupid decision I have made this year but the story got worse.

My previous landlord is the perfect stereotype-fit of a very mean english lady and on the last day she sent me a horrible e-mail. When I met her, I first found her lovely and innocent, but then I started noticing how she is an authentic wicked witch. She patronises everyone whenever she can. The other day I saw her from a far in the bus station shouting at an asian boy whose t-shirt had something related to the word “heroin”. She started lecturing him and asked him directly if he found it smart to advertise heroin on his shirt.

I felt bad for the boy but the situation also helped me to see that I was not such a bad person as she made me believe to be on her e-mail. Now that I was calmer I could see that the e-mail was never about me but her instead. She just naturally spits her poison whenever she can. Watching her interacting with that boy made me feel a little bit compassionate though: she must have suffered some really bad hardships when she was just a little girl.

Betrayal and Hurt

I was having a crush on a colleague I knew from afar. I always felt a special attraction for him and life allowed us to become closer when I moved from one office to another. Before I got the chance to understand that I had projected a lot on him, a friend of mine started to hit on him to prove her beauty and charm. She ignored or dismissed all the signs that I was into him, and that made me sad for two reasons: first I was really appreciating our friendship and I thought she wouldn’t do something like that; second, I was facing the choice between keeping a ‘friend’ and going after my romantic feelings.

I stupidly chose the friend, thinking that maybe that’s how life really is – people aren’t perfect, right? People are human and do stupid things. Nonetheless, the feelings of betrayal and hurt remained with me. I never voiced them out. Later I realised that none of them had been worthy of my attention. I learned that not all connections are based on real friendship, because real friends don’t walk over you. I also learned that I’m also responsible for being in this situation, mainly because I projected what I wanted to see or believe in on them.

Suffering for Liking My Job Too Much

I wait the whole year for Summer. Not just because it gets sunnier where I live in the UK or that I go a few shades darker, but because I get to teach more often. I really love Psychology and teaching it is more than simply covering a a couple of slides packed with theory. In my classes, I share what I know but I also leave room to be taught by my students. I ask them to critically think about the content I bring to them – do they agree with it? Could it be different? Does what we talk about resonate with their own life experience?

I like to make my students think, and I like to let them know that nothing is set in stone. They always surprise me for the best and it’s wonderful how they come up with outside-of-the-box arguments which actually add up to what we have to discuss. In sum, I love the whole process of learning and I thrive when I have the feeling I’m giving to my students what I would like to had had when I was walking in their shoes.

Sadly, schools only seem to care about money these days and they think money is what teachers only care about too. I’m constantly having to deal with people from the school who only talk about money and offer little motivation and positive regard for teaching as a bigger experience. Two years in, I decided to step aside and not to be a part of it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I feel like I need to teach elsewhere, somewhere where education is more human-oriented.

Altogether, these different events helped me understand why I ended up so numb and lost. Right now, I am going through depression and a sense of helplessness. A lot of other feelings are also surfacing as a result of this reality-check. Shame and guilt are two of them, generated by questions such as how can I not be happy? Haven’t I created and taught a course called “Psychology of Happiness”? Don’t have I roof over my head and food to eat? How can I dare to be depressed? I take a deep breath and let it sink in. I am depressed. I am human. I need to accept the present moment and my current emotional reality. I need to acknowledge and process the different events that led me here. Only then I can I know what to do next.

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