I saw a quote recently that said, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you’re not simply surrounded by jerks.” Abuse in relationships does cause depression over time, but being depressed and being unhappy are two different beasts. More than likely, a doctor’s diagnosis of depression will overshadow your chronic unhappiness, and instead of seeking to solve the cause, you will resort to treating the symptom (the depression).
Verbal Abuse and Depression: The Problem With A Depression Diagnosis
The doctors I’ve visited recently for my depression do a much better job of sleuthing than they did back in 1996 when I received my first prescription for antidepressants. Back then, my doctor was so pleased to have a solution for me that he didn’t ask me about what may have caused my feelings, let alone question me about my relationship with my husband.
Starting in about 2008, my doctors began asking about my relationship as they wrote the prescription. Perhaps its because they were military doctors and domestic violence is such a problem in the Army, but I hope that doctors everywhere are asking the same questions of their patients! They know that chronic unhappiness can lead to depression, and at least the military doctors seek to help us uncover the root of our unhappiness.
When chronic unhappiness due to domestic abuse is the root of your depressed state, you cannot heal your depression without proactively addressing your abusive relationship. You cannot cure something when it continues to reproduce itself daily. Abuse is a stage four malignant cancer on your emotional state.
Abuse, Depression, and Unhappiness
Chronic unhappiness can affect the chemicals in your brain on a more permanent basis. That’s why it is important to find the causes of your unhappiness as soon as you notice the emotion, before it has the opportunity to alter your brain.
The problem in abusive relationships is that we victims ride the roller coaster of the abusive cycle. We’re happy during the honeymoon phases, worried during the tension build-up, scared as the abuser’s anger peaks, and sad after s/he’s hurt us. Yet that doggone honeymoon rolls right back into place and we’re once again on top of the world, happy and secure and ready to take on the world with the one who loves us again.
The honeymoon periods necessarily make up a greater portion of our memory’s real estate. The mind has systems in place to help it control how much a trauma can hurt you. Denial, re-framing events, good ol’ mis-remembering and a slew of other trauma-deniers help to gloss over pain. (Your brain is just trying to protect you!)
But your mind allows happiness to run free! Happiness can over-run your entire system. People become addicted to the false happiness substances provide to the point of killing themselves. The point is, there is no restraining order on memories of happiness. Your honeymoon periods help you to mis-remember the unhappiness, severity, and duration the rest of the abusive cycle creates.
Your chronic unhappiness caused by your abusive relationship can switch to depression without you noticing.
Differences Between Unhappiness and Depression
Unhappy people know they’re unhappy and realize it is a temporary emotion brought on by a sad event, and they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Unhappy people know they will feel happy again, in time.
Depressed people often feel sad but can’t pinpoint a reason why, or they feel a type of nothingness – no sadness, no happiness, no hope. A depressed person’s tunnel is long and twisty, blocking the light at the end from view.
Depression is a chemical malfunction in your brain. Unhappiness is an emotion. There cannot be anything wrong with how you feel, but there can be something wrong with how your brain uses its chemicals. Antidepressants will help depression, but there ain’t no pill out there that can help unhappiness.
How can you tell the difference? I can tell you how I was able to tell the difference, and I hope it works for you, too. Fill in the blank: “I feel __________.”
My answers in 2006 read like this:
I feel sad. I feel betrayed. I feel stuck. I feel unsupported. I feel unloved. I feel ignored. I feel squashed after being shooed away. I feel lonely. I feel afraid. I feel disregarded. I feel disrespected. I feel run over. I feel alone, but not in a good way. I feel isolated.
My husband abused me, and those statements reflect my suffering from his abuse. When I am depressed, my statements look like this:
I feel a downward spiral. I feel useless. I feel there’s no reason to get out of bed. I feel confused. I feel my pain won’t end. I feel hopeless. I feel tired. I feel sad. I feel like there’s a gray wall around me.
Depression focuses inward and does not focus on any specific action or cause. Unhappiness has a cause.
If you’ve passed through unhappiness due to your abusive relationship and now feel you are depressed, then tell your doctor. Antidepressants can help your brain return to its proper functioning and you can feel better. But don’t stop there! Until you address the underlying unhappiness (a.k.a. the abuse), the pain will remain.
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.