Partner's Workshop: Stage Five; Lesson Two
Depression in the Healing Process
Before we explore issues relating to depression, let me emphasize that the purpose of this lesson is not to clinically diagnose or treat depression. Nor is it intended to be a medical review of the subject. You should all be fairly well-versed with the basics of depression at this stage in your life. The purpose then, is to review some of the most common symptoms that are involved in the situational depression that often occurs in the healing process, and to explore the effects that these symptoms can have on your ability to heal.
* If you would like to explore the clinical aspects of depression in more detail, an excellent resource can be found here: Dr. Ivan's Depression Central.
Depression: A Quick Review
There are many different types of depression: major depression, manic-depression, situational depression, cyclothymic disorder, seasonal affective disorder, etc. Each type involves unique patterns associated with either the symptoms or the duration of the affliction. In this lesson, we will be focusing exclusively on situational depression — which is the most common type of depression experienced by those traumatized by sexual addiction.
Situational depression is often considered a "mild depression", though that is a misperception. The effects of situational depression in a person's life can be devastating — affecting everything from their ability to pay their bills to their sexual functioning to their will to live. Hardly 'mild', to be sure. People with situational depression often struggle to complete maintenance tasks at work, at home, and/or in their personal relationships. And while they may continue to appear to function normally to outsiders; internally, they are expending extraordinary emotional resources in an effort to maintain that appearance. Occasionally, this depression develops into extreme depression (e.g. Major Depression), which may leave them unable to work, socially isolated, unable to maintain existing personal relationships and/or — in its extreme — even to feed, dress and maintain their personal hygiene.
Most likely, you have not experienced such an extended, extreme reaction to the discovery of your partner's addiction. Most likely, you will have somewhat stabilized your emotions. And yet, most likely, you will have continued to experienced ongoing symptoms that involve one or more of the following:
- a change in your appetite (never hungry, "forget to eat"; always hungry/eating/snacking)
- a change in your weight (gain or loss); fluctuating changes in your weight
- a change in your sleeping patterns (e.g. insomnia or hypersomnia)
- ongoing changes in your psychomotor activity (feeling like things are moving in slow motion, or in hyper speed.)
- experiencing decreased energy; lethargy; motivation
- ongoing feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness
- difficulty thinking, concentrating and/or making decisions
- experiencing recurrent thoughts of death — without suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts
- Significant loss of interest in things that used to bring you pleasure
- Exaggerated feelings of sadness, irritability and/or anxiety
- Decreased sexual desire (including the lack of desire to masturbate)
- Impulsive, high-risk decisions (e.g. spending sprees, sexual promiscuity/infidelity)
The Cumulative Effect
Each individual symptom listed above has the potential to significantly impact your life. That is a certainty. In a few moments, we will begin to examine some of the more subtle ways that these symptoms influence your experiences, but for now, focus your attention on the potential cumulative effect of these symptoms on your life.
To help you do this, consider a healthy person living an idealistic life. They eat the perfect amount of food, get the perfect amount of sleep, engage in the perfect amount of social activities, experience the perfect amount of...well, you get the picture. This person possesses the skill and opportunity to do everything in exactly the manner it was intended to be done. In such an "idealistic existence", that person would still experience stress. They would still be forced to deal with the actions of others that they come in contact with...as another certainty in life is that we are not isolated individuals. We are social beings. And because we are social beings, we are faced with dealing with situations that are beyond our control. Things happen to all of us — whether we choose for them to happen or not.
So this "perfect person" gets married and sets out to experience the "perfect marriage". But, things happen. Things beyond the person's control. They discover that their spouse has been sexually unfaithful to them. How do you think this "perfect person" would respond? I'll tell you. They'd be devastated. They'd be crushed. And, if they could somehow continue to maintain their idealistic lifestyle (an impossibility in reality)...it would take all of the strength and energy they could muster to repair the damage that has been done. Eventually, they will grow into a wiser and stronger person, but the process will be a difficult one.
Now add reality to the mix. Add YOU to the mix. You are not perfect. You do not get the perfect amount of sleep, nor do you eat the perfect amount of nutritious foods. You do not do anything "perfectly". And yet, you are still faced with the task of working through such a traumatic event. How can you? If you were able to use your previous life skills to get you through, you may actually deal with it in relative ease — but you do not have that option. The situation that you have been forced to experience will have affected you in ways that will alter your perceptions, adjust your memories, challenge your values — all in very real ways. The consequences of being in this situation will drain you of your emotional and physical resources long before you even begin to "deal with" the situation itself. This can make a difficult situation seem hopeless. And, the hole that you are left to climb out of doesn't end there.
In all cases involving sexual addiction, the road to healing involves more than simply dealing with the situation itself. It also means overcoming the inevitable consequences of that situation, as well as the need to accept a new, unknown future. These are not easy challenges to face. Not in a "perfect person", and certainly not in one that is struggling with any of the symptoms described above.
Symptoms of Depression — How They Influence Your Ability to Heal
Consider your own list of symptoms that have occurred as a result of this current situation that you face. If it helps, review the work you did in Lesson Three: Recognizing the Consequences — updating it to reflect any growth or awareness gained in the past several weeks.
A. Identify the consequences that you are experiencing that may be reflective of a possible situational depressionExample - Possible Symptoms of Depression that I am experiencing:
- I often snack/eat when there is a lull in the day
- I have gained twenty pounds over the past six months
- I sleep all of the time, and sleeping seems to make me even more tired
- I am experiencing decreased energy and motivation to do routine tasks like clean the house, pay the bills, get the car fixed
- I feel like my life has lost its meaning; that nothing I do from here on out will matter much
- I'm struggling to concentrate in meetings at work; keep ruminating over my partner's behavior
- I've had thoughts that it might be easier to kill myself than to try and face the pain of this situation
- I no longer have the desire to masturbate or engage in any sexual behavior. I don't even like to flirt anymore
- I get irritated at my kids for the silliest of things. It's not their fault, but my anger comes out when I deal with them
- I've had thoughts of having an affair — just to see what the big deal is; or, to get back at him
B. Identify how each depressive symptom may be affecting you in your ability to work through this major event in your life.Example - How Those Symptoms Affect Me Now:
- Snacking — throws off nutritional balance, which influences energy level. Guilt drains emotional resources.
- Weight gain — lowers self-esteem, which lowers overall motivation and energy; raises health risks like blood pressure, stress; increases draining emotions such as self-loathing, frustration
- Excessive sleep — causing responsibilities to back up, which increases stress, which increases the desire to sleep. Also drains me of physical strength and energy.
- Life has lost meaning — significant blow to motivation and energy
- Poor concentration — increases overall frustration level; increases feelings of worthlessness; increases stress
- Thoughts of suicide — reinforces feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness
- Lack of sexual identity (or other previously fulfilling experiences) — with no positive energy coming in...and only negative energy going out...there will eventually be nothing left
- Irritability — increases frustration level, drains energy
- Irrational/impulsive thoughts — alters foundation of values, which is needed to produce energy. Guilt, anger drain energy.
C. Identify the additional events/stressors in your life (unrelated to the addiction).Example - Additional Stressors That I am Having to Deal With:
- Teenage son is having trouble with drugs/alcohol
- Financial crisis threatens the need to file for bankruptcy
- Medical condition...you get the idea.
D. Write yourself a compassionate letter that emphasizes the reality of the situation that you face.
More than anything, this letter should represent a personal understanding that you are doing the best that you can, given the emotional and physical resources you have available to you. The focus of this letter is not on your partner's behavior, nor the consequences of that behavior. Instead, it is to focus on the reality of where you find yourself today — and where you are headed. The tone should be positive and written to yourself — as if you were the only one that will ever read it.
This has not been an easy time in my life. I am still trying to cope with my father's death, and then I discover my wife having engaged in numerous affairs over the past year. It just isn't fair. I have tried so hard to live a good, moral life, so why is this happening to me? Why am I being challenged like this?
I guess the answer really doesn't matter...as all that does matter is that I am being challenged, and I know that there is only one option...and that is for me to step up and meet that challenge. But I so badly want to just give up — to be content in sleeping the rest of my life away. But what kind of life would that really be? Not the kind that I want to live, that's for sure. So, I must push forward. And this is how I'm going to do it...
Continue on to outline a general overview of how you will go about making the changes that need to be made in your life to overcome the situation that you find yourself in. Address any real symptoms of situational depression that you may be facing. If you are uncertain as to how to deal with something specific, do a little research, or ask for feedback in the Partner's Support Forum.