Dear Neil: I feel sad and empty. I was never loved as a child, and I do not have the bonds I should have had. The non-existence of love in my family and the coldness has just made me numb, and I feel numb all the time. I am also a cancer survivor. I fear I will never meet anyone and that I will wind up roaming the earth empty. I haven’t even been able to pray anymore.
Hopeless in Houston
Dear Hopeless: Here are some of the classic warning signs of depression, which it sounds as if you fit: distancing from family and friends; feeling discouraged; feeling low energy consistently; losing interest in your appearance; feeling angry and resentful a lot; finding fewer things enjoyable; disengaging in activities you used to find fun; bingeing on food (or losing interest in food altogether and not eating); relying on alcohol or mind altering drugs to get through your day; getting irritated or agitated easily; trouble sleeping (or the opposite, sleeping way too much); losing interest in former activities, leisure pursuits, recreational activities, amusements and things you were once were enthusiastic about; feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem; dropping out of community or social activities; losing sight of your future goals, or losing interest in trying to make those goals happen.
There are ways out of feeling helpless and hopeless, and they require that you take action in several ways:
- Be physically active (take walks, hikes, and so on).
- Eat healthy (and don’t overeat or eat too little).
- Repeatedly engage with other people.
- Reach out for support and connection (from friends, a church group, a therapist or a support group).
- Go to your doctor for a medical checkup. It could be that a medical condition is zapping your energy, or an antidepressant medication could help you feel better.
- Keep a written journal. Many people find it comforting having someone or something to talk to.
- Do something fun. Go dancing, play pool, go hiking, sign up for a tennis class, learn to knit or crochet, learn to juggle, take a harmonica class, go to a comedy club. Try something new.
- Create some goals you want to pursue, and actively go after accomplishing them. What do you still want to accomplish or experience before you die? Perhaps you cannot afford to go to Paris, but you could begin saving for it. Also, now might be the time to pursue learning a new language or furthering your education.
- Look at what’s right in your life. It’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong that we sometimes forget to look at what’s right.
- Get help. Depression is curable and therapy might help you heal some of your childhood wounds.
- Go to events where you are likely to meet people, and force yourself to be outgoing.
- If you find religion comforting, join a religious community and go to the various events offered.