Depression: “I’m Happy for You” When You Can’t Feel Happy
A few years ago a good friend of mind got married. She was a beautiful bride. I thought she looked like she just walked out of a bridal magazine. And she was an extremely happy bride too. I think it couldn’t have been a better day and situation for her.
I was one of her bridesmaids. This was extremely hard on me as, at the time, I was in a major depression and I couldn’t feel happiness. I was anhedonic. I couldn’t feel positive emotions of any sort. And to see my radiant friend be deliriously happy and get married to a wonderful man was just too much for me. It made my depression so much worse. I just couldn’t feel happy for her because I couldn’t feel happy at all. All I felt was incredibly upset for me.
Feeling Happy When You’re Depressed
Not everyone is anhedonic when depressed, but I sure get that way so it’s just not possible for me to feel happy – ever. No matter what good might happen in my life, I just can’t feel it. People don’t understand this. People think it’s impossible. Regular, feeling people don’t understand how you can have a positive-feeling-ectomy. But you can. It’s anhedonia and it’s absolutely real.
Feeling More Depressed about Not Feeling Happy
And, at the time of the wedding, I was alone. I didn’t have a partner to lean on and I didn’t have any love in my life that was like what my friend was experiencing, so seeing all her happiness just made me feel bad about my own life. I wanted, desperately, to feel happy for her as she’s a wonderful human being and her and her then fiancé deserve all the happiness they can possibly wring out of life. I believe that.
Not feeling happy for her made me feel even worse. I knew I should feel happy. I knew it was horrible for me not to. But I couldn’t I just, physically, couldn’t.
And honestly, at the time I self-harmed because it was the only way I could make it through all the wedding events. I had to self-harm just to prop myself up enough to go to the rehearsals and the wedding itself.
What I’ve Learn about Not Being Happy for Others
What I didn’t realize then, though, was that there was nothing inherently wrong with me for not being happy. I had an illness and it was preventing me from, physically, feeling what a normal person would feel – that doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with me, it meant there was something wrong with my brain. What I’ve learned since then is that while it’s incredibly painful to not feel happy for others, I have to go easy on myself and not beat myself for not being able to feel what I simply can’t, physically, feel. I know that my friend would have never wanted me to feel even more depressed because of her happiness. I know she never would have wanted to make me worse. So, given that, there is no need, in any way, for me to make myself worse and if I can avoid it, it is to everyone’s benefit.
So go easy if you can’t feel happy for someone else. It sucks, and it’s normal for it to make you feel more depressed, but by not beating yourself up, you can mitigate it, at least to some degree. Recognize the problem for what it is – a symptom of an illness and not something wrong with you.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.