DEAR KELLY: I’m sad all the time, and I don’t know why. For some reason I just start crying sometimes and I can’t stop. I feel tired a lot and I never want to go out with my friends because everyone seems so happy and I don’t wanna be fake. When I told my mom this, she said that I’m normal and no one my age is happy like they appear to be. I should just fake it like they do.
Kelly, I can’t fake it because it’s been going on for like four months. I feel miserable and I have no reason why. If I had my way, I would sleep all day or just lie in bed and listen to music or watch Netflix. My mom made me go out to dinner with my family for my grandma’s birthday and I wanted to cry the whole time. I had to put on a happy face all night so my grandma doesn’t worry about me.
My mom says all teenagers go through depressing times and it’s normal. But to be honest, I don’t feel normal. I feel weird. I asked my friends and some of them say they have never felt this bad. My friends know that something is wrong with me. One of my friends told me to try smoking, but I’m kind of scared that if I do it and it makes me feel better, I’ll become a total pot head. My mom thinks that coming out of my room or hanging out with my cousins or friends will make me feel better, but it doesn’t.
Do you have any advice for me?
Lost And Not Happy
DEAR LOST: I’m glad you reached out. Your mom is right, most teenagers go through a period in their life where they might have alternating moods or a period where they feel sad or emotionally overwhelmed. That is normal. Where we get concerned is when it lasts as long as yours has. Feeling sad and depressed for four months is a long time to feel so bad with no relief. Reaching out for help is the first step, so good for you to ask for advice or to figure out if this is “normal.”
Start by going to see your family doctor. She (or he) can run blood tests to see if this is related to any body chemistry issues (such as thyroid or hormone imbalances). Once she sees all your lab work, she can determine the best possible direction to point you in so you stop feeling this bad. Some possibilities are that she might send you to see a psychotherapist first to determine if the depression is related to any stresses or outside issues you haven’t talked about and could be affecting your mood. She might have you go talk with a psychiatrist to consider medication that can help with the depression. Some primary care doctors feel comfortable in treating depression, so she might talk about medication, diet, exercise or sleep.
Regardless of your doctor’s decision, always start with a medical professional first so she can look for any organic issues that might be having an effect on your mood.
Since I am unsure of your age or your gender, there are factors related to those that might play into your mood as well. If you are a female, issues such as menstruation can cause depression or taking certain medications such as birth control pills, acne medicine or steroids can alter your emotions as well. Your family history also needs to be evaluated so they can look at any genetic tendencies you might have toward mood disorders. Your family doctor should talk about all of these with you as she does the evaluation and comes up with a plan on how to help you.
One thing I do know is that smoking is not the best answer for you. Self-medicating yourself is not a smart decision. Getting a quick fix to feel better for a few hours will not treat the depression, it will only numb it. If you are clinically depressed, you need to treat the illness (not suppress the emotions) and that requires looking for more than short-term relief.
As much as your room seems comforting and safe, you need to force yourself to get up and outside. Exercise is a powerful tool for dealing with depression. The research has shown that physical activity, even just taking your dog on a walk or going on a slow bike ride, can release stress and relieve muscle tension, which can have a positive effect on depression. Even if you feel drained of energy or motivation, resist the urge to lie in bed all day, even if you just get up in small 10-minute increments and move around the house.
I am sorry you are hurting so bad. Please know that these feelings will not last forever. Reach out to people who can help you right now – friends, family or professionals. Surround yourself with those people who care and can help you find healthy ways to boost your mood. You can heal and you can move on without sadness in your life. Start with one step at a time and celebrate small achievements as you move toward feeling better about yourself and your life.