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‘I have everything so why am I depressed?’

Hi, Christine. I’m calling myself ‘Emily’, but it’s not my real name. My problem is that I feel very low. And I hate this in myself because I feel it’s a weakness.  I’m 34 and happily married. I have a career in politics and everything should be fine, but I’m miserable. I work long hours and am normally a buoyant and energetic person, but I now feel as though I never have time to myself yet I never want to go anywhere. I’m just completely overwhelmed as well as unhappy. Can you help me? 

Christine: This sounds awful.  What is the worst thing about feeling like you do?   

Emily: I pride myself on being tough and capable, but I don’t recognise myself at the moment.

Christine: That must be very disorienting. It sounds lonely too. Have you spoken to anyone about your feelings?

Emily: Just my doctor.

Christine: What about your husband?

Emily: Well, he knows that I’ve seen the doctor and I’ve told him I’m stressed. But I haven’t admitted how awful I feel. I don’t really want to tell anyone. I’m so ashamed. And I feel I’m letting myself down as well as everyone else.

Christine: I’m sure you’ve heard that Churchill used to get depressed, and that he named his condition the ‘black dog’. Do you feel that he was a shameful person who let himself down and everyone around him?

Emily: No of course not. In fact he’s one of the people I most admire.

Christine: So, you don’t feel he was shameful in any way even though he felt very low at times?

Emily: No.

Christine: What about modern public figures – Alastair Campbell, say? Or Stephen Fry? They have been open about their battles with mental illness. Do you think they are shameful, or that they let people down?

Emily: No.

Christine: What about a colleague or your husband? If they were stressed or depressed would you feel they were shameful or letting others down?

Emily: No, I’d be sorry that they were unhappy.

Christine: So, it seems to me that you are much harder on yourself than you ever would be on anyone else.

Emily: Other people have told me I’m hard on myself.


Christine: Would you be equally ashamed and hard on yourself if you had a physical illness?

Emily: No. It would be inconvenient but I wouldn’t be upset. It’s because this is a mental thing …

Christine: Do you know why this is so upsetting for you?

Emily: Maybe it’s to do with my mother. She was very neurotic. She often got depressed when I was a child, and she was rather removed from me when that happened. She was also very sorry for herself …

Christine: So, are you worried you’re like your mother?

Emily: Possibly.

Christine: How like her are you?

Emily: Well … I’m  miserable, but to be honest, I don’t think I am like her. I’m much more like my dad, who is a great achiever.

Christine: Is it possible then that on top of your depressed feelings you are also upset at the thought that you might somehow be turning into your mother?

Emily: You may have put your finger on it there. I would hate, hate, hate to be like her.

Christine: If you asked all your friends and your family – everyone in fact who knows you  well – how many of them would say: ‘You’re just like your mother!’

Emily: That question actually makes me smile. No one would say that.

Christine: Well sadly, we haven’t time to go into this here, but it does sound like you have real problems with your mother-daughter relationship.

Emily: Definitely!

Christine: I think it’s possible that you may want to get help with that at some point. But in the meantime, what I think is wrong with you – and this is not a scientific term – is burnout. You work very long hours, and I bet that you have too few holidays, too few pleasant distractions, not enough exercise, insufficient sleep – and you may not be eating healthily enough either.

Emily: Burn-out? Well maybe that’s true. You’re certainly right about my life. You’ve just described how it is, I’m afraid.

Christine: What help has your doctor offered?

Emily: She gave me anti-depressants but I didn’t like taking them. I don’t like taking pills. Also they made me feel odd. So now she’s referred me for CBT {Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] and I feel happier about that.

Christine: Good. I agree that that is an excellent way to help you now. I’m sure you’ll be a good candidate for it. Basically, CBT, or cognitive behaviour therapy, helps us to examine and change those thoughts that are getting in the way of rational thinking and good mental health. There’s an excellent explanation of what it is, and how it works, on the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ website.

Emily:  I’ll read it.

Christine: Now, can we come back to your desire to keep your feelings to yourself? You see, if you confided in someone – like your husband or a friend – you might feel less overwhelmed and lonely.

Emily: I think you’ve helped me to see my problem in a slightly different way, so it might not feel so difficult now to tell someone.

Christine: Anyone can feel bad like you. It happens to masses of people – particularly those who are good at their careers and so engrossed in them that they let the rest of their lives get seriously out of balance. We all need time for ourselves, as well as healthy food, and exercise and sleep. We’re not machines!

Emily: Possibly, I have been a bit hard on myself …

Chrsitine: Just a bit!

Emily:  Well, thank you. I feel a bit more sense of perspective now and I also realise I’m more normal than I thought!

Christine: Good. So, try the CBT and let me know how it goes. Best of luck!   

Read more about CBT :

Which talking treatment to I need?


6 ways to break free from ANXIETY

‘Therapy cured my extreme phobia’

christine_webber-33Christine Webber is a former TV news presenter. Since 1995, she has been an award-winning health writer. She is also a psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. She holds diplomas in integrative psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. And she also has numerous coaching qualifications.  Christine is the author of 12 self-help and therapy books, including How to Mend a Broken Heart.  Find out more at

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