Do You Have Situational Depression? ~ Felicia Bender

Via Felicia Bender, Ph.D.
on Aug 25, 2014
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The first time I suffered a bout of depression, I was 11 years old.

I didn’t put a diagnostic name to this insidious condition until I was well into my 40s. In fact, I considered the feelings associated with these moments in my life to be more like “occurrences,” or a momentary rupture which was more of a indictment of my own lack of effort to buck up and fly right.

During my fifth grade year, my mother divorced my father. She moved from California to a small town in Missouri, leaving my older sister and I behind to go on a road trip down the coast of Baja, California with our father.

I’d never been away from her before. And I’d never spent that much time directly with my father and sister.

I remember the moving van leaving, then my mother in the passenger seat of her car with her sister driving and my younger sister in the back seat with our tranquilized Siamese cat, who was ensconced inside of a bird cage.

As they drove away, my mother wept (as she often did) and I experienced a sense of terror and despair that I’d never felt before. Usually easygoing, instead I heard myself screaming as I ran beside the moving car, pounding on the window and begging her to stop.

My depression landed in my 11-year-old world when I found myself traveling with my father, who was never a constant or easy figure in my life. I found myself traveling for a full four weeks inside the cab of an El Camino with jugs of water, a Coleman stove and a case of Spaghetti-O’s in the back.

I was feeling a sense of numbness and detachment that I’d never felt before. I remember sleeping a lot and even feeling disengaged to the point of hopelessness. And I was only in fifth grade.

My second direct encounter with depression made an entrance during my first semester of college.

I’d received little guidance or support in choosing a college and found myself in another State (definitely what I wanted), at a private Catholic School (uh, not what I wanted), with my work-study assignment in the cafeteria (my worst nightmare).

Toward the middle of the semester, I started feeling listless. I was a generally adaptable person, yet toward the end of the semester, I found myself lying on my bed for hours, too lethargic to do more than the bare essentials.

I made the decision to transfer out of school at the end of the semester and was able to withstand the verbal thrashing I received from my department head. After I moved back home, I took a full-time job at McDonald’s and went to night classes until I could make a productive choice about a University.

My third prolonged encounter with depression invaded my life during my marriage.

I began to feel the relationship unravel, yet wasn’t in any way prepared to deal with the ramifications. This bout of depression moved in and out like that green slime kids get at the toy store. It felt as though the slime would enter and exit at will. As I think about it, I can say that—for me—depression even smelled like the green goo.

This series of emotional negotiations lasted longer than the others. There were children involved. Promises made, concessions and expectations to be wrangled.

It wasn’t until a couples counselor made the bugle-like announcement that “You’re suffering from depression!” did I ever place my feelings and experiences into that box. In some ways, it was a relief. In some ways, I rejected it. I could see that I wasn’t a person who was perpetually depressed. I seemed to suffer from situational depression.

What did that mean to me? It played out as feelings of clinical depression based upon my inability to allow myself to speak—and act upon—my truth. Without justification. Without self-flagellation. Without putting everyone’s expectations in front of my own.

When I found myself unable to step out of a confining situation, that’s when I would experience very real depression.

What I continue to discover is that this type of depression is extremely widespread.

These feelings exist in the lives of high-functioning people who you’d never suspect would suffer from the debilitating, internal, soul-crushing numbness that they carry around with them.

With the current conversation about depression heating up, it’s useful to acknowledge the myriad of expressions of it, how it infiltrates all ages, and why it’s important to grapple with ways to overcome its debilitating grip.

I don’t have a list of “Five Easy Steps to Eliminate Depression” for you. Yet I’ve found that when I’m feeling this way, I ask myself this simple question. Then, I have to be brave and courageous enough to answer it and do something about it:

“What are you depressing—what are you holding down in your life?”

Only when I allow myself to embrace inevitable change and growth do the fumes of depression escape from their holding tank and evaporate into nothing.



How Depression Serves Us.


What is it Really like to be Depressed (And why You need to Know it). 

And, when you feel it, here’s how to work through it:

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Milou Krietemeijer-Dirks/Pixoto


One more bonus: Byron Katie on how to do The Work:


About Felicia Bender, Ph.D.

Felicia Bender, Ph.D. is The Practical Numerologist and author of Redesign Your Life: Using Numerology To Create The Wildly Optimal You. She offers inspired guidance that goes beyond the numbers and into how to live your most purposeful and enthralling life. A Theatre geek and drummer, Felicia walks on the creative side whenever possible. Get your monthly NumberScope and more inspiration at her site and on FaceBook.


11 Responses to “Do You Have Situational Depression? ~ Felicia Bender”

  1. Harmony says:

    This story echoes my life in a frighteningly direct way. Childhood, college, New York, and now in marriage I have experienced the life sucking darkness of my own fear and anger – tho I’m a high-functioning, optimistic, leader in my real life…. I’m in the thick of it now. Unable to escape… I know it will pass and I’m grateful that you wrote of your own experience. But what now?

  2. Ah, the "what now?" I have found that it takes making active decisions (gentle ones, ones that take timing into account, and all of that) that allow you to step into your true sense of who you are and what you authentically need at this juncture in your life. And that shifts with time and experience. Of course there's no short nor easy answer – yet the simplicity I find is to continue to learn to trust yourself and your feelings and then engage and act according to that. Not in a "if it feels good do it" momentary zone-out of escape; yet rather in a deep-down feeling of "contentment" in the midst of whatever challenges you're facing. When you observe that you "know it will pass," you're faced with the opportunity to make decisions that are more in alignment with what you truly value in your life – and that can be as monumental as getting a divorce or as seemingly trivial as speaking your truth to a family member. Much more to say, yet that's my initial response to your question. I wish you the absolute best as you navigate it all.

  3. Ginestra says:

    Be very careful HARMONY, as I always used to force myself to continue the battle through extremely demanding work and family responsibilities – knowing that it would eventually pass. What started out in my teens as perhaps a couple of months, however, gradually grew in length each time I suffered another episode until my dark periods began to outweigh my healthy ones. What I didn't understand was, fighting through it instead of dealing with it was causing some very long term damage that could never be repaired.

    Watching this lecture, in particular the effect of my body being continually overwhelmed by the stress hormone cortisol, was my "aha" moment……but wished I had been able to have this information decades before it was researched.

  4. Katherine says:

    i recognise this- it makes total sense to me. and I love the question you ask at the end. I feel that I could benefit from having read this. thanks.

  5. Katie says:

    this completely describes it: "When I found myself unable to step out of a confining situation, that’s when I would experience very real depression." and something I'm dealing with now. Being stuck and trying so, so hard to change my situation and start a career but making no forward progress and feeling completely hopeless has me in a deep depression that is affecting me mentally, physically, and my relationship. It's definitely something I've experienced before and your article helps clarify it. Now to solve it!

  6. It is really a nice post.In the early age almost all people suffers from situational depression.If anyone wanted to take depression test, you can easily check yourself weather you suffer from depression or not ref.

  7. Jessica F. says:

    I suspect it may be more complicated than this, because episodic depression (cause) can also result in that stuck feeling (effect). Nobody recognized my depression when I was a teenager, because my parents were divorcing I was allowed and expected to be off-kilter. But I distinctly remember feeling, the day before I found out about my parents: "I wish something in my life was seriously WRONG so I'd have a reason for feeling so depressed!"

    A similar depressive episode happened when newly married, and a decade later before I finally went to a doctor and started taking anti-depressants. The medication has been life-changing for me, allowing me to enjoy more than mere existence. But certainly, being able to do something about their situation can help some people pull out of depression. For others, the medication provides the energy lift needed to be able to do something different. Of course the risk of suicide is a serious concern– with or without medication– so monitoring is very important!

  8. Janet says:

    Thank you. This echoes my life, only I didn't know what it was until now. Knowing what it is is only have of the equation, finding a solution is the other half.

  9. Aaron says:

    Thank you for posting! It really struck me that although you have been dealing with this since 11 years old, you only put a name on it in your 40’s. As someone who has dealt with similar issues, and been confused with them for years, it made me feel at home to know that your journey took decades, and that my own personal journey can proceed at its own speed and still be ok.

  10. swiceGOODyoga says:

    I immediately want to say holy shit I'm not alone. I'm clearly situationally depressed right now. I hate my job and can't get out. I went to law school and spent all this money and feel expected to fit this "role". I was also very depressed my first year of college because I had never been very independent. I wasn't ready and was forced again to live up to societies expectations of what I was supposed to want to do- party and hang out when really I was so homesick and emotionally fragile. Even more it was not expected and ok for me to say I was depressed. I was given nice things including a great education and loving family- what did I have to be depressed about. Thanks for helping me put my feelings into words.

  11. Jersey Girl says:

    I had been using this term for years, seeming to “pass the buck” to something outside of myself to those who didn’t know me well and tried to figure me out. A formerly optimistic person with a sunny attitude, I’ve had close to ten years of grey situational depression. All of it starting when I moved from one state to another, Jersey to Florida, to start a new life with my partner. On the heels of that, I lost the rest of my already small immediate family, my brother and then my mother. Although once very close to my family, I now feel as if I’ve faded away to the rest of the remaining relatives as I suffer from a fear of flying and hardly get up north. So I feel stuck, many miles away from all that gave me an identity… and of course it all affects the relationship… Situational, completely situational. I am depressing me by staying…and brooding on all the miles that keep me distanced from those I love. The longer time goes by the harder it becomes and the less I feel the happiness inside. is not even a thought at this point. Yes, situational.

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