Severe depression is the most widespread psychological disorder in the Western world. This disabling condition arises for different reasons and affects diverse communities. As a group, women experience more stressors than men because women often shoulder the burdens of family and friends as as well as their own. Short-term frustration or sadness is normal. If distress lasts for weeks or more, its wise to consult health professionals. The profiles below were chosen from surveys to 300 women about their experiences with esteem, self-image, and fear. We welcome our readers to share comments about their own lives. What do you learn about yourself?
Jean, a lawyer who knew public t.v. success, lived through both depression and anorexia. She succumbed to pressure from herself, her peers, producers and her audience. “I ignored my need for emotional support. The show consumed me.” For a time, ratings soared. Clients poured into her office, boosting her esteem. She pushed herself hard. “I desired approval and grew insecure. My expectations rose too high.” She couldn’t keep everyone happy. Her life fell apart. Her work-a-holism and competitiveness led to divorce. She felt guilty about neglecting her son and family. When her show was cut, her esteem plummeted. “I was miserable. I felt like a failure. I lost my appetite, but I didn’t notice until I was very thin. I considered suicide.” Public success was short-lived. She would cry inexplicably. “I wondered why I pushed ahead? My inner voice encouraged me, said I could do better. But I was repeatedly disappointed.” It was hard to motivate herself, to refine her identity. “In searching for an acceptable self-image, I suffered depression then anorexia. I almost died.” Once she admitted her mental illness, she sought help. Treatment and time away from the city enabled her to renew. Dating again builds her confidence.
Helen, a highly-educated, stay-at-home mom, admits struggling with a negative attitude and clinical depression. “I would like to be more positive, but my workaholic father and life experiences make that hard.” She moved to a foreign country to complete graduate school. She married and stayed abroad. Motherhood alone has been unsatisfying. “I attend playgroups with other moms. Some gave up careers like medicine to raise their kids. They devote time to school committees and volunteer causes. At times, I feel so tired and empty.” Helen has undergone psychotherapy, but she discontinued treatment. She felt it was emotionally too difficult. “I didn’t like what learned about myself. It was scary.” A miscarriage caused her to see her life differently. She feels more grateful for her toddler son and finds new meaning in life.
Jasmine, a budding art therapist, gained weight as a result of taking medications for her mental illness. “My children are growing. I wish to do something career-wise.” She doesn’t wish to wallow in grief. “Losing my parents hurt me terribly. Watching children suffer in news is heartbreaking. It’s hard to concentrate. My energy increases over time.”
Ashley, a freelance journalist, has experienced low-esteem due to long-time of criticism about her abilities. Members of her family have suffered depression. Her hidden fear of failure leads her to express a constant level of enthusiasm. “I’m mostly optimistic, but some people think I’m phony.” Insecurity relates less to how people perceive her to how she sees herself. “I was a chubby teen with crooked teeth. Fixing my teeth inspired me to smile more. Becoming more physically fit built my confidence.” She wishes to empower women who struggle with critical self-evaluation. Reproduction issues still get her down. “If success and happiness are measured by having children, I might feel a failure. In developing my career, I haven’t met suitable partners.” Ashley has seen her ambition intimidates men. “I’m productive and get things done. At work, I’ve found it’s acceptable to be told what to do. I’ve also learned it’s useful to question authority.” Ashley doesn’t fear success. Yet, her view of it changes, making it harder to achieve.
Claire, an advisor, has a family history of depression. Her esteem issues led her to seek therapy. “I try to focus on having good relationships, but they’re measured by signs of affluence. I fear I’m unable to measure up.” Claire has struggled with her self-image. She measures her success by how she masters skills and helps others. She rarely socializes and admits, “I find it hard to even feel motivated. I don't like myself much.” She defines her limitations based on external criticism. “I see how people around me judge women. They attribute failure to gender.” Claire doesn’t like being watched and evaluated. “I’m very self conscious. I worry that others will see me fail while I’m just trying to learn. She wonders how women over-achieve. Her expectations are contrary to her conscience. She fears both financial failure and success, and has known neither. “Failure would leave me unable to take care of myself. I worry success is just an illusion that doesn’t truly reflect my values. In my daily life, it’s very hard to find role models to emulate who reflect my values. Most have such extreme lives and sacrifices that I don't feel I can achieve them.”
Joanne, a spiritual housewife, moved to the U.S. from the Philippines. She tries to focus on married life while she feels restless. She has known a cultural identity crisis. “I pray each day and try to be a good wife.” Her sense of success is closely linked to her education and striving to think positively. Prayer enables her to deal with feelings of helplessness. “I perceive myself as an achiever with no room for failure. So, when difficult times come, I tend to sulk.” Her parents’ careers and marriage set her lofty goals. Joanne’s sense of failure clarifies itself in bad decisions she perceives around her. “I compare myself to my school alumni’s achievements.” Joanne fears both success and failure, but she tries to let go to leave the rest to God. “If bad things happen to my family, like sickness, difficulties, I feel worse.” She reads self-help books to improve herself. She also strives to interact with people who inspire her with their own survival, people “who lead a good and righteous life.” Her biggest disappointments go back to the failure of her plans. She admits she forgets that "Higher Forces guide oportunities for healing."
Eboni, a farmer’s housewife, has experienced depression. She struggles to define her identity separate from motherhood. Her children are grown. She has become more involved in her community. Making friends and socializing helps. “I’ve found self-help meeting groups do a lot to help build my self-esteem. I read inspirational self-help books about women who beat the odds.”
Ella, a nurse and sports coach, dips in and out of depression. She turns to drinking to help deal with uncomfortable emotions and stress of work. She experienced low moods regarding her dad’s death. She was overtired and less interested in her typical activities. She recognizes that she fears uncertainty. Ending an unfulfilling, ten year relationship gave her new strength. “The last straw was when he bought a motorbike rather than an engagement ring.” New romance also builds her confidence. She juggles jobs to achieve financial freedom. “But I don’t like nursing now. It’s hard on my back.” Physical injuries contribute to her sense of failure. Physiotherapy and counseling are helping her rise out of her intermittent depression.
Terry, a former hospital employee, frequently feels overwhelmed by piles of tasks. She admits she is discouraged by her personal life and feels all she has ever done is make mistakes. She dwells on what went wrong, what will likely go wrong or what is wrong with herself as a person. Her energy is drained by shouldering close family responsibilities. Her strategy to beat depression has been to turn to prayer and also to devote part of her life to helping the less fortunate.
Leslie, an elementary school teacher, has become more depressed since a fire consumed her house and created sizable debt. “I no longer put in 100%, or I do too much, feel overwhelmed and incapable. In general, I don’t fear failure. I’ve succeeded and failed. Each failure strengthens me.” Her confidence wavers when she is preoccupied with external approval. “I also feel depressed when I exert effort and receive little response. That can crush me!” Her personal life has had its ups and downs. In the past, her esteem sank due to irreconcilable differences with family members. “My step-mom and I didn’t get along. Dealing with adversity has been trying. “My life is harder than its ever been.” She's hopeful she'll make it through.
Judy, an website entrepreneur, fell in depression as the result of the impact of Hurricane Katrina. That storm destroyed her home, most of her possessions and many business files. For a time, she drove out of state and lived in her car. Come what may, Judy defines personal success as, “doing the right thing.” To overcome lingering sadness, she aims to surround herself with survivors. “I minimize contact with ‘losers.’” One example of why this is hard relates to a close friend addicted to QVC. “She has ordered $40,000 worth of goods from the shopping network in the last year.” Feeling unwilling to leave friends with self-defeating behavior pulls Judy down, but she tries to focus on what she can control. “The stakes are not high in my life right now. I’m not trying to accomplish great things, nor is there anything I could really lose.” Overcoming setbacks and depression means learning not to be intimidated by new things. “I just figure out how to do them.” Her restlessness led her to alcohol. Drinking makes her happy and then sad. She tries to forget difficult life. To improve esteem, she says, “I aim to stop impulsive eating and drink less.”
Yamina is a Muslim housewife with low self-confidence. She associates success with positive thinking and support from her husband and family. She would like to start a small business, but she lacks faith in herself. She feels “pressure and expectations from her society.” Her father encourages her to overcome negative thinking. She is strongly affected by failures by close family members. “I fear failure because of how it may stop me from moving on and on whether or not I will be able to rise again from the fall.” She dwells on the death of loved ones. “I also regret not taking initiatives and not becoming what I could have.” She wishes to eliminate these anxieties.
As you can read above, these profiles reveal some low self-esteem is a common symptom women describe as a contributing factor to their depression. Each woman’s experience is her own. Low confidence is often linked to struggles with fear and control. If you experience depression or know someone who does, you may sense this condition evolves as women strive to achieve material success, as women seek external recognition and acceptance, or as the result of their experience with relationships.
In essence, as a group, women who experience depression struggle with happiness and contentment. They fear failing to reach their goals, or failing to meet other people’s standards. A woman’s understanding of success may be linked to peer approval rather than to her own lessons. Conditioning rarely teaches a woman to define her success in terms of how she acts to make life better for herself as she sees fit rather than based on external influences. Women multi-task because its expected. They may over-nurture because they’re taught to be overly emotional.
If you assume control is key, be aware success and happiness are more about letting go of all your taught. Women can only control themselves, not time, how others react, not longevity or mortality. If your morale is consistently low, consider taking on-line depression tests. Clinical depression is a condition determined by professional diagnosis. Intermittent low spirits are sometimes viewed as depression, adopted as a label or part of an identity. As you raise your own awareness of why you think and feel as you do, you're also in a position to encourage yourself and others and also feel your way to remember love is the ultimate solution.
"Sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands. The reasons for depression are not so interesting as the way one handles it, simply to stay alive." -May Sarton