In Mourning | by Linda Sherby, Ph. D, ABPP

11/18/2020 6:27 PM | Anonymous

"In Mourning," a patient returns to therapy after the death of his mother, struggling with a depression he cannot shake.

“Well, I’m back,” David says morosely. “I thought I could at least make it a couple of years without seeing you, but there’s no way. I can’t stand myself any more. I knew I’d have to see you virtually too, which only makes it worse, but I just can’t get myself out of this depression.”

“Do you know what’s gotten you so depressed?”

“Yeah, my mother died of Covid in April.”

“I’m so sorry, David. Yet another victim of the pandemic.”

“Yup! I mean, I know my mother was 92, and her health wasn’t the best, but she still had all her marbles. And of course, just like in the news, she died alone in the facility.” Pause. “I feel so incredibly depressed. And you must think I’m nuts since I had such a difficult relationship with my mother. You’d think I’d be, I don’t know, relieved, or something.”

“What do you feel?”

“Lost.” Pause. “That sounds crazy when I say it. My mother was so suffocating. I was always trying to get away from her. And now I feel lost without her?”

“But when you were a little boy, you felt your mother as the only loving presence in your house. And she was a huge protector. She protected you against your father, she protected you against your older brothers.”

“But I’m not a little boy any more.”

“Except that you carry that little boy inside you as an adult, just as we all carry our child selves with us.”

“So you think that’s why I’m depressed?”

“I think you’re in mourning so it’s not surprising you’d be sad, but the depression seems as though it’s more than that.”

“So what it is?”

“You know, David, it’s interesting that you look to me to tell you what your depression is about. That may be another indication of how lost you’re feeling, looking to me for answers that reside in you.”

“That’s true.” Pause. “I want you to tell me what’s wrong and make it go away. I know therapy doesn’t work like that. But it’s like I’m too depressed to even do the work I know I have to do.” Pause. “Please help me.” Pause. “I sound like a sniveling baby!”

“Well right then, you sounded like your Dad berating you, rather than being able to have compassion for yourself.”

“That’s true!”   

“So you’re mad at yourself for feeling depressed.”

“Definitely. I thought we fixed me. That my depression would be gone forever.”

“So, David, do you think you’re also mad at me? Mad that I didn’t fix you.”

Hanging his head, he nods. “Yeah. When my depression came back, I started questioning whether therapy had made any difference at all. When Covid first hit I felt very different. I felt that as was coping with all the stress and insanity and that I was a good support for both my wife and daughters. In the beginning we were all living together. My daughters came back from college, my wife was teaching from home, and I was doing my accounting from home too. It was kind of crazy, but sort of fun too. Felt like we were whole, a big, happy family again.  And I wasn’t allowed to see my mother so that took away my worry about whether too much time had passed and whether I had to go see her. Now my daughters are back at college, although they’re still doing most of their courses virtually, my wife is back teaching and I’m back in my office although I still meet with clients virtually. And obviously my mother is dead so I don’t have to worry about seeing her.”

“Sounds like you are feeling a lot of loss, not only of your mother, but also your big, happy family.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Like there’s this void.” Pause. “And I turned 60. That didn’t feel good at all. Made me feel old. The time I have left in my life is getting shorter and shorter.” Pause, “I guess my mother’s death added to that feeling.”

“So there’s loss everywhere.”

“Definitely.”

“I notice though, that as soon as you acknowledged your anger at me and your lack of compassion towards yourself, you were able to start doing to the work, start looking at what was going on in your life that’s been contributing to your depression.”

“That’s true.” Pause. “I just wanted to ask you if that means I’ll stop being depressed.”

I smile. “I think with the loss of your mother, it’s easy for you to want to put me in the place of the mother who can make everything all right. I’m sure you have lots of feelings about your mother’s death, as well as issues about the inevitable passage of time.”

“Just hearing you say that made me depressed again.”

“I’m sorry. But sounds like that’s an issue we’ll definitely have to address.”  


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