Are You Pathologizing Normal Emotions? It’s Not Always a Mental Illness

“Don’t believe everything you think.” ~Unknown

The acceptance of mental illness is growing in society. That’s great, but there’s a downside that we need to talk about. Mental illness is not all bad. It is time to stop judging every feeling.

Pathologizing all is referring to the act of diagnosing every feeling that comes up. It’s great to be self-aware, but I think we are taking that a little too far and it’s causing more depression and anxiety.

Yes. I did say that we take self-awareness to far. I stand by that, but I’ll explain the reasoning behind my belief. It is normal to experience a variety of emotions. Normal emotions include sadness, anger or irritability.

Because society has become more open to mental illnesses, it is now easier for us to identify any discomfort as mental illness. At the first sign that we feel emotional pain, we diagnose ourselves with any mental illness.

This makes us feel so bad. We don’t need anything additional to make us feel like we’re screwed up! We already feel it often enough.

Before you start listing all the reasons I’m wrong or how my view could be damaging, let me give you some examples. If you read them and agree, this could help you see that you and your feelings are more “normal” than you may think.

One of my friends was buying his first house. I heard him tell me that the whole process was stressful and that it was difficult for him to do everything he wanted.

It was obvious that he was stressed.

Because he has had a history with generalized anxiety disorder in the past, any anxiety he experiences makes him afraid that the disorder will come back.

That’s a logical and valid fear. Anyone who’s ever suffered from clinical anxiety will know how frightening it can be to think about its return.

He was overlooking something very crucial. Buying a house, especially your first house, will always come with some “anxious-type” feelings.

Normalizing feelings is something that all people should be able do in the same circumstances. It is possible to make difficult feelings worse by panicking at their first sign.

A few weeks back, I slept 12 hours straight for twelve consecutive nights. No energy nor motivation, I woke up one morning with zero energy. I still didn’t want to get out of bed after twelve hours of sleep.

It is something that I find incredibly unusual. I typically wake up at 4:00 AM to work on my second job. My family sleeps so I have time to do my work.

My husband woke me up at 5:45 am, which was a bit later than usual. I told him I was just so tired and didn’t feel like doing anything, which is uncharacteristic of me.

I felt “blah” and just wanted to stay in bed all day doing nothing. So, thirty minutes after waking up, that’s exactly what I did.

Because nothing seemed good to me, my husband convinced me to have dinner. I didn’t even want my normal glass of wine that evening.

The next morning, I woke up feeling blah again and couldn’t shake it. I was determined to play and function with my child.

It was almost like he was feeling the same way as me. He is very intuitive and this worried me. It occurred to me that he might be picking up my emotions and feeling blah.

After lunch I went back to bed and began worrying about my depression. Depressed since childhood and into my twenties. I did a lot of work to heal and haven’t had symptoms of depression in about ten years. My negative self-talk and panic began to cause me some anxiety.

“What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just get out of bed. Maybe you should do some yoga instead of being so damn lazy.”

The thoughts of depression came back to me in droves. I managed to stop these thoughts quickly.

My mind and my body both needed rest for some reason. It was enough to let myself do it. Just because I was tired and didn’t feel like doing anything for a couple of days did not mean that I was depressed again.

It was hard for me to acknowledge that I might actually have been sick, that there might have been a medical reason that I was so exhausted and didn’t feel well.

Next morning I visited an urgent care center. You’d be surprised at what you find. According to my nurse practitioner, I was suffering from an ear infection and fever. My throat also looked terrible.

Instantly, my mind was at ease. Major depressive disorder hadn’t reared its ugly head again. Physically, I was sick. My body was trying to fight an infection.

For any of you who have experienced mental illness, you may also have this fear that that one day it might return to say, “Hello. Are you still with me? I’m back!” Any time we get a hint of a difficult feeling, we jump to the conclusion that our anxiety, depression, or whatever we had is returning.

Recently, this happened for a friend. Her past of severe depression has plagued her for years. She sought therapy, and she has done really well in the past few years.

An introvert, she is a sales representative. She attended a company-wide meeting that lasted a week, with all of the managers and representatives. If you’ve ever been in sales or know somebody who has attended a company-wide meeting for several days, you know how much extroverted energy that takes.

She and I spoke by phone a few days after the meeting. I called her to ask how she was doing. I asked her how she was feeling. She said she felt depressed and wasn’t motivated to complete the tasks she had to.

Even scheduling an appointment for her psychiatrist the following week, she was concerned about her medication. Depressed and afraid, she was describing herself.

After we got off the phone, I started thinking about how I just didn’t think that she was depressed.

I know her well and knew that being around a bunch of people for a week was exhausting for her, since she’s an introvert. I texted her about this and asked her if she thought her “depression” could simply be her needing to rest after having to be “on” for a week at her meetings.

Quickly, she responded that she agreed and that it probably wasn’t her depression coming back to haunt her again. It was clear that her stress from being around so many people for several weeks required some time to let things go.

That’s just another example of how we pathologize feelings that are normal. We want to immediately label what we’re feeling as “wrong” or “unhealthy” and catastrophize it when it’s not actually a catastrophe. It’s often just a normal reaction to what we’ve experienced.

It’s wonderful that society is becoming more aware and accepting of mental health and getting help. Not all signs and symptoms are indicative of mental illness. Social media posts and other information should not be used to diagnose mental illness.

It is normal for people to feel anxious and sad. However, this does not necessarily indicate that you are experiencing mental illness.

When we jump to diagnosing ourselves or others, we’re actually causing harm because we aren’t allowing ourselves to experience our feelings or normal things. Instead we seek to determine the reason why we feel certain things so that we can eradicate it.

It is. Not healthy. What is healthy is allowing ourselves to experience the feelings that come up, learning how to navigate those feelings in a healthy way, and choosing not to shame ourselves for having feelings that aren’t “positive.”

So, the next time you’re going through a difficult time and you’re tempted to label it as mental illness or something that has to be stopped and “fixed” immediately, pause and ask yourself a few questions.

This is something many people have experienced? Give yourself time and grace if that is the case.

Are the feelings I’m having normal based on my circumstances? If yes, then you don’t need to label them as mental illness or something that you should be gravely concerned about.

Are these preventing you from accomplishing the tasks that I have to? Is it lasting more than one week? Mental illness diagnoses require alterations from “normal” functioning.

Are there any other people who have noticed my struggles and whether they are concerned? If not, then you are probably experiencing normal feelings for the experience you’ve had.

These questions can be used as a guide. Give yourself some grace for having the right feelings and responses to hard situations. Also, keep in mind that most of what you read that tells you that you have a mental illness probably isn’t truly qualified to do so.

Mary Beth Fox

Mary Beth is licensed as a professional counselor. She also blogs about mental health. She helps readers to heal the childhood fears of being inadequate. Read more. Her goal is to help readers heal the Not Good Enough Stuff that makes them feel inadequate and not good enough. This will allow them to live in peace. Mary Beth’s topics include boundaries, generational trauma and relationships. You can find her subjects here.

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Are You Pathologizing Normal Emotions, The Post It’s Not Always a Mental Illness appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

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