My article on Seven Depressions yesterday brought an old friend back in touch who shared with me that he has been suffering from depression most of his adult life.  He appreciated the bluntness of the post that depressed people are sort of stuck in their lives traveling from one medication to another looking for the right mix of meds to help them build a bridge to start feeling average again.  Some never feel better.  Nobody finds a cure.

My friend also wanted to share his feelings of regret that have hounded him for the last 50 years.  Being depressive for him means examining every decision and moment of his life to see all the mistakes he’s made and that others have been made against him.

Instead of just letting these experiences pass, those scenarios play out again and again in his mind of things he might have said or done that would have created a different outcome.  You can imagine how tortured that process becomes when you go back years, and then obsess on how things might have ended up differently today if you’d only done that thing, or said that thing, way back when when you said and did the wrong thing.

The very thing that frees many of us — our mind and imagination — is the very thing that imprisons depressives like my friend because their fantasy and wondering and the re-evaluating takes total control of their thought processes and the longer they live, the more opportunity for repressive regrets they have.

I think regret is poisonous and I feel for people who are unable to fight or repress or let go of what they feel are mistakes from the past.  Growing older is all about letting go of what already happened so we can move forward into undiscovered territory that will be ripe for new mistakes of the mind and errors in human judgment.  We may not be able to fully forgive others, but we must always be willing to completely forgive ourselves.

23 Comments

    1. You’re right, Nicola. It was a gift that he opened up to me and shared his experience. As an INTJ, I often have a hard time with regret in others and those who need to rehash the past, but for some, it is a condition they cannot help and must fight through every day to meet the present.

      1. Many have said you should never regret what you have done – only the things you did not do. I tend to hold to that. I also believe that as I am happy and content at present and all my actions have led me to where I am and want to be – I have nothing to regret. This is of course no consolation to those who cannot move past it.

  1. Quite right, David. At a certain point you realize that holding onto the regret and rehashing what could have been will serve no constructive purpose.

    1. On an even deeper level, I don’t really understand memorabilia and sentimentality and clinging to things from the past. I understand reminiscing can be comforting, but some people use the past as a reason to never step foot into the future.

      1. We differ here a little , I love to have some of my roots around me, to remind me of where I have come from and how far I have travelled. I also confess that the culling of the house and my belongings meant I had to be very selective in what I bought to Portugal – only the creme de la creme made it !

        1. I tend to save stuff I’ve written or created — just in case I need to refer to the work in the future. Other things… clothes, yearbooks, pictures… I have no use for, and I realize I am out of the norm. Sentimentality only wastes time. Remembering is only important to the social core, not the individual.

          I had decades of scrapbooks my mother made over the years. She sent them all to me years ago for some reason — I guess she didn’t want them anymore — and I certainly didn’t want them, or even have the room to store them if I did, so into the trash bin they went.

          I think the only scrapbook she saved was my baby book when I was an infant and had not yet learned to walk or speak.

  2. Regret is poisonous. I do wonder why some people are able to shake things off so easily while some of us constantly hear that voice in our head telling us how insignificant we are and constantly live in the sad parts of the past. it is almost like being taunted by demons. it takes a lot of positive self talk to counteract the negative memories – then it becomes like a real battle of good and evil in your brain. hard to explain I guess. It would be beautiful if your friend could be healed and set all that free somehow. Sure doesn’t seem fair for a person to torture themselves like that.

    1. There’s an old saying in baseball that Closers have to have a short memory. You come into the game and lose it, you must immediately forget the loss, and pitch again the next night as if nothing happened the night before. I like that thinking. What happened can’t be changed, so why bother fiddling with the “what ifs” that always abound? Create a new reality and keep pressing the fast-forward button. SMILE!

      I appreciate you explanation of the “Circle of Regret” — you spin around and around and around with no way out. The only way to break that chain is to let everything go and start all over. Forget memory. Think only in the now. I agree that is hard to do.

  3. That is the best baseball analogy I’ve heard yet. You are so right, we have to press on and yes it is hard. this is one reason why I blog, it has been good therapy for me to focus on the positive things I do or think (however mundane) rather than listen to the negative self talk.

    I can’t say I live with regret (there is just one thing, but that has to do with what I did to someone rather than what was done to me). When i have those “what if” moments I realize the reality is that I’d be in that place still wondering “what if”. It’s the negative self talk I fight constantly. Thankfully, I have a wonderful, supportive husband who makes it much easier to cope with life. I’m sure if I was in a miserable relationship things would be much more difficult for me. I am truly thankful and THAT is happiness I think, being thankful.

    1. As long as you learn from a mistake — that’s all that matters. Apologizing can be part of that learning process, but dwelling on something over and over again that is decades old just never helps anyone. I can’t believe some people who recall slights years later and still use that experience and a modern cudgel.

      Love your thankful thoughts! That’s just the cure to help a healthy forward progression!

  4. I am so glad that your article inspired your friend to reach out to you about his experience. All too often, people who are depressed tend to curl in on themselves, hanging on to the exact emotions that poison them.

    This reminds me again of the wiki list of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Brilliant actors, presidents, comedians… the same mind that enriches them also serves to hurt them.

  5. @David – I have practical stuff – I have books and photographs, some jewelerry and MUSIC. Just enough , I binned two thirds of my wardrobe , my children took a lot of stuff – the house cleaners took the rest. It was incredibly liberating to ditch those anchors.