Transitions are challenging. As we let go of the holiday season and enter a new year, we may feel a pending sense of uncertainty, of being “off stride”. Often we negate or don’t recognize a nagging discontent for what it might portend. Questions may arise. We may feel a bit sad, sadder that we “should” feel under the circumstances. 

And some challenges are more daunting than others. The first child off to college (or kindergarten!)  or the coming empty nest are big transitions. I remember when we moved from one town to another, literally five miles apart. Our youngest child was in first grade and up until that time had come home for lunch every day. We were in a new home in the same state and yet these venues were miles apart in many ways. In addition I developed a painful case of pleurisy which was difficult to shake. I didn’t understand why my sadness was increasing and why I was falling into a situational depression.

Years later, in my capacity as a social worker I gave a workshop at a Wellness Day. The topic of the workshop was Grief and Loss. In preparation and to illustrate, I made a chart of the losses I had experienced (large and small) throughout each decade of my life up until that time. I gave the attendees paper and pens to document their own losses decade by decade. The “aha” moment for me came when I looked at what had led up to my depression in the two decades which preceded it. The most significant loss was the death of my father at age 48 when I was 21.But even as an early adolescent and then as a senior in high school my mother had nearly died of severe kidney disease. In addition I had moved from the Midwest to California and attended a boarding school during my high school years. My father’s early death was a profoundly sad experience for me and for my young mother and younger brothers. I could recognize that for what it was and still is one of the most significant losses of my life. But why was I depressed when I had a house with the room we had been needing, three healthy kids, a husband who loved me? I believe I was experiencing “secondary losses”. The loss of a familiar home room by room. The loss of a neighborhood with neighbors who were friends as well. The loss of the daily routines of fixing lunch for and enjoying the pleasure of being with my little boy. Secondary losses are sorrows that add up and sometimes they contribute to a vague sadness that we do not recognize and may need help to acknowledge. I value highly the privilege of walking through, sorting through and working through the transitions my clients are facing.   

April Carlson, MSW, LCSW, LLC