The first two days were awful. Let’s just say I had to explain what the word groggy meant over dim sum to my ESL mother-in-law. It’s a hard word to describe when you are exceedingly groggy. I was sipping white tea at the time, but that does not count. I explained to her that I was cutting caffeine. She asked why and I told her: I was doing it in an attempt to reduce my anxiety. I had noticed that there was a correlation between the rise in my caffeine intake in the last 2-3 years and the rise in my anxiety level within the same time period. The experiment was to reduce caffeine and see if my anxiety was reduced as well. My mother-in-law said she thought I needed caffeine that second morning without it because I was so incredibly out of it. I said no. I pushed through.
I had decided to start this experiment on a Saturday, feeling that it would be easier to get through the initial shock to my system with my husband home for a couple days. But the Saturday I was scheduled to do it, we were awoken to a call. A family member was in the hospital. We rushed there via car on the rainy highway and were relieved to learn that it was a false alarm. She was fine. As we were scrambling to grab our things before leaving, anticipating the possibility that we would be in the hospital over night as we had been a few months ago, I said to my husband, “I’m supposed to go off caffeine today.” He asked if today was really the day to start that. I downed a cup of double strength tea. But that was the only cup of tea I had that day.
I had been making a pot of double strength tea (2 Tazo Awake English Breakfast tea bags) and drinking 3-4 large cups of it daily. For years. I have never been a coffee drinker. But I am sensitive to things like alcohol and caffeine.
I also experienced almost daily anxiety. My chest would often go tight from anxiety in between waking up and getting out of bed, making getting out of bed very difficult. Then I would experience social anxiety, anxiety in cars, anxiety in theatres, anxiety before doing something I hadn’t done before, anxiety here, anxiety there, anxiety everywhere. For years. It was time to try something new.
That first day with a great reduction in tea intake, a day spent in the hospital and in a car on the highway in the pouring rain was, yes, completely anxiety free. But I was groggy and went to bed at 8pm because I was so tired. The next day we spent more time on the highway in the rain and again, no anxiety. I managed to stay out of bed until my regular bedtime.
By Monday, the massive grogginess had ended and I was at 90% normal functioning. The caffeine withdrawal headaches I expected never came. Ever. During the week, I would get a little tired and groggy in the late afternoon, so I tried yerba mate as an afternoon pick me up. It brought me back up to 100% and I felt great. Yerba Mate does have caffeine, but a fraction of what black tea has.
For ten days, I experienced next to no anxiety. I was drinking yerba mate and the occasional single cup of black tea. I had a few brief flashes of it here and there, but nothing that lasted beyond a moment and nothing severe. I was in plenty of situations where I would normally get anxiety. I thought I had found the cure.
Then two weeks ago I had a trip coming up, to a city and state I had never been to before, to a festival I had never been to before, with people I wanted to say hi to but had never met in person before. The anxiety came back and stayed with me throughout the trip. My caffeine intake did not go up enough to cause this anxiety. But the anxious feelings were definitely less severe, less invasive, less paralyzing.
The effect is strong enough that I have continued to drink very little caffeine. I have my morning freedom now, I’m not a slave to three cups of tea before I can function or get out into the world. That made a big difference when travelling. Now that I have been home for ten days from that trip, my anxiety is back to pre-trip low-to-nil levels.
It will be interesting to see going forward how my relationship with anxiety evolves. I need to find the balance between being fully alert and being anxiety-free. The problem with grogginess is that I can’t function and when I can’t function I get depressed and when I get depressed I can’t function. I think one cup of black tea or some yerba mate each day might be the right balance. But I think I may have found the cure to the majority of my daily anxiety if not my anxiety disorder.
I’m in San Francisco, a gorgeous, vibrant, active city. I have three full days here while my husband is at business meetings and team building activities day and night. Yet I have spent the vast majority of my three days here in the hotel room because depression does not take a vacation, nor does social anxiety, general anxiety or all the other myriad mental problems one lives with year round, regardless of locaiton. I could go to The Ballet, hit up a museum or just go on near-endless photo walks exploring the city. But my depressed brain is telling me I’m not cool enough for this city, that if I venture out, the natives will judge me for not belonging here and thus I should just hide in my hotel room cave and wait out the trip. My depression is telling me I won’t enjoy the ballet or museums and I’m too weak to explore the city on foot and too dumb to explore the city via public transit. My depression is telling me I don’t care that I’m on vacation, I don’t care about this city that I love and have been away from for almost two years.
So instead yesterday I sunk deep into the depths of monstrous, brain-eating, soul-killing, life-devastating depression. Because this is my life: depression. Has been for 32 years now. I don’t know who I really am without my depression. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life other than trying to figure out a way to live with my depression. I’m 32 years old and as lost in life as a teenager. I have no confidence, no sense of purpose beyond my disease, no meaning to my life. I feel like nothing. I don’t know what’s happened to me. I used to be so ambitious but depression has beaten away all ambition, all confidence in a life I could live that is beyond anything but failure. I remember so many people telling me when I was just starting out in the big wide world that I was destined to do things, be someone, accomplish something. But here I am, sitting in a San Francisco hotel room, too afraid and apathetic to do anything other than sit here. I am not someone, I am not doing things, I am nothing because of this horrible disease in my brain.
But as I write this, I know there is a sliver of hope. I have begun to dip my sensitive little pinky toes into a new form of therapy, one that is the polar opposite of everything I’ve ever tried to do with my depression: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I have spent 32 years fighting against my depression and this form of therapy is telling me to stop fighting and work with my depression. I’m just starting this form of therapy, which I’m embarking on through a workbook on my own, so I have no idea if it will be effective. But I feel ready to move towards my depression, to lay down my arms against it and start negotiating a peace treaty.
I’ve brought the workbook with me, but I don’t dare open it up here, in my San Francisco hotel room, because the work in it is hard and I am on vacation. Maybe it is the perfect time to work with it, to show my depression that if it doesn’t take vacations from destroying me, I don’t take vacations from learning to live with it. The truth is, however, that I have become complacent in my paralysis, I like my little daily routine of doing nothing of consequence with my life. I abhor it’s nothingness (the word I feel at the very centre of my core) but I am comfortable in it’s warm embrace of easy. A life of meaning, a life of ambition terrifies me, even as its absense destroys me. I am caught in a winless battle between terror of anything else and depression at the lack of anythign else.
My depression has dissipated enough, hwoever, over the years, to reveal to myself that I actually am good at things. I’m a natural born caregiver, attentive to details, reasonably empathetic, insightful, excellent in emergencies, with a good memory for the important things. I am a decent enough writer that I believe it to be my path. I know, except in my darkest moments, that I could have value in society. I have worth. I have somethign to give and somethign to gain from venturing otu there into the world, into this vaguely familiar city I am in. There is meaning to be found outside this hotel room. But my brain has locked me up in here for the better part of three days. I leave for home tomorrow, back to the comfort of routine. I feel, hwoever, on the precipice of something, of some big breakthrough. If I could just step out of my hotel room door.
I hesitate to write this. It’s only been a week. A week is nothing. But it feels like more, it feels like longer. I was shocked to learn two days ago that it has been less than three weeks since Christmas. And that illusion of time slowing down counts for something. When life was like what it was like last year, it goes by very quickly. But when life goes as it has gone so far this year, it goes very slowly. Life slows down when you make a change, when you take some control over it. And apparently taking some control over your life is possible. I know, I know, not for everyone. Taking control over your brain when you have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety is near-impossible. But somehow I’ve done it this year.
So I guess I’m on a diet, for the first time in my 32 years. I didn’t really think of it as a diet, but my therapist labelled the changes I have made as a diet and I suppose it is one. I’m going vegan before 6pm (for health reasons), eating whatever the fuck I want between 6pm and 9pm and then eating and drinking absolutely nothing until the next day. I’ve largely stuck to this diet for several days now. I’m using our elliptical and doing stomach crunches every day. I’m weighing myself several times a day and have lost 5 lbs in a week’s time.
But that’s not all. I’m getting up 2.5 hours earlier than I did in early December, and earlier each day. I’m reading for about an hour a day, watching quality TV again, am on top of the kitchen, have a tidy apartment, am making vegan lunches from scratch again. If I can get my writing going again, I’m pretty close to, within a week’s time, living my best life.
I doubt it will last. In fact my therapist told me it wouldn’t. It has been a week and I am shocked at how many times I have stuck too it when normally I would have given in to temptation. I was anxious and sad last night and wanted to feed my feelings. But I resisted and went to bed hungry.
The important thing, and the thing that makes this different, is that I know the key to it all: self-forgiveness. Strange words to be in my emotional vocabulary. But they’re there. I don’t know how they got there, or where they came from. And they’re certainly not an emotionally global phenomenon for me, but when it comes to self-discipline, they have made an appearance. The key to self-discipline is not not falling off the wagon, and being perfect, but allowing yourself to fail and then giving yourself the chance to succeed again tomorrow.
So how’d I do it? I have two answers to that. First, I have no idea how I did it because I’m as shocked as you are that I’m doing it. And second, here’s how.
I cried hard and deep on New Year’s Day. The truth was, at least in my head that day, that 2013 was a shitty year because it was the year I got stuck and did nothing for hours each day. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Why did I get stuck every day? Because I stopped caring about the activities I care about. I still care about people and my cats but that’s pretty much all I cared about. I stopped caring about television (my passion) and reading and eventually writing (my “job”). So each day when I had finished breakfast and caught up on Twitter, I had nothing to do. I had existential, depression-based boredom. I got psychologically, emotionally, stuck. In a literature class I took once I believed it was called something like mental paralysis. It’s a hard concept to understand if you’ve never experienced it. And it’s a hard state of mind to get out of if you have.
So I cried hard on January first because I was certain that this year would be no different from the last. Then, two days later, I went to my regular therapy appointment. You see my husband and therapist look at the year I had last year and see a good one. They see progress in me, they see day to day happiness, and the many things I actually DID get accomplished last year. My therapist explained to me that my lack of caring is emblematic of two things, both of which show incredible progress. First, my 2013 dearth of caring was a welcome change from my previous life of caring too much, caring so much with my highly sensitive self that I was getting hurt constantly. And when he pointed this out, I realized that there is a very large part of me that doesn’t just not care about television but also does not care about the bad shit that’s happened to me. I still care but I also don’t anymore. At the same time. Yes it’s possible. Second, when your anxiety/depression/what-have-you goes away, you’re left with nothing to motivate your every move. By that I mean that you’ve been motivated all your life not by the healthy, normal factors (whatever those are) but by things like fear and sadness. Take that motivation away and you’re left with no motivation at all. That’s what happened to me last year.
So my doctor told me I had to build new, healthy motivations. My new motivations are out of wanting to be healthier and happier and not wanting to escape the hatred I feel for myself for not being healthier and happier. It’s a subtle but major difference. The self-hate is gone from the equation. It’s still there, in me, but it’s not my main motivator now. My motivator is to build a life that replaces the self-hate with pride of self.
Yeah yeah but what actions did I take? What are the mechanics of this new if temporary me? I carefully selected two self-help-type books I hadn’t read before: The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal which is teaching me how to cultivate willpower from scratch, and Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert which is reframing my conception of happiness. So far, both are very good. I’ll let you read them on your own, instead of outlining what I’ve learned here.
I’m taking a very simple approach to the hardest things in my daily list: getting up to an alarm and exercising. I started small, very small. Get up at 11am, spend 30 seconds on the elliptical, do 15 stomach crunches. Then each day I get up a minute earlier, do 5 more seconds on the elliptical and 5 more crunches than the day before. It’ll take time to build up, but it’s slowly building over time from something minimal to something real, and my body won’t notice.
I also signed myself up with the free service Wunderlist which is essentially a beautiful and easy way to organize your life into the lists I am already so good at making. Each day it generates a list of things I have to do in my day. Most of these things are recurring tasks such as using the elliptical, not eating after 9pm and reading. But I can also add other tasks like groceries and “watch True Detective.” When I click on the box beside each item, it disappears for the day. This daily list leads to the one and only real daily goal I have in life: tick those things off the list until I get down to nothing.
Like I said, this new found energy and motivation in life won’t last. But also like I said, the key to it, is knowing that after I fall into my next depression, I have a place to go when I get out of it: back to these habits, back to believing that I can. It’s only been a week but this one, this one feels different somehow. Why? I believe in myself, possibly for the first time in my life.
Why does life have to have meaning? Because it fights off the fear of the unknown called Death. Meaning is a privilege. The majority of us will live meaningless lives. Or will we? It depends on what meaning is. How you define it. Many of us are too busy paying the bills and putting food on the table to worry about meaning. But for most of us, we crave it, this indefinable concept of a meaningful life.
In our age of celebrity, meaning is larger than life and on the cover of magazines. Not that the average celebrity lives a meaningful life, unless you equate meaning with immortality through fame. We want to do important things with our lives. Scientific breakthroughs. Charity work. Art works. Change people’s lives.
Depression takes that all away from us. When we’re too busy fighting off the demons of depression, it becomes too difficult to do something else, more meaningful, with our lives. I struggle with meaninglessness a lot, especially on days like today where I’m working on a TV clip montage project that, although it will accompany a written TV blog post, is essentially meaningless. And I do meaningless projects often. But they keep my depression at bay, so are they meaningless?
Is living a life of not letting the depression win, whether that means actively fighting it or just keeping it at a standoff, a meaningless life? When we talk about heroes we talk about the people who fight evil and fires and cancer and other severe illness and injuries. Why don’t we ever talk about the heroes who fight mental illness every day? By not letting our depression win, whatever that means to us, we are helping society, whether directly through something like this blog, or being open about our depression on social media, or indirectly through merely keeping our depression out of society’s way.
That’s why I have this blog, why I am open about my depression on social media. It allows me to help others, whether by offering tools to aid them in their fight, or more often, merely by letting them know that they are not alone. Just a small handful of people. But one is enough. It gives my life extra meaning. But just by fighting my depression, through whatever healthy means possible, I am living a meaningful life.
If a person fighting cancer is too sick to do anything but fight that cancer, and we call them heroic, give their life meaning, then why not someone with depression? We are both fighting an illness that could be fatal. I know more people who have died from depression than cancer. There are no scans that show my depression on a screen or X-Ray. But my illness is still debilitating, still life-threatening, still real. And if I was to die of my depression, my life would still have meaning, because I lived with depression, fought it, before it won. My life would still have had meaning. (Don’t worry, I have no plans or desire to die of my depression.)
If you have depression, it didn’t take the meaning away from your life. It gave it meaning. Your meaning is not letting it win. Whether it be fighting it or merely negotiating a truce and living with it. Every day you stay alive, is a meaningful, heroic day.
We can’t all be Batkid. But we can all be heroes. Just by living.
The truth is, depression is a puzzle no one has yet solved, and some fail to acknowledge exists. It’s hard to fight a disease parts of the population deny is real. I know its deep realities and I struggle to try to solve its puzzle each and every day of my life. Many days, like today, it feels like a one step forward, two steps backwards kind of march towards nothing.
It’s been a confusing few months for me. I had a terrible experience in May where a couple of people practically said to my face that I couldn’t write….and said it over and over again for an hour and a half. Then I had an appendectomy and my body told me there was very little I could do after it. As a result of these two occurrences, the words “I can’t” have become prevalent in my brain even as I adorn my walls with pictures of things I have done (cook a turkey, bake a lemon meringue pie, plan a wedding, go to LA by myself, take a good photo, nanny wee children, graduate from a major university, be the one to bring a tarp to a weather-questionable outdoor event). I’ve walled myself in a cocoon of “I can’t” and these things that I can do seem unreal. Seriously. Thanksgiving is coming up and the idea of taking on cooking a turkey dinner all by myself for a large group of people, something I did twice last year, seems ridiculous. Today I posted an 8050 word piece on a show I’m in love with. But I don’t think it’s any good. So I’m confused. Can I do things? Can I write? After the events of the late Spring/Summer, I am frightened to try.
I’ve also gotten caught up a lot in the meta-depression: depressed that I’m losing so much time to depression, worrying I’ll be depressed or won’t enjoy something. I lose a lot of time each day trying to decide what to do, worried the decision I make will be the wrong one and lead to depression. I’ve written about this before. I know the answer is to just do something, anything, to make the decision and know that if the depression comes it’s not because of what I decided to do. But the fact that I’ve been fighting for so long, really all my 31 years, makes me very depressed that I’m still depressed. But that’s just silliness. I guess at my age, I’ve realized that because depression has been my life for so long, depression will be my life from now on. And that’s very depressing. Which again, is silliness.
Fighting my depression has been my number one priority for almost three years now. I quit a really good (for me) job because my depression made the job unbearable. I quit the job to fix the depression and get back to life. But nearly three years later, I’m still stuck in the labyrinth of depression, trying every path to get out and not finding the exit.
But I keep looking. I keep trying paths. I keep believing there is an exit, a solution to the puzzle that may not exist yet but will one day. It’s been a rough summer/year/life. But I keep forging ahead, trying to make each day better. The key to fighting depression is not to give up. To believe that one day you will beat it. I believe.
Do you? (I know it’s like asking you if you believe in magic. But try, try to believe.)
So how do I dig myself out of this one?
As I alluded to in my last post, I have hit a sort of cognitive rock bottom. I say cognitive, because it’s not rock bottom in any other sense of the term. Life is pretty good. I have a wonderful husband, good friends, a loving family, a nice apartment in a safe city and warm fuzzy cats to snuggle. So life is by no means rock bottom. And emotionally, I could be a lot worse, I could have spent the past month in bed, but I haven’t. The truth is, I have managed to keep up with the housework and aquarium chores at a passing grade. I’ve watched some TV series and thus have not abandoned television, one of my passions. So emotionally, I could be a lot worse too.
But cognitively I couldn’t be much worse. This goes back to the whole “I am nothing” mantra that I have taken upon myself to repeat endlessly until I believe it. Or, as I should clarify, my depression has taken upon itself to repeat to myself until I believe it. Because I am not my depression. My depression is its own evil entity that lives in my brain and tries to control me. And it has succeeded for a long while.
Time for it to not for a while. So how do I get out of a cognitive space that’s telling me I’m nothing? My therapist has said I need to just not think these days, to be distracted as much as possible, rather than to replace the thoughts with better thoughts. Don’t replace thoughts, just don’t think at all. But I am a chronic over-thinker and he has yet to tell me just how to accomplish this no-thinking thing. Maybe that’s for the next session. But now I’m feeling a little better and my depression is indeed sufficiently distracted that I’m wanting to bite off a little bit more of a challenge: getting out of this.
So how do you challenge the belief your depression has instilled in you, in my case, that I am nothing? Now of course, the deepest way is to learn to be OK with being nothing. To accept it, to love myself anyway. Yeah, right. Like that’s achievable any time soon. No, the best way to tell my depression it’s wrong is to prove that I am not nothing. So how am I doing this?
The first thing I did was on Saturday. I have this app for my MacBook that allows me to post pictures and notes to my desktop like it’s a virtual corkboard. I have Twitter going on one side of my screen (good for that distraction thing), and I have a gTalk window, and then I have pictures and notes in the remaining space. I chose on Saturday to restart this app, as it were, by going through my iPhoto and throwing up photos that remind me I am not nothing, remind me of the things that bring me joy, that I am capable of, that I have enjoyed this year. So my desktop is currently a collage of drawings I’ve done this year, a pie I made that was a huge success, flowers I bought, my new aquarium fish I love, an event I went to recently that was pure joy, and a graphic I did in the spring for the title of my novel. They’re just gentle reminders to myself that I am not nothing. I am something. I am capable of things.
Then today I’m starting to contemplate the next step. Should I get back to my daily routine which I keep track of with the Habit List app? Or do I return to RPGing my life, something I haven’t worked on since March? I looked at my personal character tome for myself and discovered that since I last looked at it, I have completed a lot of goals. That’s not nothing. I think today I will start from scratch with tracking my experience points and levels for the various categories of my life. (For more info on how RPGing your life works, and it’s one of the best tools I’ve come across, check out the book The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick.) In other words, I will start writing down what I accomplish (eg. ate healthy non-ice-cream breakfast, showered, did the kitchen, wrote this post), and gently start working towards some goals perhaps. Also, I downloaded a new composition app that gives me a fresh place to write, one without any emotional baggage. That has helped, as you can likely tell.
The thing about hitting rock bottom, in whatever sense of the word, is that there is only one way out: up. And it’s a chance to rebuild your life, and such chances are frequent when you have depression, but still golden opportunities. Every day is the first day of the rest of our lives. Every day is not too late to get better, to do better, to be better. To be not nothing.
It’s all the depression. Everything. Every last thought, every last emotion, it’s all the depression’s fault.
This is what I learned this weekend. It’s been a rough summer/year/life. I feel like a broken record complaining about my life, and the shitty-to-me but often-not-so-shitty-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things events that seem to plague it. I’ve been in a pretty severe depression this month, so severe that it may just be my worst ever. It’s brought me to the point of believing, whole-heartedly, that my precious novel, my last shot at doing something with my life, is dead and thus I am emotionally and cognitively dead with it. I am nothing. “I am nothing” is the thought that keeps playing over and over in my head, like that goddamned broken record that is depression. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more hopeless, mostly because I feel I’ve lost everything that is myself. For years, the writing was all I had left, the writing was my last chance ticket to making something of my life. Then I lost the writing in May. And in August I lost the will and belief that I could get it back. Without it, I feel I am nothing, incapable of doing anything in life, of being anything. A lot of this was triggered by my having appendicitis a month ago today. After I got out of the hospital, I couldn’t do any housework, and the depression attacked this “I can’t” like a cruel opportunist. The writing was gone, my ability to be a just-a-housewife, was gone. I was nothing. And even though I am now almost capable of doing all the housework again, the belief remains powerful.
But Saturday I had an awakening prompted by a medication change. I felt better on Saturday and realized something: it’s all the depression. My lack of an appendix, and all the other crap that’s happened to me this summer, is not the reason why I believe I am nothing. It’s the depression. Solely, only, the depression. The depression has been telling me my novel is dead, my writing is dead and that I am nothing, and will never be anything again. Nothing that happened to me made those beliefs true. I’m a month out of the hospital and at no point was I ever, really incapable of writing this summer. The depression blocked the writing, nothing else, nothing more. And I have my strength back, I have my ability to keep up with the housework, cook a meal for my husband back. The depression may tell me I don’t, and if I’m in it, bad, I will believe it. But it’s just the depression talking, convincing, brain washing me.
So I ask you, if you’re life sucks or if you feel you suck, do you really? Or is it the depression’s fault, again? Try, try to remind yourself, it’s not the truth, it is what the depression is telling you. Remember that depression lies to you, masterfully.
I need to remember this, going forward, in the low points, and there are still very, deeply low points, that the beliefs in the low points are beliefs, not facts, and they are brought on by my disease, not the events of my life. It’s all the depression’s fault, not mine, nor anyone else’s. It’s the depression that I have to learn to fight against again to be able to recover from this most severe bought with it. It’s time to halt the broken record and put on a fresh new one.
Every day, when breakfast is eaten, when the initial chores are done, Twitter is caught up on, I am thrust into luxury: I can do whatever I want with my day. Depression has prevented me from being able to manage a job, a source of great shame but also a massive privilege that is not lost on me. But not having to work has not cured my depression. Every day when I am met with the possibility of doing anything, I fall down a hole, a deep dark hole because in a world full of possibility, I don’t want to do anything, anything at all. I could write, watch TV, draw, read, go out into the world, all things that should bring me joy, but none of them interest me. And that meta-depresses me. The fact that there is nothing I want to do these days, no solo activity that brings me joy, is indeed depressing. But that’s depression: you have the freedom to do whatever you want and still live a largely joyless life.
These days, it doesn’t seem to matter how my day starts, I always fall down the hole of freedom and fall into a pit of meta-depression. There’s a loneliness, an emptiness, a deep frustration and anger, a fear and foreboding about having nothing you want to do with yourself in life, about feeling that there is nothing that will bring you joy, about having the dream life—absolute freedom—and still being effing miserable.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. I suppose it’s getting on with your activities, with what used to give you joy, and hoping that it will, one day, bring you joy again. I suppose it’s living in the moment and doing an activity anyways, and not worrying about the greater fear that you will never experience joy again. In this moment, I am trying to write this post. It’s hard, very hard. It’s bringing me no joy, and joyless activities are soul-sucking. In fact, I may be getting even more depressed because of this push to do something that once brought me joy but no longer does. The answer is I’m doing it anyways with the small hope that if I keep going I will experience joy again. And that is ultimately the key to depression: just keep going on the small hope that you will one day experience joy again.
When you have chronic depression, you live in constant fear of falling, sinking, plummeting into the deep. But what we are unprepared for is the opposite: skyrocketing out of depression unexpectedly.
Today, I got up and quickly slipped low and deep into a depression. I started mentally preparing myself for the kind of day in which I am fighting just to stay out of bed. But then I randomly decided to check if my novel’s word count, which is now a completed first draft, is a prime number. It is. That was random and cool. It jolted me temporarily out of depression.
But the jolt stuck. I’m now energized, happy, gearing up to outline a new routine for myself and goals (something I do every few months or so).
I expected to be very depressed today, instead I’m practically whistling while working. Try to remember, when you are depressed, that as easily as you slip into your depression, you could slip out. Keep that hope alive. Prepare to be amazed.
When I was four years old, I asked my father, a veterinarian holding an advanced degree and called “Doctor,” what studying was. He told me that it was reading and re-reading and learning until you have it memorized. Or something (I was four). I immediately got a book down off my parents’ bookshelf, I believe it was about cats (I was four) and started “studying.”
I was an over-achiever from the start, you see. I dreamed of growing up to become like my father: hold an advanced degree, be an esteemed professional, maybe even be called “Doctor.” No, especially be called “Doctor.” I threw myself into studying and getting good grades in school. I excelled: I finished top of my class at the end of three of my academic years and have numerous high school academic awards. I was going somewhere. I was going to be somebody. Or at least that’s what they told me. But then at the end of grade eleven, brought on by some unfortunate events (to put it lightly) my depression, which had always been with me, became me. I’m now 31, and the depression still is me.
I have a BA. It took 8 years with a year off in the middle. But I am grossly dissatisfied. I will never be called “Doctor” but a Masters seems close to being feasible. I’ve looked at the requirements for doing a Masters in Creative Writing on many occasions. I have the undergraduate grades in spades. But a Masters is so very far from being a reality thanks to this fucking depression.
I have accomplished nothing in life because of my depression.
My therapist once told me about these psychological exercises called Big Me, Little Me. It sounds hippie-dippie but it’s basically a pretend conversation you have with your younger self. The exercise is too painful yet for me to complete. Why? Because my four-year old self, my nine-year-old self and my sixteen-year-old self are so fucking infuriated at me for failing them, that I want to cry just thinking about it.
This is a hard one folks. But it will motivate you to fight that depression a little harder. What could have been? What were you destined to be before the depression became you? What would you say to your younger self? Would your younger self forgive you? If you could talk to your younger selves, what would they say? Sometimes our pent-up rage from broken dreams can be healed by imagining the younger us who dreamt those dreams and allowing that person who is still a part of us to find peace and acceptance. But remembering those broken dreams is also a rallying cry to fight this depression so that some day in our lives, our dreams, new or old, will come true.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how living with depression is like learning to be an Olympic Gold Medalist on the Balance Beam. Because that’s the kind of skill and dedication and years of hard work it takes to learn how to live with depression. For years you have to learn how to climb up on and mount the balance beam. You have to learn to balance on it sitting, balance on it standing and eventually how to do flips and tricks and spins and not fall off. It’s a marathon routine: the goal is to stay on the balance beam, doing those flips and tricks and spins for as long as possible, hopefully for the rest of your life.
Life comes along and pushes you off the balance beam, you land flat on your face on those blue mats, and you have to pick yourself up and climb back on the balance beam. When someone pushes you off, deliberately or accidentally, much like a teenage gymnast, you get really mad because your routine was going so well, you were on a hot streak or maybe just because you had been sitting peacefully on the beam for a very long time. The disappointment of being pushed off the balance beam, or of simply falling on your own, can make it even harder to climb back on the beam. You might get discouraged and this can prolong your depression and time on the blue mats, if the mats are in place at all.
Sometimes the ladder up to the beam is a few feet tall, other times, it’s 100 feet tall and there are flames coming out of each rung. The goal is not only to climb back on the balance beam, to stand up and get those tricks going again, but to never fall off the beam in the first place.
Much like in expert gymnastics, the goal when you lose your balance is to stay on the beam. The goal is not to recover quickly from your pain and depression, but to not get pained and depressed at all.
The first step to this is to not get angry when you do fall down, not to let the disappointment make climbing back up on the beam more difficult. The goal is to brush it off and get back on the beam as soon as possible. Then the goal is not to fall at all.
When life throws you down, trips you up, causes you to bruise your knees, the first step in weathering the fall is not to be meta-pissed at the fall itself. You cannot control your balance—your depression—yet, but the eventual goal is to be immune to the things in life that will push you down—and cause you to be depressed. What are the steps along the way? I have no idea. Nor does anyone. You have to find your own way to a sturdy life on the balance beam—a sturdy life of wellness.
I’m on my own today. My husband hopes to be home from work “sometime before midnight” so I am really on my own today. Thus, I have to decide what to do with my day. There are two things I know: I have to leave the house to scavenge for dinner and my favourite show will be on between 6-7pm. I’m hungry now, I’m craving an eggplant schnitzel sandwich, I kind of feel like visiting my local aquarium store to check out their new fishes (I’m hoping to bring my first pair of fishes home this weekend) and I should probably work on my novel today. Decisions, decisions.
What I do with the remaining day, is not just a paralysis between the options being equally intriguing/costly but a victim of my rampant indecisiveness, a primary symptom of my depression. Indecisiveness is one of the hallmark symptoms of depression that comes from being too overwhelmed by sadness to care not only about the options in a decision but also in making a decision at all. However, indecisiveness is a symptom that follows you even into your well days. This is because when you are feeling well enough to present yourself with a series of options for your life, each option scares you because each option could lead you in its own way back to depression.
When I’m making a simple decision about planning my day out, I have to plan out the path to least depression. I have to make decisions that protect my wellness or get me to wellness. But of course, I can fall into or out of depression at any time. And that may be the key.
Depression can come at me at any time. I can get out of a depression, also at any time. So why do I let the fear of it rule my life? The answer to this is that I let it rule my life because if I fall into a depression, I’ll blame it on a decision I made that I will believe caused it. What I need to realize is that it’s not my decision’s fault but the depression’s fault.
Having a hard time making a decision? Remember that not making a decision is in itself a decision. If it’s a decision that impacts the course of your life for the short term or the long term, then yes, take your time with it. If it’s a decision as simple as what to do with your day, don’t waste the day stuck in a decision. Choose something, do it and don’t look back. If you get depressed, you have no idea why that depression came about so don’t blame the decision. Blame the depression. Always blame the depression.
Go! Do something! Stop being stuck! Make that decision! Stop wasting your life worrying about your depression!
PS. What did I decide to do with my afternoon? I decided to write about my indecisiveness, and possibly other aspects of depression that I have been mulling (Stay tuned!)
I am writing today to inform my readers that I will be going on somewhat of a hiatus from this blog. I have written 81,082 words of my novel which means I’m approaching the end game for its first draft. I will be taking the next few months (I’m hoping to be finished the first draft by June) to focus solely on completing this first draft. Posts here will thus decrease in frequency. But I doubt they will disappear all together. Even if I’m doing well enough to finish a first draft of a novel, I am still fighting my depression every day and new insights will continue to come. So it’s likely that there will still be a post here now and then. (In fact, I have one waiting for an edit that may appear quite soon.) But, when the first draft is completed, it will need to be put away to rest for a few months. So I hope to post here more frequently this summer and beyond. The best way to keep up with the happenings on this blog is to follow me on tumblr. I thank you for your patience and readership of this blog. And yes, if the novel ever gets published, I will be posting about it here as well. Keep fighting that depression!
Not to ruin the mood from the previous post, but I thought I’d post the song that has been running through my head a lot when I’ve been depressed lately. This is “Breathing Underwater” by Canadian band Metric fronted by indie Rock Goddess Emily Haines. The song repeats the lyric “Is this my life? Am I breathing underwater?” I like that anthem. It’s one of questioning and rebellion against the circumstances in your life. If you have depression, rebel against it. Question it. Is this your life? Are you breathing underwater? Well if it is your life, do something about it. Get well. Breathe above water.
I had five good days in a row last week, I had many balls in the air, I was juggling them handedly, and enjoying the hot streak immensely. Then something distracted me, I dropped my balls and fell down and scraped my knee. Metaphorically. I’ve been fighting to find my balls again, get them back in the air and repair that scraped knee at the same time. I’ve been impatient with myself, wanting to recover faster than I was apparently capable of.
But now I’m feeling really good for the first time in several days. And I have the overwhelming urge to protect that. I’m not going to leave the house today. Possibly not tomorrow either. I’m going to isolate myself a little, something that is awful for me when I’m depressed, but a blessing when I am feeling well. I’m going to find all of those balls and get them back in the air today. I’m excited about that. And I need the time and space to do it, on my own.
For depressed people, when we feel good, we feel really good and it’s precious and rare. So protect it. Do what you can to care for that good feeling to try to make it last. It’s very vulnerable. Treat it carefully like a delicate flower that blooms so beautifully but rarely. Protect yourself from getting depressed again as much as you can. Protect your happiness.