That Damn Albatross Again

I’m battling a bit of depression that has been gaining density for about a week and a half now. It comes up in a nebulous form every few months to a couple of years–usually around the same time I’m feeling insecure or uncertain in my primary relationship. I know that I don’t have to buy into the brainwashing it tries to give me. I’ve ridden that ride many times and I don’t need to see where it takes me.

For those of you unfamiliar with this special experience, depression is a really compelling feeling. When it comes on, it’s like its truth is the only truth. And to “try” to feel something else feels like self-betrayal in a way. And, if I were the kind of person who chronically sat on her feelings, letting go into it would probably be the most cathartic thing to do. But I was that person, I let go, I catharted, I got years of therapy. I don’t need to let go into it anymore. It only strengthens the neural pathways in my brain that are good at catastrophizing and gets my brain addicted to the heightened neurotransmitter levels. Obviously, all that inner work hasn’t made my depression permanently go away, but it has made it so that I slide less deeply and bounce back more easily each time.

So, I’m doing what I know to do to resist the pull of the undertow:
* Take the stairs rather than the elevator, even though all I want to do is stop moving.
* Eat more salad and protein, even though the comfort of chocolate seems to hold so much promise.
* Drinks lots of water and take vitamin B.
* Get myself to bed at a reasonable time. Every night. No exceptions. (I have been forgetting this one.)
* Ease up on any alcohol and sugar. I’m not much of a drinker, so that one is not so hard. But a day without cookies? Harumph.
* Exercise. Take a walk, anything. I need to start biking to work again, rain or shine, I believe.
* Get at least 20 minutes of full sun a day.
* Get out at least twice a week doing things that I normally would enjoy. For me, that’s tango and bike riding. How long has it been since I’ve done those simple yet gratifying things? Two months? Not good. I probably won’t feel like it and I probably won’t be as good at it. This is where I get to learn to forgive myself and teach others that I need and expect their forgiveness/compassion as well.
* Very important: When that sinking feeling starts (usually when I’m least paying attention), acknowledge it and then move my thoughts on to how much my dog and cat adore me.

I’ll add to this list, as I remember things.

To anybody out there who loves anyone with depression: We know you want us to feel better. We know that it is hard to be around us, and, on our good days, we remember that it breaks your heart to know that we are feeling sad and defeated. (Feel free to remind us of that when we forget.) If you ask us, “what’s wrong?” either we won’t be able to tell you or there will be so many things that the list never seems to end. That’s because, although there might have been a triggering incident that brought depression to our door, once it moves in and starts eating all the chips in the house and leaving its garbage on the side table and the toilet unflushed, its pervasive presence soils just about everything in our lives. (For those of you who prefer science over metaphor, think of it this way: it’s a chemical, physiological imbalance that spares our limbs and leaves us limping emotionally instead.)

I know it is hard for you, feeling like you can’t fix it, no matter all your helpful suggestions. Your frustration can give you a little insight into what we must be feeling right now (multipled many times). If you can bear it with us, just know that fixing something on the outside doesn’t even begin to address the problem inside. And sometimes attempts at fixing something on the outside just makes us feel that much more misunderstood or defeated (since therefore we must be beyond being fixable, no matter how hard we or others try). Please have patience with us. What we need most is for you to be with us. You don’t have to save us or even indulge us in talking about our problems–Tell us to get a therapist for that. But you can be a reminder that there is a world out there that continues to turn, unencumbered by our inner state, and that there’s a place for us in it. So, call us and tell us about your day, ask us to a movie, or to go on a walk. We probably won’t be the best company for a while (we’re really really sorry about that), and we may not even appreciate how much effort and patience it takes to be around us in our sticky mess of molasses thinking. Hopefully, we’re more to you than what we can provide you on any one day or week, and hanging in with us is worth it to you. When the sun comes back out, we’ll remember your steady support and unwavering presence and recognize your familiar smile and smile back in gratitude.

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13 thoughts on “That Damn Albatross Again

  1. Amen.

    As someone who has suffered with depression all my freaking life, I thank you for your notice to loved ones and well-wishers. In the midst of a blue spell, it is an additional challenge to know that loved ones are bored to tears with my situation, sick of my mindset, and wishing I would just “get over it already”. I think that many around us don’t really know that depression is not the same as grief, that it is a biochemical imbalance that is pretty impervious to ‘positive thinking’ and ‘logic’.

    I am so sorry you are blue. Your plan sounds great. I would only add that I hope you cut yourself some slack and be gentle with yourself. Sometimes we get stuck in the thinking and certain negative viewpoints become obsessions. You may want to consider more activities that help you get your brain off the sticky points and onto something else, like knitting or learning a new musical instrument. You know what I mean? Give your brain something else to do. (I know tango works like that for you, but knitting or origami would be good for quiet nights in.)

    Love.

  2. One thing that I’d add to the list (if it were my list) is cleaning. I know I’ve mentioned in my LJ before that the state of my dishes often reflects the state of my mind, and sometimes I can pull myself out of the muck just by doing the dishes. It makes me feel better. Is there something like that for you in your house?

    Hugs.

    • Great suggestion. I did do some cleaning this weekend. Saturday was round two for Doo’s de-licing. Hermes came over and helped with the bath and the laundry. And I did the vacuuming and swiffering. I also made a bit of a dent in the mounds of unfiled paperwork.

      It does help that not *everything* in my life seems to reflect my state of mind. šŸ™‚

  3. #1 That is absolutely the best thing I have ever read on being clear with a non-depressed person on how to love a depressed person. May I use it? (To keep and give out as necessary.) How would you like it credited?

    #2 When I feel completely incapable of being effective in my own life, what can pull me out of it is helping someone else. One time I donated blood. I read a study where people wrote a letter of gratitude to a living person, then made an appointment, met with them, read the letter aloud and presented it to the person. Up to a year later, they were reporting that they were happier.

    It occurred to me this week that it’s ironic that people think they’ll be happier when they get something, but actually are happier when they are giving something.

    I think maybe giving puts people more into a position of gratitude. Does that make sense?

    • On #1, you betcha. Feel free. No need to credit my ideas. They are public domain. If you decide to publish something and quote me word for word, then you can use my name and link here. I’m flattered.

      On #2, you are on to something. In my research lately, I’ve been coming across studies by Phillip Shaver and colleagues on the effects of altruism on happiness levels. As yet, they are on my pile of things to read in detail. But the jist of it is exactly what you have experienced personally.

      There’s a nuance in this giving thing that I’d like to explore. Because I do enjoy giving but sometimes I over-give and wear myself out and then get exhausted, lonely, anxious, and depressed. I’m going to guess that there is an important distinction in the salubriousness of giving to someone (or to a group) with whom one does not have complex entanglements (like donating blood, volunteering for a humanitarian organization, paying a compliment to a stranger, doing a favor for a neighbor) and doing all one’s giving in relationships that demand some reciprocity.

      What do you think?

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