This is my depression.
I feel myself losing energy and focus. Only a few days ago, I was all go and optimism. I might get frustrated or be tired – but behind all of that, life was pretty good.
Now, I’m wondering what the point is. I only wrote 87 words of my novel on Wednesday. At least I wrote, but 87 words…I stared at the screen. I stopped and started. The words wouldn’t come. But what does it really matter anyway, because this book-thing probably not even going to get off the ground, in all honesty. Right?
My depression is a slow creep to stagnation, worry and self-criticism, a descent to wondering why I’m even trying, until I’m too tired and anxious to ask the question at all.
I had a big moment this past fall. I had been going through a “slump,” as I called it. I’d gone through them before. Periods of time where no matter how sunny the day, or how much I had going on, or how good things were, I would just feel so stuck and lost – and mostly, anxious. This one had come on in early August and it hung around for a good long while – longer than I was used to. Then one morning – a Tuesday in October – I remembered waking up and my whole outlook was different. Hey! Life is pretty good! Got these holidays coming up, and lots of friends to see, and work is going well – what was I so mopey about, anyway??
I talked about it with my therapist. “It’s weird, it’s like I’ll go through these cycles of feeling so down,” I said to her at our next session. “Like I’m depressed or something. I’ve never thought of myself as a depressed person, but…maybe I am.”
“You are,” she said, not unkindly. More like holding a mirror up to have me really see what I was already seeing.
I left that session reeling, in a good way. I’m depressed. I have depression. I’d never let myself think the thought before, but there it was, undeniable.
I know there are some schools of thought where there’s a hesitation to label things. Like if you define yourself too rigidly, you don’t have any possibility of being something else. I think I had been unconsciously hesitating to put the label “depressed” on myself because that would make it too true – like I would cling to the label and make it much worse.
But instead, the opposite happened for me. I suddenly got a profound sense of relief. I had depression. It was like everything about me made sense for the first time in a long, long time.
That cynical, worrying critic that comes out when I’m in a down-swing isn’t a character flaw. It isn’t some weird part of my personality that I can’t seem to get a hold of, no matter how hard I try. It’s just my brain out of alignment. No different if than if I had a sprained ankle or a stomach bug. Every once and awhile, the system gets out of alignment.
I’ve been getting better at noticing when I start moving into a down period. It’s actually so clear this past week: I’ve started exercising again after a long break to, you know, to avoid throwing my back out while taking a nap or something. On Monday, I went to a class at a studio I’ve never been to – Zumba and weights, for an hour. Thursday, I was signed up for my first Pure Barre class, again at a studio I’ve never been to, for an hour.
Monday: “I wonder if I’ll be the only new person in the class. Will that be awkward? Maybe there will be someone friendly there to talk to. I wonder if I’ll look weird – I haven’t done any kind of dancing in about 4 scrillion years. Eh, who cares – I just have to move around and get my core strong. I can do anything for an hour.”
Thursday: “I’m probably going to be the only new person, and everyone in their perfect Lululemon- wearing, messy bun glory is going to judge me for not knowing exactly what’s going on and they’re all probably friends and I’m going to be this weird girl in the corner struggling to figure out what’s happening and my WHOLE body is going to be too sore to move the next day and you know what? Fuck it, I don’t need this pressure. It doesn’t matter anyway, I’ll be fine until the spring when I can run again. I’d rather just be home.”
They were and are both true. I was a little anxious about Monday’s class, but it was totally fine. I was SUPER anxious about Thursday’s, and I lost the battle. I didn’t have the energy to tackle that hill. Nothing is different about Monday and Thursday except somewhere along the way, my brain chemistry changed.
The good thing is, I know that now. I’m not weird. I’m not hopeless. I’ve got a sprained brain at the moment. And I’ll be gentle with myself, as I would be with any other temporary pain in my body. I won’t be in this spot forever. If I have low reserves in the tank, I just have to focus on not tearing holes in the side of it and depleting it even further. The best thing I can do for myself is to not punish myself for the “losses.” Focus on the small wins instead. Get in the car. Write 87 words. Make the call. Send the text. Do one thing I enjoy. Don’t worry if I don’t enjoy it as much as I usually do. Have the thought. Watch it pass.
I went to another class yesterday. It ended up being pretty great.