“You’re not depressed. You’re just tired.”
“You’re not depressed. You’re just lazy!”
“You’re not depressed. You’re unambitious!”
“You’re not depressed. You’re not focused.”
“You’re not depressed. It’s just one of those days.”
“You’re not depressed. You’re just an asshole!”
I could go on. These aren’t things that people have said to me. These are things that my depression says to me. See, that’s the insidious thing about depression: it really would rather you ignore its reality so that you don’t do anything to take care of it. It also projects these thoughts on to the other people in my life. My depression would have me believe that I live in a world where no one will believe that I’m depressed because I look okay.
It’s only been a few days since I’ve been able to acknowledge that I have been in the middle of a depressive cycle. I’m not sure what triggered it or if was any one thing at all. There were a couple of key anniversaries this summer that may have done the trick, plus this past summer was both physically and emotionally exhausting. But it may just be that my depression crept back because I fooled myself into thinking that I was okay.
When I am severely depressed, I get a bad case of what Buddhists call “monkey mind”.It is a state of mind where the bran is “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. It feels like I can’t hold on to a thought. It’s not quite ADHD, but similar. The monkey mind is coupled with incredible self judgment around my scattered brain and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that I’ll always feel his way. It’s also accompanied by irrationally turning frustrated feelings with other people inward upon myself. “Why did So&So do that awful thing to me? Clearly, it is because I’m deserving of having awful things happen because So&So is a model citizen”.
One of the paradoxical aspects of depression is paralysis accompanied by fatigue. “Doing nothing is exhausting!” It’s the fact that while I’m “doing nothing” by brain is doing everything. Seriously everything! I have solved world hunger, written the next great American novel, taught myself several instruments, coached my team to the AFC championship (because even in my mind, I’m not good enough to win the super bowl), created several new culinary delicacies from things I’ve grown in my own garden (in my brain), written Star Wars, Episode 12 “The Force Considers Retirement”, had a crazy love affair/international tour with Norah Jones, Kate Davis, and Esperanza Spalding (the details are salacious), all while creating an urban, interfaith center for justice and organic gardening. This is about 45 seconds worth of thoughts on my average day.
I live with my depression. I am functional. I beat myself up for setting the bar low. “Well… at least I put on pants this morning! That’s a win!” Okay, maybe not that low, but to be honest, some days that is more of a struggle than I would like to admit. All experts will tell you that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s vitality, and it’s vitality that is lacking from my life. One of things I’ve noticed since being on meds is that their net effect is numbing. In the effort to numb my sadness and anger I often numb my joy and passion along with it. Brene Brown points out that you cannot numb the bad without also numbing the good. My natural defense against my depression is numbing until I can’t numb anymore then I crash… in any number of ways. I hate the numbing feeling. I fear the alternative. Emotions terrify me.
Mindfulness practice has become a part of my life. I meditate about 20 minutes a day with the help of an app called Headspace. I highly recommend it if you are looking into mindfulness. Being mindful forces me to sit with my feelings in a gentle/non-judgmental way. It slows my monkey mind to a degree. Meditation drags me kicking and screaming into the present. When I dwell in the past, I am filled with depression and regret. When I live in the future, I am filled with anxiety and fear. When I live in the present… I just am. It was in meditation a few days ago that I was able to discern my depression’s presence and sit with it for a bit. It didn’t make my depression go away…
…and that’s the frustrating piece. I don’t think anything will make my depression go away. Living as me means living with a depressive brain. I can cope. I can find techniques to manage during the day, but I’m never not depressed. I don’t mean that to say that depression defines me. I am more than my depression. Much more. But my brain has 35 years of programming that I am trying to rewire. That’s not an overnight job. It often feels very cyclical. Right now, I am at the bottom of a depressive cycle. I don’t know how long it will last, but I am here and attempting to live mindfully with it. I meditate, I read helpful books, I exercise, I put my hands in the dirt… those things ground me in my body and ground me in the present. Writing helps too. I celebrate when I have enough wherewithal to write a post. I celebrate when I have enough ambition to workout. I celebrate when I am fully present for my loved ones.
And somedays, all I can do is celebrate the fact that I didn’t leave the house naked.