Thursday, October 1, 2015

DwD: depression's useful side

I think the first and most important thing I've learned, and I can't stress this enough, is that depression isn't a bad thing. The first time a therapist said this to me, it was a complete mind-blower. There are things that are worth being depressed about, she said. I'm sure I stared at her with my jaw hanging open.

I want my deceased parent/child/spouse back.
I need to leave my job and I can't face it right now.
I'm at a turning point but I just want everything to stay the way it was.
If I'm myself, no one will love me. 
If I'm not myself, I hate myself for not standing up for myself.
I feel fat and ugly and useless.
I don't know what to do.

Life is hard. There are things that are worth being depressed about. In a strange and twisted way, it was such a relief. (Maybe we should learn to rejoice in being strange and twisted.)

All I knew before that was that depression was bad, bad, bad, BAD. Something to run away from as hard and fast as you can. Something to hide and be ashamed of. But it's not true. Depression is something that our brains do to protect us from strong feelings or difficult situations or feeling hopeless and stuck.

The problem is that depression takes on a life of its own. Once it gets started, it has its own internal logic that sometimes keeps us trapped long after the useful, protective part of depression's function has run out.

And also, of course, depression manifests itself physically. This is probably why some people never experience it. They don't have whatever physical makeup it takes to pull you under. Once depression takes hold, it is a physical illness. You can't just snap out of it.

About ten years ago, I started a new job. I am almost never sick, but barely three months after I started, I got a bad case of the flu that put me on my back for two weeks. At first I thought it was a cold, and cold-schmold-- not a big deal and I can work through it. This was all complicated by the fact that I didn't want my new co-workers to think I was a slacker. They barely knew me, how could they know that I didn't pull this stuff all the time?

But I couldn't work through it, because I was really, really sick. So I stayed home a few days. Then I thought, colds only last a few days, so I should be better now. I kept trying to go back to work, only to end up back home again by 11 a.m. Then I finally realized it was full-blow flu, but that only lasts 7-10 days, right? so I kept trying to back to work, because I should be well by now. I should not still be sick. But I was.

Depression is like that. You don't want to be sick. You feel like you shouldn't be sick. But you are, and you have to live through it until you're better. Fighting it doesn't make any difference, and often makes it worse. (It's possible that the reason that flu lasted longer than usual is because I kept trying to convince myself I wasn't sick, and because I wasn't taking care of myself, I made it worse.)

The Buddhists say the way to conquer our demons is to befriend them. Invite them in, get to know them, extend them compassion and kindness --and because our demons are so often internal, this means extending kindness and compassion to ourselves.

Be kind to yourself. Befriend your depression. Invite it in, welcome its protective shield, get to know its dimensions.

And I'm saying that to myself as much as you. I didn't want to admit this, because what is more boring than reading the posts of a depressed person. But I'm in the midst of the gray myself right now.


KarenB said...

Oh Barb, I hate that you're going through a grey time. I walked through the grey, as you know, for much of the last school year so I do understand how that feels. Depression lies. It will get better. You know this; I know this, and still . . .

Please, please, please practice as much self care as you can. Tell the boy to make dinner. Have someone else do the laundry. Or whatever. Tell people who don't understand to watch Andrew Solomon's TED talk on depression. I found it and handed it to my husband and told him he had to watch it because it explained it so much better than I could.

And have a few more hugs and maybe some chocolate.

Julie said...

Mmmm, me too. September knocked the ever-livin' shit outta me. Climbing back? Sure, let's say that.

Self-care! Also, befriending our demons. Perfection. Pure perfection.

Love you, love Karen. Miss you both.

BarbN said...

Thanks, Karen and Julie. After reading a bunch of articles about depression online yesterday, I'm almost embarrassed to call my experience "depression." Mine is so mild compared to what some people have. Climbing back, that's what we're doing.

KarenB said...

Pain is pain. If it's affecting the quality of your life, then it's a problem. If it makes you feel better, to do the comparison, then go for it! It does with me for physical issues, but not for mental ones. Mental ones, it just makes me feel guilty about complaining and then I feel worse. Just because someone else has it worse than you, doesn't make yours go away.

p.s. I texted you, have you gotten a new phone?

BarbN said...

Good point. I think it did make me feel a little better in that I realized that in the grand scheme of things, what I'm experiencing isn't that bad. But there's absolutely no point in comparing myself to someone else. Pain is pain.