Month: February 2014

Riding It Out

Here’s a piece of advice you won’t hear from your therapist: One day your depression will start to lift. In the meantime, don’t run yourself ragged trying to make yourself feel better.

I got that from a brilliant friend who’d suffered postpartum depression. While I’m sure she meant it to be taken with a grain of salt, I think it’s a really important perspective.

As a (formerly anyway) ambitious, problem oriented person, I often see my depression as a problem that I can figure out and eventually solve. This approach has helped me learn. I spend less time glued to my bed now because I call for help and I plan ahead to keep myself occupied. I read more and sleep less because I’ve noticed that that those things help.

But, as you can imagine, my default approach also leads to a huge amount of frustration and disappointment, because I’m taking responsibility for things I can’t control. There’s nothing like blaming myself for a bad day to bring on more bad days.

I’m not for abdicating to this disease, but I really appreciate the calmness that comes with my friend’s perspective. Feel like shit? Don’t worry about it – you’re depressed. Ride it out. Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow.

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The old “My mind is breaking” problem

I’ve struggled with depression for years, but there have only been a few times when I felt as though my mind was breaking in two.

These moments tend to happen during and immediately following serious trauma.

A friend recently told me a saying she used to repeat to herself during her very worst days:

“I’m not thinking clearly right now. I’m not going to fix this today. Maybe I’ll think more clearly tomorrow. I don’t have to fix this right now.”

I don’t know how I remembered, but I tried it during an acute episode recently and found that it removed a huge amount of anxiety. It lessened my perceived need to act, to fix. My panic receded.

And it’s true. You can’t think clearly when you’re panicking.

What works for some won’t work for others. What worked for you once might not work again, but I really love this saying. I feel like it acknowledges your struggle while letting you off the hook.

It helped me to stop thinking so much, which helped me to stop feeling so intensely.

Mourning Lost Time

There’s nothing like thinking about lost time to drop you into a tailspin of negative feelings.

I suffered a couple really shitty events about three years ago – before I was diagnosed with depression. I knew then that I wasn’t the best at “bouncing” (yeah right, try crawling) back, and I remember wishing I could sleep through the next three months.

I knew that was optimistic, but I never imagined that three years later I’d still be reeling.

Then you’re diagnosed and you realize that it hasn’t been three years. It’s been a lot more than that.

Depression makes it hard to accept that lost time. You know what else makes it hard to accept? The fact that losing whole years REALLY SUCKS. It’s sad and it’s disorienting and it’s completely irreparable.

When I’m doing alright, I know those years weren’t lost. I met and fell in love with a brand new baby cousin during those years. I moved back to my hometown, which I love. I really helped a couple friends when they needed it most. I didn’t lose those years; I spent them, well even. But I also spent a lot of that time really, really sad, and that’s a shitty hand to be dealt. It’s not the worst hand, but it’s a shitty hand.

You know how it goes. There’s not a lot to be done about it.

In large part, depression got those three years, and more. I’m going to do my fucking best to get the next three years. And more.

Movies and TV To Chill To

When I’m feeling my worst, gruesome murder mysteries seem to multiply in my Netflix suggestions. Friends seem to be just discovering shows like Dexter and movies like Beaches. Seemingly innocuous little indie films take a left turn three quarters of the way through and are suddenly about the molestation of children.

I can’t handle it. Or, rather – I shouldn’t. Real life is hard enough right now. And you know what? I’m done feeling lame about that. While those shows and movies might be fantastically good, they’re not for me. Not right now.

We don’t have to suffer through media that makes us feel tense. There’s plenty of stuff out there that’ll help you relax, stuff that’ll make you laugh. Here are some suggestions.

www.subbable.com – Not only do you get tons of free, entertaining, and educational material, you get a chance to support independent content makers.

I Am – An uplifting search for meaning by the director of Ace Ventura and other hit comedies. Available on Netflix.

HitRecord – The first episode focuses on the number one, with themes of interconnectedness and companionship. I’m a sucker for the song at the end. Available on YouTube.

Amelie – The ONLY bad thing about this movie is that it’s hard to fall asleep to because it’s in French and you won’t want to close your eyes. And the soundtrack is what we should all be waking up to every day. Fantastic. Available on Netflix.

Roman Holiday – One of those rare romantic comedies that doesn’t make you feel like shit for being a woman.

Defending Your Life – A strange little comedy from 1991 in which Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks must prove that they lived their lives courageously in order to stay in heaven.

Alaska: The Last Frontier – This is just a little reality show about a family that’s lived on an Alaskan homestead for four generations. Not a lot of drama, just people fixing machines, herding cows, and hunting and fishing. Available on Netflix

Angel’s Share – Though the whole thing’s in English, you might need subtitles for this one. A Scottish ne’er-do-well tries to escape the slums with his girlfriend and his new son. Scotch enthusiasts will enjoy the distillery tours. Available on Netflix

(SPOILER ALERT: This movie did make me pretty tense because it’s not at all clear that the likable main character is going to make it through. Spoiler, he does.)

Other ideas: The Muppet Movie, 30 Rock (Netflix), The Cosby Show, Reading Rainbow, The Joy of Painting (clips and some full episodes on YouTube), Everybody Hates Chris, Myth Busters (Netflix), Antiques Roadshow (YouTube and Netflix), Between Two Ferns.

Suggestions? Know where I can watch or rent any of the above? Leave a comment below or email me at depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com

Reactions to Depression

I’m a big fan of the belief that there are a million ways to feel about another person. There’s not just romantic, platonic, and familial love, there are a million types, and you can feel many contradictory things toward the same person at any given time – you’d probably be crazy not to.

Similarly, there are a million reactions to the news that a person you love, or just know, is clinically depressed. I’ll write about stigma soon. In the meantime, let’s talk a little about some of the most common responses we get.

Dismissal – This is probably the most famous. “You’re just blue. I’ve been blue. I got over it. So can you, and you should. Why aren’t you over it already?” It makes you feel even lonelier. It’s hard to take your condition seriously when people dismiss it. It’s hard to hold your truth above theirs.

Respectful Distance – This can be the worst! “Oh, you’re depressed? That sounds terrible. I’ll give you some space until you feel better.” I need help! Don’t leave me alone out here! Do you know what my brain fills in when you’re silent? LOTS of terrible things, that’s what! I need you around to contradict those bad thoughts. Please?

Anger – “Oh you’re depressed? Well, guess what? Life is hard, did you ever think of that? Do you see me whining about it?” Ouch.

Know-it-All – This is common from people who’ve been diagnosed with depression in the past. In trying to make you feel better, they’ll tell you about their recovery, as if every (or any) aspect of their past struggle is relevant to your current one. Or they’ll act as though you can fast forward to their level of recovery, because that’s where they are right now. It’s a more thoughtful and well intentioned type of dismissal, but it can still hurt.

Weird Advice Givers – I love it when people act like being depressed means you’ve never faced difficulty before. “You know what I do when I face [insert random challenge here]? I just work really hard for a weak and then I feel really accomplished and I feel better.” Huh? First of all, that’s a terrible idea for me right now. Secondly, what are you talking about? The worst part in this one is again the dismissal. You feel like they’re not hearing you, or they don’t believe you, and that your struggles are normal and easily overcome. I took it one more painful step. I took it (and sometimes still take it) to mean that I no longer had any credibility with my peer group, which made me think that now that I was recognized as sick, people thought I was stupid.

Responding to the news that someone is depressed is really hard. People feel scared, guilty, sad, defensive. They wonder what it means for them and can expect you to be able to tell them. People who would be perfectly comfortable helping you out if you had diabetes or Crohn’s disease act like you’re embarking on a strange new journey and all they can do is watch.

You’re not crazy. This shit is really hard. Having to manage other people’s responses can encourage your urge to isolate when what you need is company and support. And there’s so much fodder for rumination here! I could argue with people’s responses in my head for years! It’s freaking hard.

They’re not perfect. Chances are that they’d LOVE to help, they just don’t know how. I mean, take another look at the list above and put yourself in their shoes. Yikes! So many ways to fuck up! And none of this is consistent. Sometimes advice from someone who’s been there is really helpful, for example.

For me, the difference between a reaction that makes me sad and scared and a reaction that makes me feel less alone is just one thing: listening. Even if their reaction is anger, if I know that they’ve heard what I’m saying, I feel  a little better.

In the meantime, remember, your experience of your condition is valid.

What did I leave out? Drop me a line at depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com