Depression and Ambition

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, UK

         Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, England

I used to be an ambitious person. I was innately motivated to make the world a better place and I enjoyed that motivation. I wanted to accomplish big things and sometimes I got close – anyway I showed some real potential.

The thing about clinical depression and ambition is that depression is such an enormous obstacle that it overshadows all of the other challenges that you might choose to take on. It’s that ass hole at a dinner party who presides over the whole group with inane, infuriating monologues, refusing to be interrupted.

It’s not that I no longer hope to overcome great challenges – it’s just that the great challenge is depression, and it’s taking everything I have.

The truth is I really miss it. I miss the sense of purpose. I miss the drive, the striving for something bigger than myself. I miss believing that I could contribute.

On good days I think – well, all that stuff I accomplished before my diagnosis I accomplished as an undiagnosed major depressive – WHO KNOWS what I can accomplish once I’m recovered.

Most days I just hope to recover.


I say “affliction.” You say “totally normal and necessary part of the human experience.”

affliction afflactionI was recently told by a loved one that depression is not an affliction. Affliction has a negative connotation, and depression is something everyone goes through – part of the human experience.

I took a deep breath. I said that if anything deserves a negative connotation this does, but she didn’t budge.

It’s a common refrain – a gentle way to dismiss the pain depression causes, and it hurts to hear. So what’s going on here? Why are people so defensive of depression? I’ve thought of a couple options.

  1. They confuse the person with the condition. Not wanting the person to feel stigmatized, they feel a need to celebrate the disease.
  2. They are hesitant to accept that you’re hurting – or that your pain is profound – because they love you.
  3. They worry about their own mood health and want to believe that mood disorders are common and even positive in the long run.

I was relieved to notice that all of the explanations I could come up with were rooted in love and concern for self and others.

I shuffled through possible reactions and settled on “meh.” It hurts my feelings when someone disagrees with me about the nature of my condition – but only momentarily.

With this stigmatized, little understood condition, it often falls on us to be patients and educators at the same time. But what if that weren’t true? I love the idea of letting go of the need to educate, of the need to manage other people’s responses. I love the idea of just being a patient for a while.

My friend is not responsible for my recovery. I am. Does it really matter if I think she’s wrong headed on this particular issue?

I can respectfully disagree (maybe send her an article or two) and then let it go. I can stop worrying about the fact that “someone is wrong on the internet,” and focus on getting better.


Photo from Patrick Feller on Flickr.

Thoughts Are Not Convictions. Feelings Are Not Beliefs.

I have felt the need to answer for my thoughts. Big thoughts – about what others should do with their lives. Little thoughts – that the woman walking slowly in front of me is a moron. Thoughts that I don’t act on because I know they are unfounded.

Mean thoughts make me ashamed. Hopeful fantasies are embarrassing. So I try to unwind them, to sort them out and figure out their meaning. I have conversations, sometimes fights, in my head with the objects of my thoughts, defending them, apologizing for them, trying to explain myself.

It’s a lot of work and you know what? It sucks.

Thoughts are not convictions. I didn’t tell my friend what to do with his life because I know that if someone knows what’s best for him – it’s not me. I didn’t so much as scowl at the woman on the street. I just had a thought. If I’d let it, it would pass into the ether, surrounded by billions of thoughts, true and untrue. Valid and ridiculous. Lovely, silly, sad, and sane.

There are things you can do to improve your internal monologue, to make your mind more peaceful or kind. But you will never control every thought. And you do not have to answer for things you cannot control.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Note them. Try not to push them down or drink them away. They also pass. They’re not laws of physics. They’re not character traits or even stances. They’re just thoughts and feelings.

Choose the ones you like. Choose the ones you like and pursue them. Hang on to them and learn about them. Do things to help them happen again.

The rest? Take note, then listen to the “singsong wisdom in the sound of letting go.”*


Let Go


Quoted from the poem Wish by J.M. Morea in her book where the ending begins

Photo by David Goehring on Flickr

This Blog is Full of Liverwurst

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I hate when people seem to think that they can fix, off the top of their heads(!), problems that have taken me years to even define. It’s rude and almost never helpful, almost always hurtful. I strive in this blog to never give flippant advice, and to never assume that I know how something will affect any given reader.

And toward that end: The Menu Approach.

I'll start with some Exercise and have the You Do You! as an entre please.

I’ll start with some Exercise and have the You Do You! as an entre please.
(Getting fancy with the multimedia, people!)


When I was feeling better, I would use The Menu Approach when there were too many cool things to do. To avoid becoming overwhelmed at picking the right one, I would pretend all my options were on a menu.

I might want to order everything, but if I tried to eat it all I’d have a terrible night. Also, I don’t expect myself to always pick the absolute best thing on a menu. I just pick something and it’s almost always perfectly good. (I know plenty of people who do stress out about menu choices. If you’re one of them – this post might be liverwurst.)

I try now to use The Menu Approach when people give me advice, even if they don’t present the advice as optional. Oh, you think I should wake up earlier because it might help me avoid nightmares? Thanks. I’ll put that on the menu, but I feel NO sense of urgency in trying it out.

I use The Menu Approach to rob the advice of its sting. The “wise adviser” may not realize that mornings are the hardest part of the day for many depressed people, and that making your morning longer might be a special kind of torture.

So instead of getting mad at them for thinking they know what’s good for me when they do NOT understand what’s going on with me, I put it on The Menu. And sometimes I just let it sit there. Like liverwurst.

P.S. This blog is full of liverwurst! Please treat it as such

That Loving Step

That Loving StepSometimes I get so sick of depression metaphors. I really wish we could just call it what it is. Then I try to do that, and I’m back to the metaphors.

Is your depression a black dog? A mean voice? A wind tunnel? Are you over a cliff? Treading water?

A good friend recently told me about his evolving relationship with the “mean voice.”

Once upon a time, he agreed with the mean voice. He let it guide his thoughts and didn’t fight when it shaped his dreams. Yes. I’m worthless. I’m pathetic. Look at me now, fucking it up again.

Then, after a good amount of time in therapy, he began to hate it. He still often lacked the fortitude to fight, but he saw himself in an epic battle. A hopeless battle, because the voice was just as smart, just as patient, just as powerful as him.

Then, after years and years, he began to see the voice as scared, sad, angry, and childish. Where he’d once seen righteous strength, he now saw temper tantrums.

Eventually he realized that he could love the voice. He could love that poor kid who got a shit deal and was left confused and angry. He realized that, in fact, loving it was the only thing to do. Love the anger away.

I’ve known this friend for a long time, and I’ve loved him since I met him. I don’t actually know when it happened, but I think that that last step, that loving step, that’s when he became a man.