lost time

Drastic Pain Calls for Drastic Improvements

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

I’ve been told by multiple mental health professionals, from psychiatrists to social workers, that I should not make big decisions while in the midst of a crisis.

I mostly think that’s terrible advice, and it’s definitely inappropriate when it comes from someone who doesn’t understand the context of your crisis. When you’re suffering an abusive relationship, it’s a huge decision to leave – a huge decision that you must make and enforce before your crisis will end. That’s an easy example, of course. There are harder ones – quitting your job when you don’t have another one lined up, ending a relationship that has its ups and downs.

But there’s something deeply marginalizing about that advice. Yes, you’re hurting, and that means you’re not qualified to choose a path, so just keep crawling along for a while. Your problems are not real, so things will probably clear up on their own.

True, you’re often not thinking clearly when you’re in a crisis. But recovery is full of big decisions. Seeking treatment itself can be a life changing decision. We’re supposed to wait? For what?

I stayed in a traumatic job for more than a year after I knew I needed to leave. I stayed in a city that I desperately wanted to leave, too. I suffered without the support of my closest friends and family, who were too far away to realize how bad I’d gotten.

Maybe I didn’t have it together enough, or didn’t have the confidence to leave. I don’t think I was blindly following bad advice – but I did take it seriously, and it was liverwurst.

A chemistry professor, who was also a minister, once told me that we live more powerfully when we live by our own choice.

Trust yourself. Find a calm moment, think on it, and trust yourself.


Photo of painting by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr

Plan P: Acceptance

A lot of talk and writing about depression emphasizes the beauty of getting “back to normal.” They emphasize the goal of “feeling yourself again.” For people like me who missed the Treatment Train and the Full Recovery Boat during their first one or two or four major episodes of depression, such talk sounds like high pitched jibberish.

How far back would you have to go to be “yourself” again? So far back it’s not really you anymore.

At best, you realize that recovery for you will mean reinventing yourself. At worst, you are paralyzed by the ‘realization’ that depression has become one of your defining characteristics (Enter dejected apathy).

Either way, it’s hard to imagine a future without depression because it would have such little resemblance to your present or your past.

For some, this can be a rallying cry. I will FIGHT until I WIN and depression DOES NOT OWN ME. It WILL NOT define me! If that’s how you’re feeling and it’s motivating, that’s great. Go with it.

For me, it feels more like a call for acceptance.

Fuck it. It’s true. The experience of depression has changed my life. Forever. In terribly negative ways. Ways that can’t be undone. Maybe I lost a few years. Maybe I lost some potential. Maybe I lost a job, a partner, a friend. Maybe my family fell apart. That hurt really really bad and fuck it. It happened. I wasn’t dealt the best hand and I wasn’t dealt the worst.

It feels like accepting the fact of depression in my life is a prerequisite to moving on.

I’m told that the experience of recovery will change my life forever too and that sounds right. I don’t think recovery will bring me “back” to normal. I don’t think it’ll bring me back to anywhere. I imagine a new calmness, a peace I can’t yet picture – because it is so blessedly different from the present.

A peace that feels like moving on.

Moving On

“Led by Earth’s endless quest to equalize the dispersion of heat, winds whip around the world…”

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr

Can I Just Say? #5

learn_hard_wayCan I just say that I hate it when people act like depression is a valuable learning experience? That it is an “all is for the best in the end” kind of thing?

Depression is a learning experience like stubbing your toe is a learning experience – it hurts like hell and yeah, you learn things. You learn not to do things you never wanted to do in the first place. Things you never meant to do, things you never realized you were doing, things that you surely would have avoided if you had known.

I’m not saying that there are no positive outcomes of depression. You delve. You awaken to deeper truths about what you want. It’s just that it’s not worthwhile. It’s not worth it.

‘Cause you know what else teaches you things? You know what can open your eyes to the beauty of the world around us? Not having depression. Having the confidence to get that better job. Still enjoying that relationship. Getting out of bed every day. Those are the learning experiences.

You wouldn’t tell someone with migraines how much they’re learning. You wouldn’t say it to the victim of a car accident as they’re laying on their back in the hospital, looking for a helping hand. Sure, I’m learning. Because I’m hurting. I didn’t mean to stub my fucking toe. I didn’t mean to fall ill like this. I want to get better and lecturing me about lessons learned is not helping.

Lord, what I’d give to be learning something besides how to not be depressed. That’s what I’m striving for. To get back to that learning. To get back to the world.


Photo: Learning the Hard Way by Ludovic Berton on Flickr

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.

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.