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.

The Meta Thoughts

Bebop Sleeping

Bebop Sleeps

I was chilling on my back porch the other day with my adorable dog on my lap. Suddenly I was sure that the reason my doctor hadn’t called me back was that I have cancer and they don’t know how to break it to me. They know I’m depressed so they want me to come in in-person. I’m never going to have children and then for the rest of my life people will look at me and think, “How sad. She always wanted children.” A blow like this will sink me back into the worst of my depression. I’m never going to get better. That’s my future. I’m never getting better.

See that? Blink of an eye and I’m like four steps into my hypothetical, mourning my imagined losses, starting to panic.

This is the moment when therapy, or some other intentional recovery effort, does something. Before I started recovering, a turn like this would have landed me in bed, completely shut down and miserable. Now…

The Meta Thoughts

The Meta Thoughts


Instead of following the hypothetical, I realize that it’s just a hypothetical. I realize that I’m panicking, that I’m entering a tailspin. I realize that nothing bad has actually happened.

I got up, shook myself. Put a leash on my dog, went for a walk and called a friend.

After a bit of distraction and support from my friend, after I was able to calm down, I remembered that not every thought deserves its day in court (or its time in rumination-ville).

The appearance of the Meta Thoughts is new for me – the inkling that bad thoughts aren’t real events. If you don’t know what I’m talking about – I’m genuinely happy for you. If you do, try to remember, they’re there for you – those heroic Meta Thoughts.


Second photo by Lisa Cyr on Flickr.

Mind Monsters on Spring Break

Scary BirthdayThe best thing about anniversaries is that they pass.

It is totally common to have parts of the year that fuck you up. Birthdays, New Years, the anniversary of a death. It happens to depressed people. It happens to totally healthy people who’ve suffered a traumatic loss. It happens to a lot of us who would normally have a very clear mind about whether the anniversary of a person’s death makes them more dead.

It doesn’t.

The date is a trigger. Like funerals, like violence, like anything that takes you out of where you are and thuds you down in the middle of some shitty past event. Then the anniversary itself is kind of traumatic, and, for me anyway, the date amasses bad experiences and connotations until the month or two leading up to it are filled with an overwhelming sense of dread.

That kind of anniversary becomes a fucking beach party for all sorts of unresolved little mind monsters. It’s spring break and they’re out in force, shocking their parents and appalling their more responsible peers.

The mind monsters are myriad and you can’t tackle them all at once. It can be impossible to even approach them when they’re all riled up like that. Sometimes the anniversary is the worst time to address the underlying issue. (I’m not thinking clearly right now. I don’t have to solve this today.)

This year I’m working on letting the anniversary pass. Then, when the monsters are back home, in bed, surrounded by calmer thoughts, we’ll sit down, as gently as possible, and we’ll have a chat.

In the meantime, the anniversary will pass.


Photo from TheMetaPicture

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

Nourishing the Part of You That Wants to Try

Like addiction, our narrative around depression is contradictory. We’re told it’s a faultless medical condition warranting treatment, and that recovery is a feat that one should be proud of. Those of us still suffering from the disease are left to think that not recovering is a sign of some character flaw – a lack of perseverance, a failure to really try.

The thing is that we confuse the effort with the intended consequence. Unless we’re actually getting better, no one (ourselves included) tends to notice that we’re trying. We don’t give ourselves credit. It’s exhausting. It’s disappointing. It goes in circles. We end up blaming the victim.

I do wonder how much trying actually does help. I think of my friend with post-partum who told me not to worry about ‘making myself’ better. One day the depression would just start to lift.

That Loving Part

That Loving Part

Still, I’ve felt a strong need, a strong belief that trying is vital. And I’ve started to think that maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question. Maybe it’s not the trying itself that helps, maybe it’s the listening to the part of yourself that wants to try. That’s the part that has hope. That’s the part that is loving. Whether she’s able to actually do anything can be beside the point. It’s the listening to her that matters.

I think this is especially important for longer term sufferers, the sufferers who are tired of the cycle of trying and being disappointed. It’s not your fault if trying hasn’t helped. Give some real thought to that part of you that still wants to try. And be good to her. As best you can.

Love her. She’s in there, loving you.


Photo from LowJumpingFrog