It’s always better for me to write about depression when I’m not depressed – like now. When I write about it while depressed, it makes me more depressed. When I’m not, or it’s only nagging at my edges, I can take a step back and be a lot more objective, sometimes coldly so.
Depression has left me along more often than not these past few weeks since resuming the spiritual exploration, which has been unusual for the past few years, so I figured now was the time to write about it in a little more depth.
And as I was considering writing this post anyway, I ran across the following passage in an article from Aeon Magazine:
“Negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Farewells, accidents, bad parenting, financial losses and even a random snide comment take up most of our psychic space, leaving little room for compliments or pleasant experiences to help us along life’s challenging path. The staggering human ability to adapt ensures that joy over a salary hike will abate within months, leaving only a benchmark for future raises. We feel pain, but not the absence of it.
“Hundreds of scientific studies from around the world confirm our negativity bias: while a good day has no lasting effect on the following day, a bad day carries over. We process negative data faster and more thoroughly than positive data, and they affect us longer…”
Medical science has made some positively miraculous advances since the late 19th century. And while treating depression is one of them, the way people in general regard depression in the Western world has gone backwards in some ways. In ancient Greece and Rome, for instance, it might be assumed that your humors were out of balance. In the 18th and 19th century, you would likely be told that you have a “melancholy disposition”. Either way, depression was accepted as a real medical thing, regardless of how people considered your humors or melancholy. Today, as the Aeon article points out, we know that it often has a medical cause – and yet many people still believe that depression is all in somebody’s head, and they just need to buck up, or what have they got to be depressed about?
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out my own depressive bouts, but have come to the conclusion that they come from a mixture of things.
I figure much of it is physiological, as it first rushed up on me in a big way when I was sixteen – I can almost tell you the exact day because it slammed into me so hard, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Most of the time the bouts happen, especially the deepest ones that I call the black pits, come on without any external triggers.
When there is a specific trigger, that trigger can be based on attitudes or expectations, leading me to wonder about how much external factors come into play. Or sometimes the trigger makes no sense whatsoever, at least nothing connected to me personally – a frustrated word from someone about something going on with them, say, or a news story about a dog dying in a house fire. These unconnected triggers are the ones I talk about the least, because I don’t want people to think they have to walk on eggshells around me to keep a depressive episode from happening. (You don’t. Really. And I don’t want you to!)
But I also know some of the depression comes from expectations – or more accurately, expectations unfulfilled. Feeling something I do isn’t good enough. Knowing I’ve let somebody down. And this is where the depression feeds itself the most by way of insidious messages that loudly run through my head during the episodes, especially the black pits:
You’re not good enough. Nothing you do is good enough, and it’s pointless, so why bother? People don’t really like you that much, they’re just pretending, or they’re afraid to upset you. (That last one is a big part of why I really don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me.) The only thing you’re good at is disappointing people.
Nothing you do is worth anything, so why bother?
I’ve never truly been suicidal. But the black pits have gotten so bad, made me want to be gone so often – just somewhere away and alone, not dead – that I have wondered if maybe the fact that my sister lost her husband to suicide, leaving behind his daughter and two sons when they were little, is the biggest reason I haven’t been suicidal. I don’t want to put them through that again. I especially don’t want my niece and nephews thinking that suicide is a good way out.
Depression is all about the little things – what it takes to spark it, and what it takes away from you. Sometimes those two are interlocked. For example, I need to recaulk my bathtub. I’ve needed to do this for ages. It’s a little thing, really, but even something as practical as this comes under attack from the “Why bother?” But then I’ll come back the next day feeling somewhat better, remember that the caulking still hasn’t been done, and this will rekindle the depressive episode. “Look at you – you can’t even recaulk a bathtub. What good are you?”
And as I’ve mentioned in this blog many times, depression keeps me from living in the moment. I have a lot to be thankful for and feel blessed for, but the pits are heavy into regretting past actions and mistakes, and fearing the future. Being able to be here now is like dry sunshine shining on mildew.
So what am I doing about it?
The one thing I’m not doing is taking medication. This isn’t a criticism against medication or those who take it. I’ve known medication to do wonders for people whose depression or anxiety were crippling. But most of the time mine isn’t. And those who have taken medication when it wasn’t crippling have reported to me that while it did mute the depression and other bad feelings, it leveled out their emotions so much it also muted the good feelings. Many of them quit taking the medicine just for that reason. If the depressive episodes are the price I need to pay to preserve my very happy moments, then I’ll pay it.
Socializing. This may actually be the hardest thing of all to do thanks to my geographical isolation, but the lack of it over the last few years is a big part of the reason the depression has gotten such an increasing foothold in my life. Social media helps, but I crave personal interaction, which is mostly nonexistent for me these days. Admittedly, I also tend to be a very affectionate person, and both through the geographic isolation and an unhappy marriage, my life has been almost completely devoid of affection for the last few years.
It’s not a coincidence that my only real regret in both of my death dreams this year was being cheated out of time I would have otherwise spent with family and friends. I’ve sent a few small messages to people like what I would send if I really were dying, but so far – depression’s whispers aside – it doesn’t feel like nearly enough yet.
Exercise. This always makes me feel better on multiple levels, and is also one of the first things I quit doing when the depression sets in hard. Knowing this, and knowing that being overweight and out of shape is one of my biggest triggers, means that I need to find ways to keep in the habit of working out every week no matter what. Which brings me to…
Pushing Through. The “just do it” mentality. As I said, the depression usually isn’t crippling, so this comes with varying degrees of difficulty. But while it helps me complete tasks like caulking bathtubs, it doesn’t do much of anything for making me feel better – except to remove potential little triggers from my path.
Writing. This is something that’s become a trigger in itself, which is especially sad to me because writing used to be my most effective way to push my way out of an episode.
Where I am now is deep in the process of realization that what I want from writing has changed. It used to be that I wanted to be a full-time writer, do nothing but write novels all the time. But now having published several books, it’s slowly dawned on me that what I really want is simply to write, without the hassles and frustrations of the business side of publishing – moreso now that publishers have dumped a big chunk of the business responsibilities, particularly marketing, into the author’s lap. Even many large publishers nowadays won’t accept your book submission if it doesn’t come alongside your marketing plan. I also don’t like the idea of being pigeon-holed into one genre (as I’ve also written about here before) since my books jump back and forth across genres.
The only reason I haven’t self-published yet is because I know my books need a good, firm editor, which I’m not when it comes to my own work. But if I felt confident that the unpublished ones were good, I’d just self-publish, mention it on social media (though no more than I already do anyway), and get on with writing the next one.
The depression, meanwhile, has been having a field day with this. You’re not good enough to get more books published. The ones you published aren’t really that good. Why haven’t you started a new book in all these months? You’ll never be able to write anything good again.
If those mental attacks seem contradictory, they are. Consistency is depression’s hobgoblin. In the middle of a black pit, there’s no place for logic.
Reading. Now that I’ve finished off a big piece of contract writing work – review-writing that kept me more heavily occupied for longer than I expected – time to do more personal writing and reading both has reopened. And for my reading, I’m mainly focusing on spiritual works that are detailed explorations into how our physical lives connect with our spiritual ones that are just beyond a veil, hidden from immediate sight but more transparent with seeking.
At the moment I’m still reading Jane Roberts’ The Coming of Seth. I looked briefly (I thought) at her The Early Seth too, then got immediately hooked because the first thing it dealt with was the same kind of dream work I’m trying to do. I’ve also been poking at Thomas Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert, anecdotes about the ancient Desert Fathers who took up solitary and small communal monastic lives in Egypt starting in the 4th century A.D. Merton writes about people who are a lot holier than I’m likely to ever be, but there’s a lot of wisdom in there too.
And finally, thinking about death. I don’t mean morbidly or suicidally. I mean contemplating my death dreams that I wrote about the other day – more specifically, the regrets when I thought I was dying. In the first dream, the time lost with loved ones was my sole regret. The second was almost wholly this, adding only that I hadn’t published one particular novel, the one I’d wanted to write the most and the longest before it was actually set to paper. It’s one thing to wonder academically what you would do if you knew you were dying; it’s another to viscerally feel it, even when you wake up moments later and realize you’ve been rescued from that reality.
The death dreams have done wonders when it comes to decelerating my desire to be gone.
Restarting my spiritual explorations, and all of the resulting contemplating and realizations springing out of them, really does feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. I have no doubt the depression would have continued getting worse otherwise. I’m still only on the first steps of this path that used to be so familiar and welcome to me, but I’m breathing easier than I have in a long time.