The humiliating thing about depression, when it shuts down your ability to work, is not being able to explain why you can’t work.
“It’s like there’s this glass wall between me and my computer.”
“It’s like trying to hold together the south poles of two strong magnets.”
“It’s like trying to commit suicide when you’ve forgotten to take off the bungee cord.” (Phew, that analogy came steaming out of the dark side.)
None of this would make sense, I suspect to many people. But then many people also do not understand that there is a huge difference between being depressed and being absolutely miserable. I rather enjoy being miserable these days (when I am; it’s not a permanent state). It’s so nice, compared to being depressed.
Anyway, happily, at the moment I’m quite easily able to work. So I’m just marveling at the difference between how it feels now, and those other times.
Hm, since I’m reflecting on depression … when I started to read in the last couple of years that children are being diagnosed as being bipolar, I was really sceptical. I don’t have any conscious memory of being depressed before I was 16 (though I do know my first encounter with a mental health professional came around the age of 12). But I realised last week that the various rather nasty tinges to “reality” that I experience when I’m depressed are qualia I recall feeling from a very early age. The worst bit is when you still think it’s the world that’s permanently awful, and don’t realise that it’s you.
How do I deal with (bipolar?) depression now? Phew, it’s a hard-won skill to the extent that one has it.
It’s incredibly useful, firstly, to recognise it. To understand when your thoughts are taking on that peculiarly hopeless and/or obsessive quality. “Oh shit, it’s happening again. Oh, thank heavens, that’s what it is, that’s why things seem so awful. Oh god, this is scary, I hope it’s not going to be really bad. Oh, at least I can try and do something about it, now, now I know what’s happening to me.”
So once I know what’s happening to me, this is what I do, these days.
1) I’m on lithium and lamotrigine. I’m not sure to what degree they help. But I can’t say they absolutely do not help, either. I’m not sure. So I push up my dose, and get to my psychiatrist quickly. (My theory is that a good psychiatrist sees you first as another human being, and only then as a patient, in case you’re wondering; should also have a scrupulously rational and curious mind, and understand the limits of their dismal art.)
2) Yoga. Yoga is brilliant for depression. Not the vigorous stuff, ashtanga and the like. No, just plain old hatha yoga. Do what you can, only. A good yoga teacher only encourages, but never pushes you, anyway. (Which should help you recognise the bad ones.)
Learn the Salute to the Sun (an essential life skill for everyone, really), and try and start every day with a few rounds.
3) Sleep. Good sleep is so important. If you don’t know about sleep hygiene, Google it and find out. (This one is tough, especially if you live alone.)
4) Go easy on myself. I just can’t get as much done when I’m depressed. I have to make adjustments. Pare back expenses and hope I’ll make it through to when I can work full-speed again. Resist inadvertent pressures from others who don’t understand that I can only manage 15% of what I was managing three weeks ago.
Some first thoughts. Here, some past experiences.