This isn’t a Woe Is Me post about all the crap that’s been happening to me recently. That’s so last week, literally.
This is about depression.
I have sporadic bouts of depression, probably just like most other people, nothing serious enough to call clinical. What really strikes me about it is how disconnected mood is from reality.
In a large number of ways, things are Much Better Now than they were Just A While Ago. I’ve delivered my work to my old team (closure), I’ve moved to a new team doing something fun (robotics), I’m healing up from my illness (wellness), my wife’s returned from her trip (companionship), and I have a book coming out (success).
But nothing is perfect, and there are little setbacks that happen all the time. Sporadic depression, I find, isn’t brought on by nothing, the way clinical depression extends over long periods for no good reason; it gets triggered by one of those little setbacks.
When I was down with tonsillitis right before several major deadlines, things like a smashed toe made me upset and angry, and things like work challenges made me frustrated and worn out. Now that things are evened out, you’d think I’d have more resilience.
Instead, I found myself having a Surprisingly Shitty Day. Even though I felt better, I was making progress on all my work tasks, at least partially resolved my setbacks, and even made progress on writing and drawing, the depression never let up.
Now, I had a setback, as I said, and there are things that would make this situation better.
But what interests me is that some of these feelings I felt today – “I wish I was doing something else” and “I’m so tired” and “I can’t take it anymore” – I thought were attributable to my previous less-than-ideal situation: working on what I didn’t want to work on, under deadline pressure, while sick.
I know that’s not the case now. I’m working on what I do want to work on. The next deadlines are weeks away and I have no competing pressures. And I’m feeling physically better. Even the setback passed out of my mind. So why am I feeling the same way?
I suspect because those feelings are a habit of mind. A response to a challenging situation I’ve picked up that has become free floating. There are challenges inherent in everything you do, no matter how fun it is – and any bad habits of mind don’t care how closely aligned your current work is with your goals, your desires, your attitudes. Your bad attitudes and thoughts are just sitting there, waiting to spring, starting the tapeloop spiral into depression.
So what am I gonna do about it? Recognize it, blog it, and move on. I’ve had many, many cycles of mild maniac / depression in my life, and I didn’t start to get better until I recognized it, stopped wallowing it, and moved on.
My formerly quick temper had the same solution: notice it’s happening, turn the alarm off, and deal with the situation, sometimes cathartically, usually not. That worked so well my wife hasn’t ever seen me really lose my temper in eight years of our relationship.
If the solution to dealing with anger is not to get angry, is the solution to dealing with depression just not to let yourself get down? To pull out of the situation, relax, do something fun, and tackle it again with your energies renewed?
Let’s see. Time to kick back, throw on some Who, and chill.