I recently read Sara’s post “Depression Does Not Make You a Monster” and her follow up post, and felt compelled to finally put pen to paper, so to speak, on something that has been on my mind for a long time now.
I’ve spent a lot of time mentally processing my diagnosis, and here’s what I’ve concluded: Depression is and is not controllable. Depression is disabling, sometimes. And trying to tease out whether any particular bad patch could have been prevented is not worth the effort.
Most advice about depression is contradictory. That doesn’t mean it’s incorrect; depression is just complicated. The advice about how to help people with depression is similarly full of conflicting ideas.
On the one hand, I have had days where I agree with Sara’s advice to “ignore the depression, not the person suffering from it.” Sometimes the only way to feel better is to escape the thoughts in your head, which cannot be done if those around you are constantly asking you what’s wrong, why you’re not happy, and if there’s anything they can do. If I’m out and about, trying to distract myself, the last thing I want is to be pulled back to the thoughts I am trying to get away from. I certainly don’t want to feel like a burden, or like everything needs to come to a standstill while I get my emotions back in check.
All that being said, it is my responsibility to communicate my needs. If I drag my husband to the beach in an effort to lift my spirits and am still in the dumps, it is only natural for him to ask me why I’m upset. He is not a mind reader.
On those days, the best thing I’ve found to do is to go somewhere I’ve never been before and focus on the new surroundings. Otherwise, I read, sing, or otherwise find a way to silence the unwanted thoughts.
I should note that my therapist has also recommended focusing on sensory information. For example, think about the way your body feels against whatever furniture you’re in contact with. Now imagine what the furniture feels like supporting you. It’s slightly different, but it effectively changes the flow of your thoughts. (Aromatherapy can also work wonders.)
On the other hand, there are times when you need to express what you are feeling. I’m going to borrow again from my therapist. If you are worrying about something, imagine your brain is trying to send you a letter. It wants to tell you something important. First it’s going to knock on the door. If you ignore it, the mailman is going to start ringing the bell. Then, he might start yelling or trying to shove the letter through the cracks.
Once you acknowledge the mailman, he stops trying to break down the door. The urgency is gone and you can peruse the contents of the letter and move on. This is partly why it is so therapeutic to journal (or blog).
However, even writing about your experience has some problems. I experienced this when I tried online therapy. I spent so much time finding the words to describe what was happening to me and waiting for a response that I never gave myself the chance to bounce back from my bad times naturally. Writing is wonderful, but it makes you revisit your old emotions so you can immortalize them accurately. Then later on you might notice a typo. Before you know it, you’ve read your own angst-ridden sentence twenty times. Sure, your creative head space is probably not as bad as your original raw emotion, but you still relive that moment every time you interact with your writing.
All this is to say that there isn’t a “right” way to handle your depression. There isn’t a “right” way for others to interact with you. Every day, you have to assess your capabilities and determine what you need to do to maximize your productivity. Some days, all you may be able to do is cry over your failed drawing of a Tyrannosaurus rex (my Tuesday afternoon). Other days, you can muster the determination to clean half your house, put in a few hours of professional work, and write a blog post to boot.
What’s important is that you give yourself an A every day you do your best, even if your best today isn’t what it was yesterday.