Synthetic baby steps.

“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.” – Dr. R.W. Shepherd

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“The mornings themselves were becoming bad now as I wandered about lethargic, following my synthetic step…” – William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness)

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:: Journal entry ::

I find myself questioning whether I truly am depressed.  I seem to care less and less.

I’m exhausted.  I want to find meaning in something but everything appears plastic and hollow.

I don’t feel suicidal but I want to close my eyes and sleep forever.  What is that called?  Is it possible to break free from this?  Do I have the energy to claw my way out of this?

Written Monday, 11.15.10.

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I was in a different head-space when I wrote the above journal entry than I am now.  I’m farther along on the never-ending road to recovery and I know that I can ‘claw my way out’ when the darkness descends, but experiencing a higher frequency of depressive bouts does not equal each successive bout to be easier.  The undertow of feeling hopeless and defeated can pull you under no matter how many times you surface.

I don’t know which phase of depression is more difficult, when you’re trying to hang on to hope long enough to conquer depression’s suicidal siren, or when you’re working your way through the lightness/darkness state of limbo as you try to pry the barnacles of negativity from your skin fast enough to stay afloat and come ‘back to life’.  I’ve been experiencing waves of the latter phase over the past few months.  For a few days or a couple of weeks I feel energized, awake, focused, social, content; dare I say, ‘happy’.  And then I sink.  I sink, I sink, I sink back under the comforter.  Again, my body and mind want rest and darkness.  This will last a few days, and then I will be back to washing my hair and singing along with ‘Wilson Phillips’ on my way to work in the mornings.  And the see-saw continues to see and to saw.

I know that I can get myself out of bed on the lead-limbed mornings, but I’m not always convinced, and then the morning swallows me whole and the rest of the day is shot.  Each time after I tell myself that I will not allow myself to be fooled into shutting down again, I find that I am making the same exclamation not long after, and again, not long after that.  I want to get off this merry-go-round but I know it takes time.  I try to remember that every mood is temporary, and, as with reaching any goal, it takes patience, persistence, diligence and faith.  It also requires taking, as Styron puts it, ‘synthetic step[s]’.  As daunting, overwhelming, or impossible as a task may seem, it’s best (and possible) to get up and go through the motions.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always practice what I preach, but I’m getting there.  Steps, steps.  Synthetic baby steps.  And in the meantime, I seek out tools that help to widen and strengthen my stride.

One of the most powerful practices I’ve found has been to expose myself to things that help me to feel understood in the context of having a mental illness.  For instance, I refer to William Styron’s memoir about his experience with depression to gain comfort in knowing that what I experience with depression is real, and that other people, including successful people, have known and know the disease as intimately as I have and do.  Once you get to this place, it’s easier to believe that you are not your depression and your depression is not you.  Depression is manageable!  Who knew?  Though, the operative word here is “manage” and this responsibility is up to you.  Managing my depression is up to me.

Part of managing depression is learning about it.  During my quest to check out as many books about depression as I could from the Bothell Library, I came across a book by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, Psy.D., ABPP entitled, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track”.  I admit, I almost grazed right over it because the title and cover appeared uber self-help hokey but I was desperate to seek out anything that might help me to bouy up from depression’s deep end.  I am so glad that I found this book.  I highly recommend it if you or someone you know are/is trying to manage depression.  It’s a practical guide that respects and appreciates the depressive experience.  Julie Fast is a writer who has depression and has found a way to cope with it while leading a functional and successful life, and Dr. Preston is a professor of psychology; together they are able to provide examples of personal and patients’ experiences.

The main thing that I am struggling with right now is to find a way to manage my depression when I’m in a dip during the work week.  I am extremely fortunate to work with a team that has been beyond supportive and understanding over the past year, but I need to find a way to work (literally) through the rough spots.  As I stated earlier, managing my depression is up to me, and so, I flip to chapter 14, “Feel the Depression…and Do It Anyway”, for guidance.  Here are a couple of thoughts to consider from Julie:

“Working when you’re depressed is harder and sadder than working when you’re well, but it’s important that you focus on the outcome and how you want to feel when you get to bed.  When you can acknowledge to yourself, I did what I could today despite feeling so sick, you take control — perhaps more control than you thought possible.”

“Expect to cry, feel terrible, be less productive, and feel like quitting…and then do what you have to anyway.”

Ok, Julie, let’s do this thing.

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