Monday is therapy day. This week we talk about how low I’ve been feeling lately, how I often feel like I “should” be better by now and how I “should” be trying harder. Of course, I know that there’s no particular time frame for healing from past injuries or reaching a remission in my depression. I know that “trying harder” is not a genuine strategy for coping with depression. I know that “should” is a blunt club we use to beat ourselves. All that knowledge helps–sometimes. But sometimes the intense and negative thinking patterns that go with depression also override that knowledge.
Both this week and last, we spent some time talking about accepting my depression, rather than fighting against it. You know how sometimes the harder you push against something, the stronger it gets? In contrast, you can approach something with gentle acceptance, and it softens in return.
E asks me, “Is there a message you can give to your depressed self? Something that says it’s okay to be where you are right now.”
Where I am right now is in the middle of a swampy apathetic depression, getting little accomplished and utterly unmotivated to approach anything that might earn me some money. It’s a little anxiety provoking (the money part) except that I’m usually too tired to get very worked up. There’s a lot of thick muck in this swamp, so it’s hard to pull my feet out and walk towards things that might be energy-giving, like walks, nature, friends.
As a matter of fact, I am feeling a reluctance to go on our trip next week. Long before I decided to quit my job, my husband and I bought tickets to go on a short trip to China. We both love traveling, haven’t been to China before, and stumbled on an incredibly cheap deal to get our first glimpse of Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. Normally I’m very excited as one of our trips approaches. This time, however, I have to really convince myself that the travel will be better than lying around in bed playing meaningless games on my phone.
So E and I work on a message to the travel-loving woman who has so little enthusiasm for this trip, the researcher who can’t remember the point of the work she’s done for years. We’ll draft it together, E says, and you can record it on your phone. Then you can listen to your own voice giving you the care and reassurance.
“Let’s start with the key messages,” E says. “Empathy is usually the best place to start. We’ll tell her we see where she is and that it’s okay to be there right now.”
“How do we make her not feel so afraid of it?” E asks me. This is a great question, because in essence she is asking me to identify what I need to be reassured about. I’m worried about never feeling like working again and ending up impoverished (never mind that I have some savings and a comparatively inexpensive place to live). I’m worried that this depression will just get worse and worse, that I’ll never get out of it. So we plan to address those worries, using the saner, wiser voice that I would use for a depressed friend.
We end up with a few scribbled notes, and then E tells me to try recording something on my phone. “Don’t worry if you don’t like it,” she says. “You can always erase it and start over.”
So I try it. It’s not perfect–a bit thin on the empathy, a little repetitive, tapering off weakly at the end–but it works, the first time. I decide to keep it, rather than trying again. And I listen to it a couple times of day each day. I kind of like it. I’ve included it here (2 minutes long), if you’d like to listen.