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.
Your voice is so so so so soothing. It really was lovely to listen to ❤
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That’s very sweet of you, thank you.
Your voice reminds me of my very much loved aunt, and my old therapist Aisha. I love the recording. (I’ve probably listened to it more times than you have at this point.) It really resonates with me, all of it, but especially the part about not having to flounder desperately to get out of it as soon as possible.
Can you give yourself permission to see China in bite-sized pieces, and to let yourself decompress in bed with a game when you need to? Don’t beat yourself with a blunt club and make yourself go on outings you “should” enjoy if you really aren’t. If the depression doesn’t lighten through the novelty of your trip, that’s not because you’re lazy and ungrateful and pathetic. It’s because you have a clinical illness.
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Yes, that is a good suggestion, to give myself permission to do what I feel up to doing on the trip and to rest when I need to rest. I know that will be hard to do, because a voice in my head will say, “Don’t waste this opportunity! Who knows if you will ever be here again?!?” But I am always advocating to others that they make taking care of themselves the top priority, and I do truly believe in self-care, so I will try to keep it in the forefront.
I’m glad you like the recording, and please do remember that you don’t have to flail about and resolve your depression and trauma right this minute. As you pointed out to me–There Is Still Time. xxoo
Glad to hear that this approach works for you. It seems such an inspired thing to do, reflecting your own empathy and kindness back to you. I hope you enjoy your trip.
I hope to enjoy my trip too. I think I will, once I get there.
It does seem inspired, doesn’t it, to make a recording that addresses where you are right then and then make it in your own voice. It literally strengthens your own capacity to be kind, to self-soothe. And I didn’t have to feel abandoned, left to “fix myself” because E helped me figure out what the main messages were.
Can I ask, what kind of dog is this Max that you walk? I have a Staffordshire bull terrier (the smallest pit bull), a strong and loving and hilarious girl, and a Rottweiler/lab mix, goofy, happy male who is utterly devoted to the pit. My dogs are such a comfort.
I hope making this recording helped. It’s a really good message– thank you for sharing this. I hope you have a good time in China– and it’s okay to need to do things slower than you may have in the past, or even to feel apprehensive about the trip. Sending you good thoughts and hugs. Xx
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Thank you, Alice. It’s so good to remember to give myself permission to just go the pace I can go right now. I don’t always have to be a productivity machine, right?
Oh, Q, thank you so so much for sharing this. I love you … and hearing your voice, which I love, brought me closer to you.
I am pretty messed up at the moment … the sky is falling … so this is really nice.
I would love to be in your pocket in China. That has been first on my wish list since I was a teen. I will peek out, and also make little snuffly noises when I smell something yummy to eat. I am brave about trying new foods. Are you? TS
Hi TS my dear friend, I am brave about foods, as a matter of fact. I ate live ants in the jungle last year–that qualifies as brave, right? i just have to watch out because I have a deathly allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, so I can’t just put everything in my mouth without asking about it.
I wish you could come along to China as well. I love traveling with good people. Also, it might help you with your falling sky. A new and beautiful environment can sometimes engage parts of you that depression buries.
I send you loving hugs and mounds of good wishes, a whole Great Wall of good wishes.
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Oh, I am laughing, Q! I took my granddaughter to the birthday party of a friend of hers this summer. About 15 screaming kids and their chaperones. This boy just LOVES dinosaurs, so that was the theme. His Mom brought out a plate of chocolate covered munchies, and, as all the kids started to grab, she laughed, and said: “These are crickets!” They all ran away. So she challenged us! Guess who was the only person who got up to try a cricket!!! I got a roomful of “OOOO_Grosses!” I always try new things! Yum, crispy crunchy! Thank you for everything, Q!
Here’s to ants, crickets, and laughter!
[…] didn’t judge me for my childishness or my neediness. Instead, she helped me design and create a comforting recording to my depressed […]
This is encouraging and makes me want to talk to myself about a few things.
Thank you for doing this.
Me again, what program did you use to upload your voice bit?
You can upload it the same way you upload a photo (in the media section). So when you are writing, click on “add media” button (on the upper left). Then you can select the sound file just like a photo. I recorded the sound file on my phone.
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