After feeling a lot better for a while, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks sliding back into depression.
I knew, even when I was feeling well, that this would probably happen. It’s been many years since I’ve been depression-free for more than a few weeks at a time, so there was no reason to think that bleak, hopeless pain wouldn’t be back. I even told E, “It’s okay. I don’t like it, but I can accept it.”
So much easier to say when you are on the “up” side of “up and down.”
Now that I’m on the “down” side, I’m finding acceptance a lot harder. I still believe, in my head, that it’s the right approach. I still believe that struggling against my emotional experience just makes it settle in longer (“what we resist persists”). But my god, it’s hard to accept the tossing and turning at night, the unwanted thoughts (I’m nothing, I don’t even deserve my life, I’m just shit…), the lack of energy, the inability to get things done.
I feel so alone with it, too. I don’t want to say anything about it to friends, or to my sisters. I worry that I’m burdening them, that they are sick of it. Really? Hasn’t she been going to therapy forever? I thought she was doing better? No one stays depressed this long unless they don’t WANT to get better… Not to mention that my sister is busy with my niece’s illness, and my family is kind of occupied with worrying about her and helping where they can.
I go to therapy these days and don’t know what to do with my time. E has helped me a lot over the years. She’s given me great tools and incredible support. And still, here I am, the roaches of hell nibbling at the corners of my brain. “I feel like I’m letting you down,” I told her last week.
“You aren’t,” she assured me. “But it is hard to see you like this. I feel kind of impotent. I’d like to hand you something to make you feel better.”
“If you handed me the cure now,” I answered, “I’d be a combination of relieved and angry: why have you been holding out on me? Only now, after all these years, you tell me the secret to overcoming depression?”
We laughed about that, but the situation isn’t funny. It’s sad and frustrating.
I cancelled my appointment with her for this coming Monday because I’m not making doing anything productive with our time together, just sitting there in her office and feeling crummy. It’s not a good use of her time. It’s not a good use of my insurance company’s money.
What does it mean to accept this recurrent depression? I think I’m supposed to say something like this: Hello, Depression; it’s you again. I know you! You come and whisper a lot of mean things in my ear. I know, at one level, that some of what you say is a lie, but it’s hard to hear all that stuff over and over. You make me dizzy with all the images of harming myself, even killing myself. I don’t understand what you want. I don’t know why you are doing this. But pull up a chair, because you are a part of me, and E says to make all the parts welcome.
Long, slow breath. It’s okay; it’s all going to be okay.
CREDIT: Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash
Dearest Q: Imagine TS had written this, and you were reading it. What would you say to TS?
Kind thoughts – TS
Hi TS! I would probably say something kind and soothing and caring–because it’s easy to feel that way about you. Harder, as you know, to feel that about ourselves! But I know you are right, that kindness is the correct approach. Thanks for reminding me, again.
My own personal theory about intense experiences like this is that they have to do with reactivity to stress. Normally, your brain registers something is not going anywhere, suggests you rethink things, and then stops generating the emotion of hopelessness. I think stress responses interfere with this process, and the feeling if hopelessness never gets understood or attached to anything. The signal “this isn’t working” persists to the point of unbearableness. What I try is to work at feeling safer and calming my neurological state, which helps my brain work again, I am able to see what I feel is hopeless and address that and I am not buried under it.
I am saying this on a day when I feel hopeless myself and I forgot what to do. I was about to get buried under it.
The other thing that can help (but is not fool proof) is to keep in mind experiences cast a kind of halo or shadow over others. One success can make the next experience feel more likely to be successful. So do something easy, point out the success you are having, and it can relieve a bit of the despair.
I think I personally learned rage as the way to get things done. That Is what my parents knew, and what they taught me. So that can easily become my response to myself. Better to be gentle and helpful. It is frustrating to slide into these depressions and to have no clear plan of action about them. It is natural to feel frustrated and angry about it.
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I do think that some of this latest episode is related to the way I respond to stress. And of course, my self-care (meditation, yoga, etc.) falls apart as soon as I feel stressed, just when I most need that good care.
I like your idea of small successful experiences that (may) cast a positive halo on other things. For me, one of the easiest ways to create this experience is to clean up something simple–a kitchen cabinet, or sort and deal with a pile of paper. Nothing too demanding, but where I can have a small sense of productivity afterwards.
The other thing that is important, I think, is when I feel better to do what I can to structure my life so that I don’t often run into a lot of work stress. Random life stress, well, everyone will have some of that, and I can’t avoid it. But I don’t have to build in a lot of work stress.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hope you are feeling better!
Oh Q, I am sorry you are so low. What strikes me especially is the loneliness of it. So you stayed away from your scheduled therapy session because you’re not ‘making good use of her time’? But when you’re feeling at your worst is just when you need to see your T! No, she doesn’t have the solution, but then, you are not a problem that needs fixing. Having someone who can sit with you when you’re in pain is so helpful. It can be easier to do that with a T than with a friend because you are paying them, and so don’t need to protect them. Sitting with you while you are struck low with depression is just the right use of your T’s time – what better thing could she possibly do? We need connection to heal (well, that’s what my T says, and I’m believing him).
I don’t know your relationship with your sister or friend, but are they really as harsh and judgemental as you fear? I know for sure if you were my sister or friend, I’d want to know what’s really going on with you.
I do know the difficulty though of reaching out when depressed – it can seem impossible. But hope you can lean somewhat on the supports you already have in place. You deserve all the support you need to help you through this bad patch.
I do see what you mean about acceptance. Maybe it’s self-acceptance. How you feel is part of you, so you’re not exactly accepting depression, but you are trying to deeply accept yourself, however you feel at any particular time.
I hope this is not annoying, as I’m arguing with you, but I think I’m actually telling you things you already know when you’re in a different place.
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Oh, Ellen, this reply is about as far from annoying as it could be! I have read it over and over again the past few days. You have understood very well what I’m experiencing, and I appreciate both the compassion and the wise advice. I shared this blog today with E (in a session which I did NOT cancel this time!), and she agreed with you. She also thought it was a good use of her time to sit with me in my pain, to bear witness to it without asking me to be any different that I am right at that moment. And I have to admit, I found that helpful too. Thank you again for your very thoughtful, very kind comment.
Hi Q, sorry you’re having a tough time
Sending love, light and gentle hugs x
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Thank you, little fairy. I can definitely use the love, light, and the hugs!
I can empathise with the dilemma of wanting contact but feeling as if you are a burden on friends and family, but I also know what it is like on the other side of the equation, of feeling helpless and not knowing what to do when a friend needs support in this sort of situation. I think it is that feeling of helplessness which keeps some people away more than that they think it is too much work or you’re not trying hard enough. For myself I find that people don’t need to really *do* anything special to help me when I feel badly depressed, all I really want is to be included in low stress activities where I don’t need to make too many choices. Literally just let me sit in the room while other people do things, and occasionally be offered food or a cup of tea. Doing something to alleviate the feelings of loneliness and exclusion tended to is vitally important, and that is why you should be going to see E even though it feels pointless right now, just as Ellen said.
I’m finding with my own family that the more I talk and explain the easier it gets and the easier is for them to help. It’s especially important to talk about it at times when you’re feeling a bit better because I know it can literally be impossible to decide what you need or to articulate that when you’re depressed. If they can understand that it is cyclical and will pass, and that they can’t “make” you better only support you through it, and what things to say and do that you’ve personally found helpful or unhelpful in the past it can make quite a big difference. Some people might still hang back because they can’t or won’t give you what you need, but mostly people will be relieved and happy to help if they have some idea of what they can do.
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This is wise and good, thank you. I couldn’t do anything the first day or so after I posted this, but I did read over the comments again several times. What you wrote about explaining to your family, a little more over time so they can understand, that spoke to me, and it kind of gave me permission to tell my sister that I was feeling down again. I realized what I wanted from her was simply 1) to be seen and 2) to have some contact and connection. That’s it. And she could do that, maybe even better long distance than she might be able to in person, where she might feel like she should cheer me up.
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WOW…I read this. Im feeling just like this…Been doing good for a while…then wham here I am again…feeling isolated, not wanting to talk to anyone about it…Blah blah Blah…cant really find a good reason to be in this crappy place….but I am…Like the only good reason to be depressed is something hugely bad happened, recently…..But it hasn’t….just feeling stuck
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Hm, yep, I completely recognize the stuck place you are describing. It is so hard to be there again and to say, why, why, why?!? But like you say, there doesn’t have to be a reason as in something big happening. It can just be something little that tapped an old pain, and there it is again, that pain that threatens to swallow you up. I’m sorry you know it too… but I appreciate that you take the time to comment and remind me that it’s something others also experience. Just that makes me feel less alone with it.
I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling at the moment. And I completely identify with everything you’ve written here. But I want to second what TS said. I’m sure I’ve written similar posts and you’ve responded with kindness and warmth and wise advice. So it’s all in there somewhere. And you’re right – it really IS all going to be ok. In the meantime, I’m sending lots of positive vibes your way. x
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Thanks for getting it, and for responding so kindly. When I can’t get myself to be with friends in the “real” world, it’s very heartening to receive warm attention from friends in this “real-in-another-way” bloggy world.
[…] session with E on Wednesday, I email her copies of my posts from earlier in the week, the one about trying to accept feeling depressed and the one about cancelling my Monday appointment with her. I think, well, if she has time to […]