I keep checking my blog to see if it’s still up, and so far, so good. I think I’ve successfully transferred it to a new host, although WordPress appears to believe I’m still at my old host. Customer support tells me to clear my cache and see if that helps, but eh, I think I’m just going to wait patiently and believe that all will be fine. I seem to remember from past experiences that clearing the cache often means needing to figure out passwords and such, and even though I don’t feel like I’m using the internet much these days, I don’t want to have to re-do a whole bunch of passwords. Laziness, pure laziness!
Well, or maybe depression. I’ve been thinking a lot about depression recently as I contemplate the memoir that I’m not really writing. Depression has been a feature of my life, enough so that I consider myself a pro at living with it and recovering from it. My last blog post worried a few people who love me, but I’m not worried about my current depression at all; I know I’m experiencing it, but I also know that I’m going to get through it. It’s sort of like having the flu, I guess. Well, no, it’s not like that at all. Hmm… well, this isn’t an analogy that makes a ton of personal sense for me, given that I don’t know anything about engines, but it’s like having a car that won’t start when you’re an experienced mechanic with a complete set of auto repair tools. It isn’t scary. Tiresome, yes, and not fun, yes, but I know what to do.
The first step, though, is noticing that I’m depressed. That can be a tough one. Depression is so familiar, such an ordinary state of being for me, that if I’m not paying attention to how I feel, it can be really easy to drift into the gray and then the dark. You know those depression checklists that your doctor gives you? I always wonder how many people they miss because the feelings are so normal to them that the person doesn’t realize that normal doesn’t equal healthy.
Here’s a story that will probably horrify my dad. (Sorry, Dad.) Sixth grade was the best academic year of my life. We moved at the beginning of the year, and my new teacher was great. Long before gamifying was a word, he gamified his classroom so that his students were rewarded for achievement, both co-operative and individual. When the class as a whole read 500 books, we got a popcorn party. Every Friday, we spent the afternoon playing a team social studies game. Spelling and grammar involved a test at the beginning of the week, and then only working on what you got wrong on the initial test. Math was individualized, work at your own pace.
I loved it. It was the only time in my childhood where my peers appreciated my strengths. I don’t think I fit in, particularly, but standing out was for once not a negative. Yet sometime during that year, I read a book — I think it might have been by James Michener — and discovered the concept of suicide. I think I was eleven. It was a new idea for me, that you could decide to end your life. And I vividly remember my reaction, which was, “Oh, that’s a GOOD idea. How do I do that?” Fortunately, I suppose, it was not so easy for an eleven-year old in the 1970s to find the means to kill herself. But did I know that my reaction was not normal? That thinking “life isn’t worth living” was a symptom of depression, not just how things were? Nope. Not at all.
Fast-forward a lot of years and I have held on by my fingernails more times than I can count. My dog saved me once in high school by whimpering outside the bathroom door when I was holding an X-ACTO blade to my wrists inside the bathtub. Fully dressed, having spent an agonizing amount of time trying to decide on the proper attire to get all covered in blood. In retrospect, I’m not sure why that mattered so much to me — it’s not like anyone would have tried to get the blood out — but it did. Fortunately, it also mattered to me that my dog was upset. I guess that’s another story that will probably horrify my dad. Sorry, Dad.
Anyway, I personally don’t find the depression checklists all that useful, especially when depression and bereavement/estrangement get mixed up. Example questions from one of them: have you felt guilty, like a failure, or sad recently? Sure. But I’m estranged from my son, who is the person I love most in the world, so I think it would be pretty weird if I didn’t have feelings about that. Under the circumstances, I think those feelings are normal. I also believe that it’s much healthier for me to acknowledge them and do my best to accept them as what they are — just emotions, fluid and fleeting and insubstantial — then it would be for me to label them a symptom and treat them as wrong. I’m not wallowing, but I don’t try to talk myself out of feeling the way I feel.
On the other hand, there are other symptoms that let me know I’m depressed, not just sad. I mentioned one in my last post: ignoring trash. I’ve written about that before, I think. Oh, ha, I went looking and yes, I have: depression checklist. Yep, not picking up trash, bad sign. Also a bad sign: not folding laundry when it is warm from the dryer. Folding warm laundry is the single nicest household chore there is. It feels good, it smells good (assuming you like your detergent, and I do), and it’s satisfying upon completion. Also it’s easy. Folding laundry a day later, when it’s cold and wrinkled, is just not the same. And not folding the laundry at all, just getting dressed out of the clothes basket while the dirty clothes pile up in a corner, is a terrible sign. It means I’m struggling with motivation on a basic self-care level. In the same category: making my bed and flossing my teeth. If I skip either of those things, especially if I do so without noticing, it’s a sign that the depression clouds are surrounding me.
So the first step, I said, was noticing that I’m depressed. Done. The second step is hard for a lot of people and has been close to impossible for me at points in my past: it’s deciding to do something about it. It’s really easy when you’re depressed — especially when depression is so deep-down familiar that you know it in your bones — to feel as if the way you feel in the moment is endless and never-changing. That you will feel the same way forever, that there’s nothing to be done about it. Depression feels hopeless. Random related side note: people with bi-polar disorder kill themselves at about double the rate of people with major depressive disorder, because they do it on the upswing, when they see the depression approaching. Depressed people are often so stuck that they can’t even muster the motivation to end their depression the ugly way.
So, step #2 is deciding to do something about my current state of depression. Done. But this blog post is getting long, so I think it’s gonna have to come in parts. Tomorrow: the fundamentals of depression recovery.
Meanwhile, have a picture of a cute dog. Who could be depressed for long with her around?