This was written yesterday.
Making A Big Deal Of Small FryMy mood is still flat today, very much so. It makes it hard to concentrate on writing or reading, so I tend to read blogs with short posts, rather than those that require a higher time and concentration commitment.
My sister is at home today as she has a study day. She asked me:
“Do you want to come to the gym?”
You’d think that was an easy “yes” or “no” answer. Not if I’m depressed. If I feel low and numb it’s a hard bloody question. My brain wanders through dense thicket trying to find the answer, questing for clarity, but getting tied up in knots along the way. All the while my sister looks at me expectantly…
Usually it’s not worth trying to explain why I’m being a dipstick and can’t make the *finger snap* decision. Today I did try to explain.
“What time are you going?” I asked, stalling, trying to give my sludgy brain more thinking time.
She said it so nonchalantly, as if the act of going to the gym was as easy as letting those words trip off her tongue.
I knitted my brow (a purl stitch, should you be interested). ‘Come on, Louise,’ I think to myself, ‘this isn’t that hard. Do you want to go to the gym?’.
At some point a length of time had gone by that was, in my sister’s mind, officially enough time to come up with a response to the question. She realised, I think, that something wasn’t quite right.
“Do you want to go?” she repeated.
This is when I attempted an explanation of my wet-clay thought processing. “I can’t say I want to go,” I began, “because I don’t want to do anything. But my mood is low, so it would probably be better for me to go than stay in the house.”
“Right,” she said breezily, “so do you want to go at 1 then?”
Another long silence. One o’clock was two hours away and in that state of mind I could hardly judge what I wanted to do in the moment, let alone account for my wishes in two hours time. This I tried to explain.
“If we go to the gym now, I might be able to go,” I said, “but I’m probably going to go downhill in mood from here on in, so if you ask me to go in two hours time you may not be able to peel me out of bed.” (Depressed people are known for their positive outlook and cheery disposition. We’re a delight. Really.)
My poor sister, she has to try to wrap her head around the ridiculous workings of my depressed mind and she so often, understandably, looks blank after my attempts to ‘explain’ things. The thing is she wants to help, which is really nice and I think she does now just take what I say as it is, without trying to wrap her head around it. It’s best that way I think for both of us. It is the way it is. It’s always going to sound weird to her.
“So, we go now then?” She looks at me: Surely she’s asked a simple enough question this time?
“Yeeeah, I guess…” I say slowly, after another too-long space of deliberation.
Here’s what it is. I don’t WANT to do anything, I don’t have desire right now. BUT I know that my mood is flat and low and that in these circumstances I SHOULD go to the gym if possible because a) sitting around the house or going back to bed certainly won’t improve the mood and will probably drag it down further, b) I wouldn’t be able to force myself to go on my own, so if my sister is driving it makes it easier for me to think about managing it and c) I know that although there may not be an immediate pay-off, it’s often the case that actions accrue benefits for the next day or some other future point.
The problem was that I just couldn’t know I’d be strong enough to go in an hour or two hours. It had to be there and then or risk not at all.
Depressed People Are Selfish. Yeah, And?…
I am aware that the self-analyzing that goes into depression can easily come off as self-obsession, being difficult or overly caught up in your own woes. Selfish, in other words. This is a tricky one to pick apart, but I’ll have a go.
Firstly, depressed people are self-analytical – their heads are screwed up, thought processes and feelings are askew and they want to know, Why? So they analyze.
Secondly, depressed people are self-obsessed – they know something has gone very wrong in their heads and the pain this causes demands attention. In the same way that someone with a broken leg is obsessed by the pain they feel and getting it to stop, so too a depressed person concentrates on getting the pain to stop.
The kicker with depression is that the things that are supposed to make you feel better don’t feel like they will. These things are: keeping as much routine as possible; exercising and generally trying to do lots of things, none of which you feel like doing and all of which are a gargantuan effort.
Most people with depression would dearly love to concentrate on something other than themselves, and often, looking outwards and helping other people can be an aid to recovery in depression. For instance, I’ve done lots of voluntary work in different capacities over the years when I’ve been well enough to do something, but not well enough to endure part-time hours. At times this has been a lifesaver as it re-admits you into the Constructive Member of Society Club.
However, there’s usually a period before I get to this point when I live a purely selfish life in that all I think about is how I am feeling. It may seem strange for me to say this, but when I say at that point of depression, “I am selfish”, I say it neutrally, without a value judgement attached. I don’t want to be selfish because solely concentrating on the self, especially when that self is effed up, is incredibly painful. At the same time I acknowledge that I cannot be anything but selfish when depression is at its worst.
The tricky part is when you are able to lift your head and you see that you are in a hole and are going to have to climb out. At this stage of depression complete self-absorption becomes unhelpful. I still don’t believe in guilt tripping if you find yourself falling backwards, as that is, unfortunately, the way this cookie crumbles. However, as soon as you get that tiny bit of energy, as soon as you see that tiny ray of light, I think you need to grab it and make what use of it you can. This way hopefully you minimise the length of time you spend in self-obsessed introspection. I believe my personal responsibility begins when I am able to choose between staying in bed all day or dragging myself up for five minutes, the next day ten minutes, or whatever it happens to be (I’m not currently bed-bound).
The View From The Other Side – “Why don’t they just get up and stop moping around?”
When non-depressed people encourage depressed relatives or friends to do the above things, and when the depressed person refuses or says they can’t manage it, they are sometimes seen as being difficult. This reaction to a depressed person’s perceived non-compliance is understandable. It doesn’t take much imagination though to realise that no-one would choose to remain in a deeply depressed state given that that state is one of perpetual self-criticism and non-enjoyment.
I have great sympathy with the view that, on the surface, depressed people seem unwilling to heal themselves and with the frustration this can cause for those around them. I think what a friend said to me about positive and negative snowballs is true. From deep in a rut you won’t be able to see the benefit of exercising, getting dressed, keeping social engagements etc, and the extra energy those things take from a depressed person further inclines them to inaction. AT SOME STAGE if a person with depression feels a SLIGHT elevation in mood and reduction in self-critical thoughts, they might use this chance to do those things that are recommended. If they do something and feel slightly better they can build on that and eventually the positive snowball gains momentum and you no longer need to hold their hand.
I can’t speak for others, but one of the things that I fear most is getting so depressed that I can no longer help myself.
Where Does That Leave Us Then?
So, depressed people are self-obsessed and focus too much on their own lives, but this is symptomatic of the condition, rather than a moral judgement on the person. Their reaction is perfectly logical in that situation. Some depressed people berate themselves for being self-obsessed and for being unable to be happy, given their relatively privileged circumstances (often they compare themselves to people dying in Third World countries through lack of clean water and food). I try (sometimes successfully) to resist this line of thinking. I think the harder you are on yourself and the more you beat yourself up for being depressed, the longer your depression lasts.
Down With Guilt!!
If I can try to go out and do things when I can, but not be self-critical when I can’t, then I believe I’ll be depressed for shorter lengths of time (easier said than done, I know).
I don’t believe guilt is useful to anyone. If I feel guilty about my circumstances in relation to someone poorer than me, my guilt doesn’t make their lives better, it just makes my life worse. However, if I am able to build myself up slowly to a healthier position, then I have a chance of making a positive impact on other people’s lives.
I know this is all sounding very self-help-booky now, but I need to say this to myself. I need to write it down in the hope that I’ll take it on board and in the hope I’ll feel better.
Describe a Flat Mood – Okay, Everyone: ready your adjectives, align your similes and brandish your metaphors
Depression is so serious and also so isolating that anyone who’s felt its tentacles sucker-hold onto them, wet and slimy, will try to describe it. I’m no exception. The thing is language is limited and depression is not, so grabbing hold of the thing is like threading a needle with fine spun sugar. I’m about to describe what’s been described before because I feel compelled to. Apologies for repetition.
Flat moods in depression are woozy things and you can only use so many words to describe them. It does feel like your head is heavy, it does feel like something gelatinous has been poured over your brain and clogged it up. Maybe a bit like those old silicone breast implants that eventually corroded, allowing the jelly-like substance to ooze down into the woman’s organs and cause merry havoc. Also, I don’t know if it’s the case, but I feel if someone looked me in the eyes they’d see nothing behind them. The ‘me’ that is normally behind my eyes has gone on holiday and left its grey shell behind.
Like I say, this stuff has been described a million times before, but somehow I feel the need to say it again because each time it happens it’s still just as distressing and leaves you wondering, Why?
In the end I went to the gym with my sister. She didn’t mind too much what time she went and, given she knew of my likely duvet-diving should we go later rather than sooner, we both got our stuff and went.
In all honesty, it was a chore. I didn’t feel better whilst I was there. Some people would say that sounds negative but it’s actually just stating the case. I explained to my sister on the way out that she shouldn’t take my negative answer to “Do you feel better for having gone then?” as an indictment on the whole excursion.
These are the reasons I gave:
- my mood hasn’t lifted yet, but it hasn’t got worse either and it very well might have done if I’d sat at home all day instead of getting fresh air etc.
- sometimes positive actions work on depression in the same way that SSRI’s do, i.e. you don’t feel the benefit immediately.
I may not be able to feel glad I went out today, but objectively it’s positive and I should get some return for my investment at some stage.
Woaaah there, enough heavy posting.
This has been written over several hours. My mood now is slightly better than before and I’m more able to concentrate on my writing, which is a relief.