Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm Back (Maybe)! Also Some Stuff About Depression

So, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, I'm in the midst of a depressive... episode? Flare-up? Whatever you want to call it. After about a month off of blogging, I'm feeling the creative urge again and am hoping to resume regular posting. However, I wanted to start off this next batch of posts with a little piece about what depression looks like for me and how I attempt to deal with it.

My depression usually takes the form of anxiety and anhedonia. It's generalized anxiety, so there's nothing specific I can focus on - I just feel a general sense of doom and unpleasantness and like everything is wrong. If I'm dealing with non-depression-based anxiety (which is fairly common for me), it's easy for me to distract myself with a movie or a chat with a friend, and then I feel much better about the whole thing. But if I'm dealing with depression anxiety, nothing I do can fix it. If I try to watch a movie or a TV show, I can't focus on it, and I find my mind drifting off to panic about nothing in particular. Then I get frustrated, try again, and once again can't focus. I feel no better and now have a rising panicky feeling that I won't be able to turn off the anxiety, EVER.

So what do I do about it?

These are a couple of the tricks and coping mechanisms that have worked for me, to keep me functioning.

-I work to allow "mental health days" into my schedule. I figure out how many days are available for me to take off if necessary. Then, if a day comes up in which I am so anxious about my daily responsibilities that it is making me physically sick, I have that time to take off. I allow myself a very limited amount - in school I usually granted myself 2 or 3 a semester (fewer if I was in demanding classes where missing a day would have major repercussions). Sometimes I didn't even use them, but knowing they were there made a difference.

-I cut out most unnecessary social interaction, unless I really feel up to it. Sometimes I feel bad for doing that, as on my days off and in my mornings I hide in my room and may not speak to my housemates all day. However, if I am stressed and only interacting out of obligation, that is not a fun social time for me OR my friends. It's better to hold off until I'm in a better place emotionally.

-I count time in smaller increments. Instead of thinking, "I have to work eight hours today," which may feel overwhelming, I think, "I have to work for two hours, and then I have a break," and I focus on that, pretending that I don't have to return after that. Mentally, I always feel certain that I can power through two hours of something. Two hours is easy, I tell myself over and over again. Usually this at least allows me to get through daily chores on a functional level.

-I become very impulsive. If I have a sudden urge that I want to do something, I tend to go along with it and refuse to allow myself guilt, because I don't know when the next opportunity will arise for me to do something that brings me pleasure. (What with the anhedonia and all.) Do I want to sit in bed all day watching movies and not get up at any point? Then I do that. Do I suddenly really, really, really want Wendy's even though the closest one is an hour away? Then I go. Do I suddenly have an incredible urge to own a certain movie? Then I buy a used copy on Amazon. The small rush I get from doing an occasional "happy making" activity will sometimes carry me through the day, so I act on those impulses whenever possible.

Obviously depression hits people differently, and everyone who has dealt with it has their own bag of mental tricks to fight it, along with medication or therapy, if that is a good option for them. I just wanted to share a little bit of what this looks like in my life, and especially how it has looked for me over the past couple weeks.


  1. I'm sorry to hear your "episode" has persisted. I've not made a point of checking on you about it partly because I don't want to come off as a depression know-it-all, and partly because I know how upsetting it can be to have someone knocking on your door daily about something. Still, I hope you know I'm here for you however I might be and that I hope you get to an even keel quickly.

    I've fought anxiety along with depression, but I've (generally) had them present as concurrent issues so it's been easier for me to distinguish between them and to know what to do about each. In my late teens and early 20s, my anxiety didn't even really manifest as an emotion. Instead, it presented with purely physical pain mimicking a heart attack. I went to a cardiologist for testing and everything, unaware that it was anxiety.

    The most important thing you've put forth here is to not try to conquer everything all at once, but to reduce the anxiety to winnable, smaller challenges. It's the kind of advice that might read as completely obvious to someone who hasn't actually dealt with this stuff, but for those of us who have, it's easy to recognize that this is insight from a veteran.

    You also raise an important point about how you face this stuff as an introvert, where socializing is overwhelming for you. In my experience, depression worked on me primarily by isolating me from people. For you, withdrawal is a self-defense tactic. Just goes to show that we're not a one-size-fits-all lot, and that's maybe the most important thing to remember: for ourselves, and for those around us who may not understand what we're going through and what it takes to get us through it.

    I have one more trick in my utility belt for anxiety, and that's my sense of humor. I've often said that it's when I can't find a laugh in a situation that I'm in real trouble. Sometimes those laughs are fewer and less hearty, but as long as I can see my sense of humor is still with me, I can take some measure of comfort that things aren't entirely hopeless.

    I've given it as an example before, but last year when I was admitted to a mental health facility for my depression, even the intake nurse noted that my sense of humor was still intact and I made her laugh a few times. That was tremendously important to me, especially at that moment. Humor tethers me to hope.

  2. *HUG* I think when I get depressed, it feels different, but I also do the "one more hour" thing, and I also get rather impulsive, hehe. <3 you!