Category Archives: depression

A Kind of Evolution

I’ve been thinking about my thinking again.

Also about my feeling.

There’s a deeply superstitious part of me that hesitates to make further prognostications about … well, anything really, but especially my mental health. Likewise, the streak of stubborn pride that so dislikes being wrong doesn’t want to make any blanket statements that I might have to retract.

But, although I suppose I’ve “known” this for much of my life, in the sense that I could echo the phrase and tell you what it literally means (or, well, what I think it literally means?), I haven’t really known in the past that the only constant is change.

Ask me twenty-five years, fifteen years, ten years, five years, five months from now what that means, and I suspect I’ll give you a different-ish answer than I would give you today. My answer will change because my understanding will change. At least, I hope it will: when our minds cease to change, we are either literally or metaphorically dead.

So, anyway.

I’ve had a longish–for me, anyway–run of relatively smaller troughs and peaks in my mood. I wouldn’t describe my mood-state as “stable,” exactly: the lows just aren’t as frequently bone-scraping, and the highs aren’t quite so knife’s-edge glittery and wrathful.

I mean, nobody’s is enitrely stable (with the possible exception once again of people who are literally dead … but since we can’t ask them, we can’t know). Though maybe that’s a function of this particular phase of my evolution: I think I used to understand the neurotypical mood-space[1] as a lake, rather than a tidal basin[2].

  1. By which I mean the area occupied on a graph between the lowest of my lows and the highest of my highs.
  2. I might be using “tidal basin” incorrectly here. I’ll try to double-check it before I publish this post, but I’m afraid if I try right now I’ll fall down a rabbit hole about tides and forget to finish writing this.

The water levels of lakes are disturbed from time to time by droughts or storms, and are subject to some degree of seasonal rise and fall, but on average their levels remain fairly predictable and fairly constant.

The water level in a tidal basin, on the other hand, varies more frequently. Ebb and flow is the major constant, though its degree varies–a spring tide may bring the waves washing far up the beach; coupled with a storm, it may send the waters flooding into the streets of the nearby towns.

Perhaps most people’s mood-space is like a fairly typical tidal basin, while mine has often more closely resembled the Bay of Fundy.

A pier and a boat on the Bay of Fundy showing the water levels at high and low tides.

The Bay of Fundy at high and low tides. Screenshot from Wikipedia, because I’m lazy.

I think the rate of change from low tide to high is still greater for me than it is for many people, but it’s frequently less than it often was in the past. I am learning to manage my life and to see the imposition of boundaries that protect my mood-space as tools that enable me to do the things I love doing rather than as chains confining my wings.

I suppose it helps that I have something, now, that I love doing, and that I must do just about every day if I’m going to do it well. Ballet is a demanding mistress.

Because life is never a controlled experiment, I can’t say which of variable or combination of variables has been most responsible for this particular phase in my personal evolution. Physical activity has always been central in keeping me on a more even keel, but prioritizing good sleep hygiene is also crucial. A much-stronger social circle, a reasonably happy home life, and work that I enjoy certainly contribute as well. Likewise, it’s difficult to overstate the role that hormones play in all this, and I shouldn’t overlook hormone therapy as a factor.

Being able to identify the sensation of an uptick in mood that’s about to jump the track, and to take steps to either prevent the derailure or at least mitigate some of its harm makes a world of difference. Being willing and able to unburden myself when the dark closes in would, undoubtedly, help to reduce the time I spend in the depths of despair, and would probably lift the floor a bit, so to speak.

I’m still working on that last one.

Everything we do changes us constantly on the most literal and fundamental level: our bodies and our brains adapt. Undoubtedly, my brain has been changing all along. I hope its current configuration is wired for a bit more stability: but it will continue to change, and I think I would be foolish to conclude that my brain is now much better at braining in this stressful modern world and that I don’t need to keep working on it.

In the hardest, darkest moments, that knowledge is almost unbearable. It seems like so much work, so much effort, for so little return.

Right now, though, in this moment of clear, calm light–a kind of pearl-grey springtime light–I realize that what seems, at other times, like so much work and such an exhausting struggle seems, right now, like simply life and living.

This is a change. I’m not going to shout, “Aha! I’ve figured it out!” because I’m quite sure that I haven’t. There was a phase in my life during which I’d reach a kind of equilibrium and feel like I’d reached the end of the novel and now all the struggle and confusion was behindme and it would be clear sailing (feel free to have a chuckle). 

Another phase followed in which I rather violently distrusted the sensation of equilibrium because it felt like a bait-and-switch: I had learned enough to know that it was almost certainly going to end, but not enough to stop resenting and fighting the end of equilibrium.

Now I’m in a phase where I can accept the idea that although this equilibrium is pleasant, it’s also temporary; that something is going to come along and trouble the waters. I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep my composure when that happens: maybe that’s another phase. I hope that if I do lose my grip a bit, I’ll treat myself more compassionately than I have in the past.

Change is going to come. Hell, change is happening right this very moment. I’m not going to make any silly statements about how one must be ready when it comes: frankly, we can’t always be ready.

Besides, the eruptions that change us most profoundly for the good (though not, I am forced to admit, always for the pleasant good) are often those for which we are least prepared. In other words, we learn a lot more from kludging together a solution with paperclips and gum than we do from effectign one with a full tool-kit and a generous array of spare parts. Likewise, we can’t  learn or do much from within an intact eggshell.

The shattering of our worlds, of our illusory senses of permanence and control, is at the same time a powerful force of creation. 

I know this isn’t a new idea. I know people have been telling me this for years.

I know I understand it differently than I did a year ago.

I know that later I will understand more differently still.


Stupid Brain Chemistry

We’re back in class this week. I’m three classes in and hating, hating, hating everything about myself (except for the fact that I’m no longer dancing with moobs) in class and out.

I recognize that it’s deeply irrational, but that doesn’t seem to make me stop hating myself.

Maybe it’s time to break out the Stare-Into-The-Sun therapy lamp. Maybe it’s time to accept that it’s winter and this always happens to me in the winter.

I’ve found myself on a kind of unintentional and intermittent social media fast, and I think that’s okay. None of my social media streams are terribly stressful, I’m just running on zero alone time, since D is home recuperating from rotator cuff surgery.

Regardless, this is where the ritual of class means the most. I get up; I go to class; I put my hand to the barre and don’t look back (looking back at barre is a good way to fall over and need your own rotators cuffed).

On the upside, I finally installed the heated mattress pad, which probably wasn’t invented to coddle winter-weary dancers but does a reasonable job of it nonetheless.

Next month I’ve got an endocrinology appointment. I’m going to give hormone replacement therapy a try, since my tanking endogenous sex hormone levels are almost certainly not helping. Also going to get my thyroid levels checked, since hypothyroidism runs in both sides of my family and can contribute to depression (and feeling cold and tired all the time).

Even in the midst of this, I’m forced to admit that my petit allegro is improving. When I relax into it, it no longer feels (or looks) like a bunch of ham-fisted hopping.

I keep saying I need to get serious about conditioning, but thus far I haven’t. I’m as afraid of training the wrong things as I am of being unfit. It’s a legacy of childhood gymnastics training—the idea that we must never, never so much as glance at the gym unless a qualified trainer was present to help us not feck up our bodies has lingered long past its expiry date.

BG is a personal trainer in his spare time, so I might do a few sessions with him to get a sense of what I can do without overdeveloping my quads (among other things).

So that’s it. No advanced class today; it’s open house, though, so I’m taking 1:00 class, which is free (though we now have an unlimited tuition plan that has halved my monthly ballet expenses).

Edit: PS—Killer Class is back to being nominally intermediate. It’s still Killer Class.

Do Two Things

I’ve probably come to this conclusion before, so my apologies if this is tiresome.

I make the same mistake over and over again (what was that definition of madness, again?)—deciding either:

  1. …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
  2. …that I’m feeling much better and that, as a result, my depression is just about over and I’ll be fine any old minute now.
  3. …both.

Then I find myself flummoxed when I don’t magically turn into … well, not a normal person (as D always says, “Average was never the goal!”), but a not-depressed person … overnight, or when I overextend myself and just can’t even for the next five days.

As such, I’ve decided to adopt a motto that some might call “strategetic” and others might call “cowardly.” In short:

When all else fails, run away
And live to fight another day.

(Coincidentally, this exact phrasing is the motto of Daniel D’Aeve, a semi-cowardly knight [he doesn’t like loud noises, for one thing] and accidental pirate [he doesn’t like boats, either] and the semi-hero of a musical I’ll probably never finish, but who knows. Miracles do happen.)

I’m not going to wrestle my depression into submission. That’s not how this works.

 

 

not-how-this-works

Via teh Pinterest-Googs Nexus

If I keep engaging it head-on, this gorilla will always, always wrestle me into the ground. Depression is like … I don’t know, wrestling some kind of mutant alligator that has gained the ability to steal your strength and make it its own as long as you keep fighting. (I feel like there’s almost certainly a Japanese monster movie about this already, but if there isn’t, there should be.)

As such, I’ve decided to adopt a more conservative tack. I know that I’m too impulsive to entirely avoid wrestling the alligator—sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing so until the alligator is already doing death-rolls at the bottom of the pond—but I’m going to try not to, like, walk up and pick fights with the alligator … even if that means letting it live in my house for a while.

come-at-me

Even if it taunts me from my own ottoman, I will try to not to fight the alligator.

In other words, for a little while, I’m going to try not to do as much.

I’m not going to stop doing everything, of course, but I’m not going to push quite as hard for a bit.

Instead, I’m going to revert to the best strategy I’ve ever found for keeping myself afloat in the midst of one of my moderate-but-grinding depressions: Do Two Things.

Oddly, I thought I’d written a post about this strategy before, but I can’t* find it, so I’m writing it now.

*Which is to say, I ran a search, devoted exactly 30 seconds to looking
for it, and then I gave up because I realized that if I kept it up I’d
start reading old posts and never finish this one.

So, in case you’re wondering, here’s how it works.

First, you get depressed. This makes living seem like a tedious uphill grind, and causes you to write poems empathizing with Sisyphus, and generally makes every single little thing that you have to do in order to continue to remain semi-afloat seem like a hideous impossibility.

Second, you own up to the fact that you don’t want to do anything. You don’t feel up to doing anything. You drag yourself to class because some part of you dimly recognizes that things will only be worse in the long run if, on top of recovering from a depression, you also have to get yourself back in performing shape or auditioning shape or what have you in the span of 3.4 days somewhere down the line. But other than that you feel like you just can’t even.

Eventually, you begin to feel slightly better, and then you look around your house and you realize, Holy Hell, it looks like a tornado crashed through a paper mill, a diner, and a thrift store before chugging right through your door. And also the cat has somehow contrived to get maple syrup on his head (which he doesn’t mind in the least, but you do). And you are out of Kleenex.

Some part of you thinks, “I should do something about all this,” while the rest of you just gazes around at the chaos with the proverbial thousand-yard stare and no idea where to begin.

That’s where Do Two Things comes in. You tell yourself, “Okay. There is no way I can do all of this right now, so I’m just going to do two things today.”

Then you turn to the thing nearest thing—or the nearest thing that feels like you have some hope of accomplishing it—and you do that thing.

The whole strategy hinges on this one truth: that sometimes “Do The Dishes” counts as one thing, and sometimes, “I’m going to wash this one dish” does. Sometimes, getting out of bed counts as one thing, and sometimes completely unmaking the bed, rotating the mattress, and remaking the bed counts as one thing.

It doesn’t matter. You judge yourself by the standard of where you are now. You give yourself permission to wash this one dish and that one fork.

The funny thing is that usually once you get started—once you wash the One Dish—you’ll usually find yourself thinking, “Ah, well. I might as well wash this entire stack; it’s not going to take any longer, really, and I already have my gloves on.”

So often Doing Two Things turns into Cleaning the Kitchen—but you have to remember not to look at that fact too directly, or your motivation might catch your scent on the wind and bolt. Wild motivations are flighty like that.

In my worst depressions, sometimes my Two Things are as simple as getting out of bed to get a drink, then eating a bagel while I’m already up.

When I’m well into recovery, they may be as complex as making the dining room ready for company and re-organizing the closets.

Either way, I give myself permission to feel like if I’ve done my Two Things, then I have done enough for the day.

It is, of course, totally okay to do more than the Two Things. It is pretty much impossible to do less: even in the pit of the kind of depression that keeps you confined to your bed or the sofa, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have to use the bathroom at least twice on any given day. If you’ve been in that place, you’ll understand why that counts. You just start with whatever Two Things are in reach.

Do Two Things acts both as an accessible goal and as a limiter.

If I’m having the kind of day that starts with “I am going to wash this One Dish,” then I know that, no matter how significant an uptick I might feel, I probably shouldn’t tackle rearranging the closets (which always sounds like a good idea, but turns into a nightmare because D has lived in this house for 20 years and almost never gets rid of anything).

Even if Washing the One Dish turns into Washing the Dishes, the knowledge that the first of my two things began as “Wash the One Dish” keeps me mindful of the fact that I’m not yet fully recovered, and that I shouldn’t start burning tomorrow’s matches today.

So there we have it. For the time being, I’m going to Do Two Things. This will help me get through the current slog without overwhelming myself (at least, without overwhelming myself as often).

Anyway, I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for anyone else as it does for me, but feel free to try it if you want to. It’s also good for getting started when you just plain feel overwhelmed, whether you’re depressed or not (this is a key feature of Adulting with ADHD).

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