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:
- …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
- …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.
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.
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.
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).
I don’t like the manic phases of my bipolar disorder very much, for the most part. The early on-ramp can be pretty nice sometimes — who wouldn’t want to feel amazingly capable and confident? — but it passes quickly into what I can only describe as overconfidence of psychotic (in the literal sense — that is, out of touch with reality) proportions and leaves me with a serious distrust of any moment of confidence I experience. And that doesn’t even begin to address the fact that, most often, I experience dysphoric or mixed manias, which are agitated, angry, and uncomfortable.
That said, I think dislike my depressions even more. Or maybe I don’t; maybe I just think that I do, in the moment. The worst thing you’re experiencing right now is always the worst thing you’re experiencing right now.
Anyway, this is a depression like so many others I’ve experienced. I wake up every morning (or, today, afternoon — thanks, sleep meds) and lie in bed until I either have to haul my ass to class or, if I don’t have class, until I feel like I can no longer put off getting up.
Then I get up and start pushing the boulder uphill.
Often my depressions are agitated ones: I feel restless and like I need to keep moving; I feel vaguely angry almost all the time. Days during those depressions still begin the same way, though; it’s the end that’s different. I end those days dreading the moment that I have to get back into bed.
This depression is different. It’s the end of each day, really, that makes it different. Instead of dreading the moment that I have to lie down again, I look forward to it as a kind of reprieve. After I do the things that need to be done, or at least least the portion of them that I can manage, I can return to my bed, which is still safe and quiet. I find myself counting the minutes until I can justify returning to bed, even though sleeping is hard.
Normally I take some solace in pushing the boulder. It doesn’t matter that it’s just going to roll back down (and possibly over me) when I stop; it’s still evidence that there is something left of my strength and resilience; that I am still capable of getting up and living.
Here, too, this depression is different. With the exception of going to class, which I continue to do because I know that failing to do it would ultimately be worse for me, there is no sense of satisfaction in pushing the boulder.
If anything, there’s a kind of wariness. I start my climb and I burn too many matches; I dip into the next day’s supply.
After a while, I come to a day like this one, when I haven’t received a fresh supply and don’t know when one will come and I’m looking at a box with two measly matches in and knowing that today’s responsibilities will require more than just those two.
And all I want to do is stay here in bed and go back to sleep.
What will probably actually happen is that I’ll steal kindling from the cooking fire: I’ll build a kind of torch out of my remaining resources so any time I need a match, I’ll already have fire. In literal reality, this means running on an ocean of caffeine, knowing that tomorrow I’ll have even less energy than I do today.
The problem is that, at at the end of the day, this will leave me with even less with which to recharge myself, and then tomorrow I will have no matches and perhaps no cooking fire (in fact, I will definitely have no cooking fire if I don’t remember to save a match).
If this goes on long enough without some down time time to gather kindling and wood and without a resupply of matches, eventually a day will come on which I can’t push the boulder; a day on which the boulder and I stay in bed, camped at the base of the hill.
I write this in an attempt to understand what I’m doing to myself. In an attempt to grant myself a little grace for days like this one. In an attempt to consider whether or not it might be better to take the direct path of simply sitting with my boulder until more matches come.
Sometimes depression turns happy promises into bitter ones. In a good moment, on a good day, you promise your friends and yourself that you will come to this event or or that gathering. Then the appointed hour arrives and you find that your choices are to go and accept that the cost will be excruciatingly high … or to break the promises. Both these choices are bitter: both will leave you worse off than you were.
Today is one of those days for bitter choices.
That’s it for now.
Sometimes, recovering from a bad episode of this depressive bipolar crap seems a bit like doing the hokey-pokey.
You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put your left foot in, and then you go back to bed because frankly you’ve had enough for today and you’d really rather try again tomorrow, thank you very much.
I tend to make optimistic prognostications about my ability in moments that I’m feeling a bit more “up” than I have been (read: moments when I’ve taken my meds and downed something with a bit of caffeine in it, of late).
Later, when things shift back towards really deep end of the spectrum, I tend to sit there kicking myself about making said optimistic prognostications (which I tend to do publicly, because, in short, I never freaking learn, I guess?).
Right now, I’m somewhere between those two states: not at that point where I’m like, “I am going to do All This Stuff soon,” but not at that point where I’m like, “Yeah, I’m a waste of oxygen and I should really stop thinking I’m ever going to do anything.”
Instead, I’m in this spot where I’m able to see that the optimistic part of me that makes bold plans is okay, and the horribly depressed part of me that gets really angry when I fail to complete those plans is also okay, and that can be what they are, and it is, in its own way, okay.
Not always happy, not always fun, not always even remotely anything like pleasant: but valid, allowed. The human experience is rich with contradictions; with complications.
Today I did not even remotely attempt to get out of bed early enough to get to morning class. A part of me is really pissed about that — the same part that’s forever saying things like This is why you never amount to anything; you’re better than that; this is what makes the difference between people who succeed in ballet and people like you.
Another part of me recognizes that you have to work with what you’ve got. What I’ve got right now is hard to work with (though, on the other hand, I’m writing a fair bit, so there’s that).
I did begin my Great Office Rehab Project — or at least some of it (some of it will have to wait ’til I can buy some paint and some fabric). Denis brought in the replacement desk, so I set it up, installed the office air conditioner, and then became insanely, furiously frustrated because there are still Too Many Things In This Room.
The difficulty is that some of the things need to stay, but they need to live in or on other things that aren’t in here yet, and I don’t want to bring those other things in until the things on or in which the first set of things resides are out of the way, but I can’t get them out of the way without bringing in the things to put the things in…
My brain makes everything a thousand times harder than it has to be when I’m depressed (not like ADHD helps any of this, but depression makes it worse; when I’m manic, OTOH, I can organize anything to within an inch of its life, as long as something else doesn’t distr— SQUIRREL!).
So today I went to see my therapist (and rode my bike a lot, because I figured actually getting some exercise would solve one of the problems contributing to the severity of this depression — lack of exercise).
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll bring in the things into which I need to transfer the other things, so the things in which the things now reside can go wherever it is they’re going.
Maybe I won’t.
I’m not making any bold statements right now. We’ll see.
Perhaps that should be my motto for the time being: “We’ll see.”
Ultimately, it’s not like we can ever say for certainty what we’ll be doing at any given moment, anyway. Control is an illusion, and it seems especially illusory when you live with a mental illness that really rather prevents you being able to make long-term forecasts about your emotional weather.
If I have my head together well enough, my foot should hold up to at very least Essentials on Friday. I might give Intermediate class a try.
I do feel like I need to get back on top of ballet. I have missed so much. I don’t suppose I can do anything about that (water under the bridge, etc.), but I can work on putting the pieces in place to prevent it from becoming an established pattern.
Just going to class is one of those pieces — ballet is such an effective preventative and remedy; it seems to take the teeth out of my depressions when I can keep dancing.
This particular depression, though, has been a perfect storm of ballet-interrupting foot injury, stress, hormonal disruptions (blargh), lack of externally-imposed structure in my life, general lack of exercise, and the destabilizing effect of summer itself.
Anyway, that’s it for now.
More soon, maybe?
Right now, I’m somewhat depressed.
It’s the kind of depression that doesn’t readily identify itself: listlessness, restlessness, an inability to focus, a rampant cynicism that has to be at least as irritating to the rest of the world as it is to me, or would be if my cynicism about my cynicism didn’t mostly prevent me from sharing it.
I don’t feel particularly hopeless about the future. I couldn’t really say if I’m experiencing emotional pain — in short, I’m experiencing a sort of emotional blankness; a sense that most of the range and brilliance of human emotion is right now unavailable to me. It’s like someone has knocked out the antenna of my emotional wi-fi receiver. Emotions are out there; I just can’t find them. I am experiencing the grinding effect of being stuck constantly on scan and finding nothing.
Well, that and cynicism.
Have I mentioned that I generally abhor cynicism?
Cynicism seems like a coward’s response to the challenge of living in a world where bitterness and horror sit cheek-by-jowl with redemption and beauty. It’s “nothing gold can stay” without the reverence for the first green that is gold; it’s skepticism seasoned with a dash of self-serving bitterness.
I’m fine with skepticism by itself; there’s plenty of room in the world for a healthy skeptic — but I feel like I could do without cynicism, especially my own.
In short, I am not normally a cynic. Hell, I’m not even really much of a skeptic, outside of an appropriate dose of scientific empiricism that drives my academic pursuits. There is something in my nature that believes (for lack of a better word, since “belief” implies a conscious process) in the essential goodness of the world and of mankind — an essential goodness that is not tarnished by the fact that lions eat gazelles (which is, to my mind, an amoral reality) or that people sometimes do abominable things.
There is something within me that normally regards even enormous, egregious acts of human cruelty as small and powerless in the face of cumulative, ordinary acts of good (this doesn’t, by the way, mean those egregious acts are insignificant; that’s a philosophical argument for some other time). It might be irrational; it might not (cogent arguments have been made along both sides) — that’s irrelevant. It is what it is.
Right now I am a horrible cynic. I am the worst kind of cynic — not the pithy, engaging cynic whose ability to frame his or her cynicism in the language of dry humor makes for charming repartée, but the grinding kind who harbors an unkind thought about every little thing (though, curiously, not as much about human motivations). Nothing is good enough because nothing is good — and I don’t mean that in an philosophical sense, but in the sense that right now I seem to suffer from the delusion that the world has been shoddily constructed from the elements of decay.
Bike tubes are made from crappy rubber and will fail, and the process of putting the studs on the Karakoram for winter will be insufferably frustrating, so why bother? It should be no surprise if my dinner is less than delectable. My computer is slow because everything in the world is faulty and awful. Characters in the book I was enjoying just fine a week ago seem flat, weary, stale, and unprofitable not because something has miraculously changed the writer’s ability, but because the circuits in my brain that recognize good stuff and enjoy things are down right now. There is no point in going to the effort of making something to eat other than peanut butter and jelly when I am evidently no longer capable of noticing and enjoying flavors. Etc.
We saw Interstellar this weekend. I guess I enjoyed it reasonably well, under the circumstances: I was sometimes able to click into the visual magnificence of the film, and I didn’t automatically hate every single character. Too often, though, I found my will to suspend disbelief flagging. The sense of wonder that normally allows me to make stunning leaps of faith just isn’t here right now. I found myself unable to feel connected to the settings, the characters, or the plot. I realized halfway through that it wasn’t the movie’s fault, transparent though some of its would-be plot twists were. Normally, that doesn’t bother me as long as the rest of the movie is basically coherent (I figured out the secret of The Sixth Sense very early on, but still enjoyed it immensely; most of the time, I can enjoy the same joke over and over again as well).
Right now, there are things that are funny, but the humor seems a million miles away. Everything else seems sort of pointless. I want to work on fiction or on my research, but can’t concentrate. Even though I know I will probably enjoy my math homework once I get around to working on it, the idea of doing so seems insurmountable. Some of these perceptions are cynical; some are just, you know, depressed.
For the first couple of days that I was feeling this way, I found my own cynicism disgusting. Is it progress that I now realize that it’s just an artifact of a moderate depression; one that will wane as the depression wanes? It feels like progress. Every time I feel myself reacting with disgust against my own cynicism, this sort of voice in my head reminds me, “Hey, this is just a symptom. Don’t sweat it. It’s okay.”
I even feel cynical about writing this post, especially since I can’t seem to do anything I actually want to do. Instead, here I am, adding to the sum of the internet’s misery. But there you have it: that is the nature of the beast.
Yes, somewhere within, I am in fact laughing at myself about all this. I wish I could actually feel that laughter.
For what it’s worth, that’s one of the beautiful things about dancing. Ballet class doesn’t give a rat’s asterisk about the relentless and irrational turmoil in my head. It doesn’t ask for my opinions. IT asks that I show up and do my very physical work at the barre; that maybe I interpret the music a little — something which I seem to be able to do because it circumvents my language circuits, which are shoddy at best and just pitiful right now (I realize it might not sound like it, reading this post: what I mean, really, is that the connection between Heart Coprocessor and Language Coprocessor is currently severed; when I attempt to work through the realm of language, I feel nothing but dead air).
There is something eminently healing in being able to feel your feelings; to let them course unbounded by the clumsy efforts of language to contain them. I can do this when I sit down at the piano; I can do this when I dance. I’m sure it’s neuroscience, but who cares? It feels like magic.
So there you go. For reasons, I won’t be able to hit up class this week ’til Saturday. Okay, something in me feels the need to enumerate the reasons: I will spend the rest of this week analyzing data that I must present at a conference on Friday, doing math homework, and preparing for next Monday’s math exam. Once that’s over, we’re done until after Thanksgiving, then we come back for a week of class and one day of finals (well, I only have one day).
The end is in sight, but I’m kind of bonking: so today I’m resting a little before the storm. Later I’ll bang out some homework, and later still, who knows? I don’t think I feel like cooking tonight. Maybe we’ll order in.
So that’s it. A long, rambling, unfocused post about feeling cynical and unfocused. I’m handling it with an epic dose of escapism and “this too shall pass.”
Tomorrow will be better, and the next day after that — or, if they aren’t, eventually a better day will come.