A weird idea, isn’t it? That there are different types of depression and that I could choose between them? It’s not exactly true, but it works for me as a metaphor for today, so I’m going with it.
A. Functional depression
Perhaps because I am talking about my current feelings of depression so openly, some friends are more worried than usual. I appreciate the concern, but I don’t feel like I’m in an unusually dangerous crisis. While some days I might get overwhelmed and need to shut down, generally speaking I’m in a holding pattern. It’s what I consider “functional depression”…yes, I am struggling to keep up my full daily routine, but generally speaking, most of the balls are still in the air. Work, family obligations, etc. I can drive my wife and child to events, I just can’t handle the social side of things. It’s easier to think about take-out right now then expend the mental energy to figure out home dinners. Six days out of seven, that will probably work. On the seventh day, I have to rest. 🙂 Last week, I had to take a mental health day. This week, all three of us were sick on the same day.
I’m vertical, for the most part, and functioning. I do notice my judgement and reasoning are slower than normal. I am less comfortable in social situations. I am stressed more easily by distractive noises at work. You know, the usual.
And having been here before, I could choose to just continue this way for an extended period of time. The problem is that faking full functionality is not particularly sustainable. Partial functionality is likely the result, and if I do it long enough, I’ll need more and more days to re-energize. Right now, I’m choosing this as the working option while I figure out which of the other two I want to try.
B. Hide and Heal
In my previous post (My seven ways to respond to depression), I mentioned a bunch of things I know how to do in order to respond to my bouts of depression. Some of them even work in pre-depression phases to ward off some parts, but they are mainly part of my toolkit when in depression, and I can mix and match as needed.
In the past, my main approach has been to “hide and heal”. There is much more positive wording to describe my technique, but the term “h&h” is not pejorative to me. It is just descriptive. It involves, for the most part, my withdrawing from some aspects of my life, reducing the simple daily burdens of living, focusing on the knitting so to speak. For me, this involves:
- Accepting / embracing the depression…while this seems counter-intuitive, it is about accepting that all of life is a phase, and perhaps best characterized by the current Buddhist mantra, Right now, it’s like this. Sometimes, if I’m in a mental hurry, I’ll go with “It is what it is, for now”, but the Buddhists have a better set of nuances in there;
- Dumping goals…mostly I am talking about dropping a huge swath of goals and only focusing on what truly needs to get done, focusing on maintenance rather than progress;
- Self-care…while the whole act of hiding and healing is a form of self-care, I also focus on sleep, rest, stress management, stronger social boundaries, time alone, journaling, quiet hobbies, organizing physical spaces, splurging on some fun things or food, learning, and work boundaries. In effect, most of it looks like becoming uber-introvert with a set routine to do the activities that re-energize me;
- Cognitive therapy…I often talk things through with a therapist, although it depends on the level of discomfort and the issue too. Right now, what I’m feeling is not unusual and I know the issues, so I`m not feeling the need to talk through it at the moment;
- Behavioural therapy…in a sense, ALL of this is behavioural — I’ve set the problem as depression and my problem-solving is to hide and heal until my energy levels are back up.
The benefit of this approach is that it is “tried and true”, as the phrasing goes. I’ve used it before, it’s well-grounded in psychology, it will work.
The cost is that it also means shutting down almost everything else. I literally need to withdraw from things, mostly to make sure I’m not simply doing functional depression and pretending I’m healing. And it means if everything is shut down, there is zero progress on any front. So at the end, the best I can hope for is a mental and emotional reboot. I can’t move forward, and to be blunt, even some areas are going to backslide if less unattended.
Since my astronomy problems and the theft of my eyepieces was the final trigger for my latest spiral, I’ll use it as the example. If I shut down, I will block out astronomy as a hobby. I have to, it’s the only way that method works to heal. Kill the triggers. If I’m truly aggressive, as I was starting to be a week or so ago, it could literally mean never doing astronomy again. Accepting that this hobby is just not the right one for me, the level of frustration is just too high. It isn’t simply saying “stop for now”, it is shutting off the desire to do it at all; a bit of reaction-formation, in psych terms, to push it away. If I hadn’t had a really good night just before the trigger, I would have already decided this. I would just say, “I’m out” and move on. Too much investment, too little reward. In the last week, I’ve even debated whether I would just get rid of my telescope or save it for Jacob; would I keep doing my volunteer work for RASC or dump it for the year; would I even go to a party where other people were setting up, or would that be too much “keeping the hope alive” that some day I might get back into it. And it’s complicated by the fact that Jacob is interested, something we could theoretically do together in the future, and if I’m out, what does that mean for his interest? If I was fully out, I wouldn’t be actively encouraging him anymore or being willing to help much. He’d be pretty much on his own. A pedantic wall that I would not break.
That may seem harsh, maybe even unproductive, but it’s the way the Hide and Heal works. I need to shut down not just the activity but the desire / hope too. Managing expectations sounds good until it looks more like eliminating the expectation entirely because it takes too much energy even to keep hoping or to even leave on my mental to do list.
Which is why I haven’t just gone for this “hide and heal” solution. Given my current level of depression, I know that the hide portion will come with some costs that I’m not entirely sure I am willing to pay. In an extreme world, it could mean deleting my blog. Cutting off Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on reading, mainly. I don’t know in advance what I’ll need to do, but I know the price will be high. I’ve been here before.
Yet the alternative could be really risky.
C. Fuck the universe
Pardon my french, so to speak, but the other option is one I’m calling fuck the universe (FtU). Given that I’m saying the universe is shouting at me, the metaphor is that I could do something I don’t normally do. Shout back.
I can tell the universe to take a flying fuck on a rolling doughnut, a phrase I loved so much when I first read it at age 14 that I had a hat made that said, “Take a flyer”. It’s more in line with a previous persona, not PolyWogg but Shiva. The destroyer of worlds. I’ve relied on it before…I used part of it during my tadpole years when I needed to shove some stuff aside mentally and just push through. Occasionally I use the same language now. The only way out is through, although that applies equally to the other two options above too.
Just over a week ago, when I was thinking about my responses as I spiralled, this one occurred to me, as it has before. It’s always there as an option, but I never choose it. It’s risky, for four reasons.
First, it is REALLY hard to sustain. It requires a lot of energy to keep fighting harder and harder, an onslaught against literally the forces of ennui in the universe.
Second, that energy is hard to muster if part of the problem in the first place is low-energy, and there is only one source left for me to tap into. My anger. To literally get bad at the universe to tell it to take a flyer. While the metaphor is a bit slippery, it’s kind of like the classic Star Wars trope of giving into the dark side. It’s powerful, it provides energy, but it is dark energy, and it is hard to ensure you’re siphoning it off and converting it to light energy before it is used. I don’t mean that it will turn me into the constantly “angry man”, an asshole whose anger is directed at the world, but I do worry about it affecting my judgement to know what are the right things to do for the right reasons in the right way. My dark energy likes to take shortcuts and doesn’t care much about side costs.
Third, if I do this, and it fails, the fall will be huge. A hide-and-heal now could take me 3-6 months to recover. If I fail with the FtU approach, and then have to hide-and-heal, I suspect it would be more like 12-18 months with active professional help and meds. I don’t mean that to sound so dire. I just mean mostly that the core energy I have, part of which is light and a lot of which is dark, is what sustains me in harsh times. If I use that energy to blast through the current barriers, I’ll have little left when that energy wears off.
Fourth, and not the least, I have no idea if it will work. I’d like to think it will. I’m more interested in it now than I ever have been before. Some of that is just a reaction to my struggling with my weight, and my brain being interested for two reasons, like a little devil and angel whispering in my ear…”Do it,” says the angel, believing I flare into a star; “Do it,” says the devil, believing I will fail catastrophically and thus end my battle against my weight. Two voices, whispering encouragement in my ears, even though I know the approach is neither extensively tried nor excessively true.
A decision to make
For the last ten days, I’ve danced on the head of the functional depression pin:
Hide and heal
Fuck the universe
Do I take the safe route or risk grabbing the universe by the throat? I am going to think about it this weekend and try to decide by Monday.