The Depressive State
There’s an unspoken rule about what to post on the internet. It basically goes something like this, “no one wants to hear your bullshit”
You’ve seen this rule broken, it’s that friend who post information about her life online that is way too personal. Could be anything from drama with her baby-daddy to the legally gray-area way in which she disciplines her children. And quite honestly, when she does it, you’re a little embarrassed for her.
Overall, I think it’s a good rule. Some information should not leave your home and some thoughts should stay in your head. I subscribe to this idea that no one wants to hear your bullshit, but only in part.
I think when we blanketly declare that no one wants to hear your bullshit, we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Because what we get instead is an illusion of people’s lives. We never really see a time when things aren’t going their way or off the charts amazing. We get the view from the top of the mountain but none of the treacherous journey that it took to get there.
The consequences of us only seeing people when they are on top of the world is that it sets the bar impossibly high for us mere mortals. We only get to see the idealized versions of our mentors, role models, and friends from school. We are comparing our lives to a split second – just long enough to take a picture – of other people’s lives.
A lack of transparency and vulnerability robs the rest of us from seeing the multi-dimensional human beings that we look up to.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to hear good news. I like to follow people who inspire me to reach higher, think bigger and play this game of life full-out. I need role models and mentors to show me what is possible. I like to see what people I went to school with are doing because it can help me set a pace for my own life. But while I wish them all well, I also need them to be human.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have experienced some degree of success, as I’ve defined success for myself. I’m guilty of sharing openly on social media some of that success.
For those of you that follow me, you’ve noticed that I haven’t done much social media lately. A few of you have even asked me why not.
I’m not going to share all of my bullshit with you today. That’s not helpful for you or for me. But I am going to share with you what’s been going on and what I’ve been going through. I want to do so because I want show the human side of my life. I do not plan on spewing my woes on the internet, I plan to spew a little and then share with you how I’ve coped. I wish I had more of that in my life. I wish I had more more role models not just for when things are going well, but also role models for crawling out of the valleys that we go through in life. Some folks are doing this; Dan Harris and Tim Ferriss come to mind.
For me, hearing how others are handling and coping with some of life’s more challenging times helps me to feel like I’m not alone. It helps me know that you can be both successful and you can have really shitty days. Both things are possible and one does not negate the other.
Depression and anxiety are real problems that plague our everyday existence. Statistically, you or someone you know, suffers from depression or anxiety. The more dreadful statistics are the rates of suicide in the US. I read an article in Monitor on Psychology recently that said that the second leading cause of death for people age 10-34 and the fourth leading cause of death among people who are 34-55 is suicide. The same article also said that the rate of suicide in the US is rising – faster than that of other countries.
I do not want what I’m about to share with you to be taken as a definitive guide on depression or anxiety. Nor should this be a substitute for seeking help from a professional. There is no shame in asking for help.
I only offer this as a reflection from someone who is fresh out of a depressive state.
That very statement brings me to my first observation.
Stating that I am fresh out of a depressive state is really quite the assumption, because you never really know if it’s over. But whether or not I am through it, I am functioning enough today to be able to reflect and write about it, so here goes.
For me, depression comes on like a wave in the ocean. It’s distant at first, but you can see a small swell on the horizon.
I like to surf and so I get into this imagery. You see, when surfing, like in life, you’re floating along on your board, enjoying the water, soaking up the sun most of the time. But when you have depressive tendencies, like when you’re surfing, you’re always looking for what’s coming.
Sometimes those waves are small. Not even big enough to ride, so you just lie there and let them gently pass beneath you. But there are other times that that wave is doosey, and you know you’re going to ride it. So you pop up, get your balance and coast toward the shore.
When depression hits me, mixed with anxiety, it hits me the same that the water hits me when I lose my balance on the surfboard. It’s messy, it hurts, the ocean is unrelenting and it feels like I’m going to drown.
No really, it feels like I’m going to drown. My breath is shallow, I feel the shock of the fall in my bones, my chest tightens and hurts. My limbs feel numb and the anxiety will make my skin crawl. I often feel that sensation that says, “if I could just throw up I would feel better,” and I hate throwing up.
I’ve experienced what I now recognize as depression and anxiety, to one degree or another for as long as I can remember. What surprises me every time it weighs on me though, is the physical feelings that accompany the emotional.
It’s almost as if my body is at war with my out of control mind.
My out of control mind. The real battlefield of life.
Inside my head it’s like there is a clowder of cats, trying to scratch their way out. Every thought skews negative, and to me, every negative thought spirals into the demise of my world. It goes something like this…
A client’s credit card doesn’t go through for their recurring subscription, that must mean that they hate me, they think I’m bad at what I do, everyone else must hate me too, and now I’m going to lose my house, my car and have not have money to eat.
When in reality…
They were just travelling abroad and their bank temporary suspended their card.
I recently learned that the Buddhists have a word for this type of thought spiral, they call it papanca (pa-PUN-cha), loosely translated to “proliferation”
Imagine if every thought that came into your head spelled disaster.
Imagine that thought of disaster ruminating in your head, an unsympathetic droning of dread, over and over and over. It’s the thoughts that you fall asleep to, the thoughts that wake you in the middle of the night, and the first thoughts that hit you in the morning.
That’s what it feels like to me.
It’s an unrelenting self-beating. Maybe Freud was right right when he said that depression is anger turned inward.
When I’m in a depressive state, I’m carrying with me an oversized voice in my head that is a real dickhead. That voice criticizes me, shames me, infultraits my mind with fear, and diminishes my self-worth. That voice is a total prick. That voice would never speak to anyone else as harshly as he speaks to me.
Before I share with you how I cope with him myself, I want to address the best I can, how this impacts the people around me.
The people around me, who are scared for me, they also suffer. I have an incredible husband, a life partner who accepts me for all of me, including this part of me. Even when he can’t relate to how I’m feeling, he feels for me. But he doesn’t always know what to do with me. So for him, I offer this…
- I know it’s frustrating to ask me questions when in return I give one word answers, but please don’t stop asking.
- I don’t want to be alone, even if I say I do. You don’t have to do anything, just being near me is usually enough.
- Let’s put a pause on those topics that you know cause stress on a good day – those things can wait. If they can’t wait, I trust you to make good decisions without me.
- It’s ok for you to be and express your happiness. Your joy is contagious.
- Please be patient with me, this will pass. And thank you for loving me through it, I know that can be hard to do.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because when I’m going through a depressive state, it helps me to know that I’m not alone. When I read a book, listen to a podcast, watch something on YouTube that makes me realize that there are otherwise very successful people out there that sometimes feel this way too. It makes me feel less alone. It helps me realize that it’s temporary and it will pass.
So how do I cope with myself in these states? I want to re-emphasize that this is not a substitute for professional help. I started seeing a therapist when I was in 4th grade. And I’ve been in therapy every week for many years. I’m an advocate for therapy, it helps. But therapy is a long game and for me, is lacking an action plan or practice that helps in the immediate. It’s also unfair to put all the pressure of making me feel better on my therapist. It’s like asking your significant other to be your best friend, your life partner, your lover, your accountant, your lawyer, your serious friend, and your fun friend. It’s just unfair to ask one person to be everything to you. Same for your therapist.
Therapy helps me uncover what I’ve been through and how that has shown up for me as an adult in ways that sabotage me. Sometimes there’s a fancy term to describe my experience, like ‘passionate bad fit’ or ‘narcissistic defense mechanism.’ And then I go back every week and explore how those things show up in the rest of my life. It’s helpful, but it’s the marathon of mental health.
I’ve sought out other things that I thought would help me get more immediate relief. When I was younger I tried pharmaceuticals, but I decided that wasn’t for me. I tried drinking. I tried sex. I tried to be a workaholic. Those things only left me feeling more of what I was trying to escape.
Then I took a different approach…
I started keeping a personal care calendar. Where I listed out the things that I know I need to do to take care of myself on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. The things that show up on that calendar are things that I’ve learned over the years that I need in order to take care of me. My personal care calendar includes things like exercise, eating right, travel, massage, therapy, and meditation.
I’m going to confess,I believe the primary reason I found myself in my recent depressive state is that I didn’t follow that personal care calendar. I got caught up in work and forgot that productivity includes taking care of myself. Because when I don’t, productivity completely disappears.
I have also had to learn how to detach from my goals. I’m not saying to not have goals. What I am saying is to set the goal, determine how you’ll get there, and then do the work. I set a big financial goal for myself this year. I found myself so attached to the big number, that I feel like I just run myself down, beating myself over the head with that number, that goal. But here’s the rub – obsessing over the big number doesn’t change it. Doesn’t affect it at all. Has zero impact. The only things that will impact that number are the activities that I engage in every day. Those activities will drive that number.
This way of thinking forces me to stay in the moment. Obsessing over the big number is me getting too caught up in an uncertain future – an uncertainty that elicits fear and more anxiety. This isn’t helpful, in fact, the opposite. We live with 3 versions of ourselves all the time; the past, present, and future self. The present is the only thing we really have and should seek to lean into. The past represents our track record, our circumstances and our programming and is best explored, in my opinion, with a therapist.
The future self is caught up with that big goal, it’s who we are striving to be, do, and have. The future self is important when kept in check and balanced with the present. The future is best explored with a life or business coach. I have found coaching to be extremely beneficial. So beneficial in fact that I wrote a coaching curriculum and I train people how to be life and business coaches.
The present though, is all that’s guaranteed. It’s all we really have.
I was standing in line in Starbucks last week and the guy in front of me had a heart attack. Right there in front of me. Life is fragile. We get no warranty on it’s length. All we have is right here, right now. And yet, so many of us carry on, never fully experiencing the present moment, right now. We get too caught up in a long-gone past or an uncertain and unguaranteed future.
I also read a lot, I listen to podcasts, I watch videos on YouTube that lift me up. I limit the amount of news that I watch, and limit the type of social media that I engage in. Fill your head with positive, good thoughts. Especially in times that your own thoughts are anything but.
I connect with other people. This is the most challenging for me. It’s hard for me to reach out to other people, muchless to reach out for help. Some ways that I’ve worked on that is to schedule regular lunches with friends or schedule set times to get together to play cards. I’ve joined groups that meet regularly. Inside your head is a lonely place. And even if it means connecting with other people on just a surface level for a little bit, that’s better than being alone in your head.
And the most immediate relief for me has been meditation. When I’m out of practice I’ll use something like the Calm app for guided meditation, then I graduate myself to meditating on my own. The idea of focusing on my breath, in and out, has a way of calming the choppy waters in my head. I start at 5 minutes and add time as I get more practice. I’m convinced that if my meditation practice was more consistent, my depressive states would seldom appear.
On her daytime talk show, Ellen Degeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” I support that notion but would like to add to it; be kind to yourself.
If you or someone you love suffers from depression and/or anxiety, I know that struggle. I know it’s not easy. I know it hurts. I also know that it’s temporary. And the idea of impermanence itself brings me some degree of relief.
I hope you found this helpful. If you think someone you care about would benefit from it, please share. See you soon!