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I've gone two or three rounds with a threatening bout of depression the last few days. I think I've won.

Depression signals itself for me in intrusive thoughts and memories, mostly of a shameful, horrifying sort. It has all the characteristics of an attack, as of schoolyard bullies who won't stop throwing things at me and calling me names. I cower and quiver within myself as I try to go about my daily life, none of which seems to have any real purpose while I'm under attack.

Depression has a hall-of-mirrors quality, multiplying and monster-ifying itself just by showing up. Depression makes itself worse.

I've done battle for years with this monster, though, and I know its tricks. It alters my perception in completely irrational ways, making what was acceptable yesterday unbearable today, and what was good yesterday tainted today. Refusing to believe its lies (no matter how fucking real they seem) is my first line of defense.

Depression wants me to ask the Why questions, because angsting uselessly over Why feeds it. I spent many years and thousands of dollars in therapy trying to understand Why I Have Depression. Now I know that there's no reason. It has no great meaning. I don't deserve it, it isn't anyone's fault, and it's not going to buy me any special rewards.

There are causes, however, and as soon as I remember to stop asking Why OMG WOE IS ME!!!??1? and start looking for specific causes, I start to take control.

There was a perfect storm of factors this past week: going on ten days of unbroken rain, lots of work stress, the world news that even a committed news-avoider like me can't filter out, and a series of specific triggers.

Pinpointing triggers can be tricky. They can seem shamefully tame, not big enough to send any sane adult into depression-inducing shock, but screw that. Triggers are triggers when they're triggers, and it's up to me to recognize mine.

In the last four days:
  • I rode in someone's car on the freeway--amazing how shocking that is when you no longer do it as a routine thing
  • I had a loud-noise incident (a non-street-legal hotrod car zoomed past me a couple of times at damaging decibel levels, while a group of men from the auto shop through whose doors it suddenly issued stood around and cheered. Raise your hand if that sounds triggery to you.)
  • I saw a photograph of myself (raise your hand...)
  • I went fucking CLOTHES SHOPPING, thinking it would cheer me up. I almost deserve to feel bad for being that stupid. But that's depression for you: it'll get you to feed it. It's like a monster.

Remembering the triggers gave me just enough clarity to take some actions on my own behalf, like:
  • Resisting the thoughtless eating that silences the voices in my head at the price of massive self-hatred
  • Riding my bike
  • Gardening (I got some cuts and scratches and bled a little--not deliberately--but I believe bleeding can actually help, though This Is Not An Endorsement Of Cutting)
  • Watching something cheerful--I chose the pilot episode of Due South
  • Plugging myself into a good podfic and washing my dishes: industry, busyness, tidiness all help me

After all that I finally had the inner whatsis to remember and actually do three therapeutic techniques on myself late last night:
  • A Somatic Experiencing exercise where you remember some recent moment when you felt good, and build on that good feeling. During depression, that moment can be hard to find and extremely brief but it's there somewhere. Mine was making a right turn on my bike. That's it. Turning right, from one quiet street into another. I can kind of swoop into this particular turn, and there's this wonderful feeling of banking and kind of flying and...well, it feels good, and I found it, and examined it in very specific physical detail, and my brain chemistry shifted in reliving it.
  • EFT tapping
  • BodyTalk Access
I felt the shadow lift, and I went to sleep.

Today I woke up feeling like myself again, and so far it's holding firm.

People who don't have depression can't imagine how such a small "mood swing" can be so threatening and require so much focused effort. People who do will probably recognize how much of my own life I was lucky enough to save last night.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
Good for you for recognizing the situation you were in (and triggers) and doing something about it! I've struggled with depression for a long time myself, so I understand. I've also had LOTS of therapy. Sigh. What's working for me these days is listening to my thoughts closely and identifying those that are harmful and/or negative and affirming my way out of them ... positive self-talk. Yoga has been a huge benefit to me as well. It has really taught me to pay attention to the clues my body gives me that something is wrong.

May. 31st, 2010 11:27 pm (UTC)
It's been years since I did yoga, but from what I remember of it, it would be a great way to tune into the subtle cues the body gives when all is not well, but before things go badly wrong.

I gave up on the idea of psychology years ago. Where is this "mind" except in the body? What do we experience emotions with, except the body? Body-based therapies are the only means I've found for enacting real change. Western culture tends to be so divided at the neck that unless the physical cues are on the order of loud emergency sirens, we can't perceive them, and so we say, "I'm fine" because we haven't learned how to specify that something's wrong.

It takes training to recover what nature gave us and culture took away: the sensitivity to notice body cues while they're still very subtle. Like any trained sense, once you have it, what was mysterious and almost undetectable seems vividly clear and you wonder why it ever seemed so subtle.

I've had some success with affirmations: identifying the negative in words and then transposing it into a positive helps acknowledge that the negative isn't especially "real," and can be changed. If I wait too long, though, affirmations can have a kind of "oh bullshit, you liar" quality, so it's important to get in there early.
May. 31st, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
Body-based therapies intrigue me, as does your mention of emergency sirens, etc. I find that loud noises really bother me ... and the TV playing in the next room does as well (thanks, hubby). How interesting that they could be related to depression!

Yeah, I hear you about the bullshit factor of affirmations. I have to make sure I'm affirming something I can genuinely believe in or they just don't work.
Jun. 1st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
Loud noises--both sustained and sudden--raise the body's alert level, probably for very good and sound survival reasons. People who've been traumatized, where the trauma involved noise, can be retriggered even by loud noises that are dissimilar to the original noise (because the body reaction is the same and, basically, "brings it all back"). Re-triggering can set off a depressive episode.

At least, that's my understanding, and that's how it works for me.

Since so many shock-traumas involve noise--various accidents, war, storms, gunshots, explosions, abusive shouting, etc, (for me, it was dental work)--and since we live in a very noisy world in general, a lot of people are genuinely noise-hypersensitive and not just prissy music haters. :D

One of the many reasons I love riding a bike is that it's so quiet.
Jun. 1st, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
That explanation re: sounds makes a lot of sense. And we do live in a very noisy world! One of my favorite things in the world is sitting with the door open and breeze wafting and looking out into my back yard, which is very peaceful, and hearing my birds sing. So wonderful!

I'm so glad that you've found bike riding! It seems like it really agrees with you. Not only that but you're doing good for the environment!

Oh, another thing that really bothers me and sends me into depression is nutrasweet (aspartame)! It does the same for my dad, too. I was so sad when I had to give up diet soda, but it's made me feel so much better.

Various vitamins and supplements have helped with my depression as well ... I hope I'm not driving you crazy with my endless commenting on this thread! This is just a topic that a lot of relevance to my life!
Jun. 1st, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Not at all. It's a very important topic, I think it's of keen interest to a lot of women, and as much as it's become acceptable to talk about, there's still a great deal of silence around it.

I couldn't agree more re: aspartame. I overcame my chronic, constant depression through the body-based therapies I mentioned AND major dietary changes. I can't tell you which was ultimately more important, but it wasn't until I gave up virtually all fake food (especially aspartame and MSG) that I had consistent, long-term relief from depression.

What you say about birdsong is an interesting key, too. Most everyone has sounds they find particularly pleasant, and similarly, certain smells. Just remembering these sounds and smells can bring about a "ground state"--that fully-resourced, calm, relaxed, alert dynamic state that we associate with feeling perfectly well. One of my best touchstone sensory events is the sound of a gull on the mild, damp west wind. Honestly, I can feel my blood pressure settle just remembering that.

It's very personal and particular, obviously based on memories and associations, and will differ from person to person, but the favorite thing you describe works that way--I'm sure of it. If you just think about the door open, the breeze wafting, and the sound of birds in your back yard, it creates clear, physical changes in your body chemistry, and that's an incredible resource.
Jun. 1st, 2010 04:31 am (UTC)
Whoa, that was quite a battle you won. Look how amazing you are, that you held on and managed to persevere despite what your brain was telling you. You're a superhero -- srsly, that's some serious superpower right there.

I think something that's difficult for people to understand about depression -- even people who have it or have experience of it -- is that it's not something that you cure. It's something cope with, and with help and tools and lots of practice and experience, you learn how to cope with it in a way that doesn't cripple you on a daily basis. Some days are better than others, of course, but it can be managed. It sure takes a lot of time and trial and error to sort out what works and what doesn't for a particular person, though, and not everyone does. Sounds like you've got a good set of tools in your toolbox, though, and you certainly put them to good use this time around. I applaud you, ma'am.
Jun. 1st, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
Thanks. While I agree (and my experience of the past few days attests) that depression once contracted is probably a lifetime thing, I've found myself completely free of it for such long periods in recent years that it's nearly as good as a cure.

I attribute the enormous improvement partly to my own efforts, and partly to age. The ebb of reproductive hormones is a difficult transition by most of society's standards, but it seems to have given me a fairly solid freedom from chronic depression, and for that reason, I revel in my gray hair.

And yet no amount of menopause could make risk returning to the bad habits of thought and diet that I know contributed heavily to the problem, because I may be a little bit mentally ill, but I ain't crazy.
Jun. 1st, 2010 05:11 am (UTC)
"...depression once contracted is probably a lifetime thing, I've found myself completely free of it for such long periods in recent years that it's nearly as good as a cure."

I agree completely and I hope my comment didn't give the impression otherwise. I apologize if it did.
Jun. 1st, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
No, not at all. I think it's critically important to be realistic about something this serious and not get cocky. I've said that I'd go back on drugs again if I went into a slide and couldn't get out, and I still hold that option.

Depression is a killer. Happily, it's not terminal for most sufferers, but it came pretty close for me at one point in my life, and I don't fuck around with it.

I do like to share my story of longer-term...let's call it "drug-free remission," however, because at a minimum I'm one white crow proving that not all crows are black, and someone very tied into the pharma-medical model might never otherwise hear that such a thing is possible.
Jun. 1st, 2010 06:48 am (UTC)
it's...i don't know...like, really great that you can recognize the triggers and get yourself out of the circle.

i'm going to show my bff this post. she battles depression all the time and really struggles to get herself out of self-doubt. maybe some of the things you've linked to can help her get through that. i try to help her by being positive or just listening to her, but i know that's not enough...


and dammit. i never got online tonight to see if we could watch firefly! hopefully this week? how about thursday? since we don't have spn to watch?
Jun. 1st, 2010 06:51 am (UTC)
If any of my thoughts and experiences on this problem are useful to someone else, then I'm a happy clam. A friend who listens and cares and stays positive is a life-saver, though, and I'm sure you make a huge difference in her life.

Firefly on Thursday sounds great! Meanwhile, I'm whumping Tristan a bit more...
Jun. 2nd, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
Glad the shadow lifted & you're feeling better...
Jun. 2nd, 2010 04:07 am (UTC)
Thank you. Me too!
Jun. 3rd, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this
I was just looking for the Rumi poem when I stumbled across your candid and honest account. It sounded so much like me. Sometimes I find the connection to like-minded people to be the fastest and surest way out of depression. Depression is different from madness, but it's certainly maddening -- you try and try to think your way out, but you can't get far enough outside of your own mind to have a clear thought. I'm impressed that you have discovered some ways to find clarity from within that mood, and I will try to remember them when I need them most. So here's a brightening thought: by sharing your experience, you uplifted a stranger in need. Many thanks. Namaste.
Jun. 3rd, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you for sharing this
Dear Stranger Passing By,

You probably won't see this, but I'm so glad you stopped and found something valuable here.

When I sum everything up--all the time and energy I spent barking up wrong trees, then learning techniques and coming to understand the nature of my specific problem--it's this part:

I will try to remember them when I need them most

that has been the most tricksome and has taken me the longest time to get a handle on. Good luck! And thanks for taking time to comment. Amazing the connections that Rumi and Google can make.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )



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