I’m not sure I know what to write today.
A week ago, I was feeling pretty decent. But, for the last four or five days, I’ve felt “down”. That’s what I call it when it’s not just sadness, but it hasn’t met MY criteria for “depression”.
And then, today happened. I was okay in the morning; then I had therapy, where I confronted some feelings I’ve been trying to avoid.
FYI – avoidance doesn’t work.
WHEN IS IT “DEPRESSION”?
I am not a medical professional, but I have done enough research on Depression to know that I meet the actual criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). And I’ve been through enough episodes (some lasting months, some lasting years) that I have developed my own plan, if you will, for when it starts to become a day-to-day thing.
A day or two of feeling crappy and sad is one thing. Four or five days, for someone like me, brings about fear and anxiety. “What if it never goes away?” “What if this is the beginning of a depressive episode?”
I talked to Kim about it yesterday, and she was concerned. The nature of her therapeutic practice, though, is to spend some time trying to identify what’s going on, and then coming up with strategies to get through it. I like that. It’s solution-focused.
I’ve been thinking about calling my shrink just to let him know. I have an appointment scheduled with him in a couple weeks, but I really don’t want this to last a couple weeks. That’s when it sits and stews, and I start ruminating. Those ruts are HARD to dig out of.
Everyone’s depression is different, with different symptoms and differing lengths and degrees of suffering. It’s all legitimate, though. Maybe I’ll call his nurse just to keep them in the loop.
As an old friend of mine used to say, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Words to live by.
I also don’t want to sit here and wallow in it. According to DBT, you have a few choices when things aren’t going your way: you can do something to feel better, accept it and live with it, keep being miserable, or make it worse. I think I’m missing one, but that’s okay.
I don’t want to keep being miserable, nor do I want to make it worse. But the old habits and the old tapes that play in my head can make it extremely difficult to change my thought patterns and behavior.
Today, I’m acting “as if”. Ever heard that before? Act as if you feel better, and eventually, your behaviors and attitudes will follow. Then you’ll feel better. But that means forcing yourself to do things you know help, even though they’re the last things you have the desire or the energy for.
That’s why I’m writing this. Writing is one of the things that usually makes me feel better. I’m even sitting at the table (rather than slinking on the couch) and I have my “Happy Lamp” on.
I know in my head that depression doesn’t last forever, but my heart is afraid it will. Does that make any sense? Intellectually, I know all about depression, but it always breaks my heart a little bit and makes me wonder – What’s next?
I guess that goes to my experiences. Even if it “only” lasts a few months, it feels like fucking forever, like it’s got its hooks in me and won’t ever let go.
Which is why I have to do the things that I know make me feel better, even though they are the last things I feel like doing. In fact, it’s gotten so bad before that I believed it was impossible to do those things. That’s usually when I end up in the hospital.
When I was doing really well, a few months ago, I had a morning routine that I followed. I didn’t do all of it every day, but I did something positive that I enjoyed every day. I was doing yoga, writing for at least five minutes a day (which usually turned into thirty minutes or more), using my light therapy lamp, meditating, pacing my breath, and looking for a job.
And then, I stopped. Just plain stopped. And I’ve been feeling worse and worse as time has gone by. Why do we do this to ourselves? I know it’s not just me. Kim said it has to do with old habits and ways of thinking. I guess I was hoping that six weeks of new habits would be enough to get rid of all that crap.
I was wrong.
When you’re trying to get better, you need to continue doing those good things, not stop once you feel better. That’s like deciding to stop taking your meds just because you feel better, rather than finishing the whole course. (Lord knows I’ve done that with my psych meds two or three times, and I have always ended up back in the hospital!)
BUILDING INNER STRENGTH
My current goal is to start doing those healthy things again. At this moment, it is 10:05 a.m. and I have no appointments today (yay!). I’m writing this because it’s important; it helps me to work things out on paper rather than letting my thoughts just fly around in my head, running into each other and never landing anywhere.
So that’s a good thing.
I also have a list of simple but effective things I can do when I feel like crap. Easy things, like take a shower, color, play with the cats, do my nails, brush my teeth – a lot of self-care and self-soothing activities. Those things also act as distractions when I’m not feeling my best and help me feel like I’ve done something for my mental health.
As for changing my negative thoughts and self-talk, that takes CONSTANT practice. I’ve been feeling kinda negative lately, not exactly ruminating, but it’s been hard to replace those thoughts with positives.
That brings me back to neuroplasticity, which I’ve briefly talked about before. When you change your thought patterns, your brain actually builds new pathways to accommodate them. With time (and practice), these pathways become your brain’s go-to patterns.
So, instead of automatically turning negative when five things in a row go wrong, you can more easily go with the flow and not get all messed up about them.
Allowing life to happen without getting your panties in a bind, letting go of things that you have no control over, and living in the moment all take time and practice. But they can change your entire life.
I know that changing your entire life sounds like a big goal, but you know – I’m tired of depression. Obviously, none of this is easy, and it definitely takes time. They are simple concepts, but not easy to do. That’s why practice is so important. That’s why DBT can be such an effective method. It focuses on teaching you specific ways to change how you think about and react to what’s going on in your life.
I found it very useful, and although I’m not the best at practicing my new skills, I have them in my toolbox. Sometimes, I need a reminder, because I still find that my thoughts and feelings whirl around in my head like a tornado sometimes. During those times, it’s really hard to figure out what strategy to employ, what will help slow me down. (Having a safety plan helps, though.)
That’s one reason I see Kim, specifically. She is a DBT expert, having taught it for over twenty years. She’s very good at bringing me back into the present and helping me figure out what skills would be most effective in a certain situation.
A NEW (AND SIMPLE) STRATEGY FOR GETTING BACK ON TRACK
I’ve been feeling pretty decent for the last several months, partly because I was doing positive things, like my morning routine. Even my energy level has picked up, after about six years of being absent!
I really need to work hard to do those positive things that bring me joy. One way to do that is to stop making it a decision. Instead of asking yourself “Should I do yoga right now? Or should I watch this TV show, or organize the closet?” Just say, “I’m doing yoga right now.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
That sounds deceptively simple, a lot like Nike’s “Just do it”, but it’s different. Well, maybe not a lot different, but semantics are important to me. And any kind of mind game I play where I will win, I’m all for it! If I can just say “I’m going to do my yoga,” 9 times out of 10, I’ll do it.
If you’re anything like me, you have trouble making decisions. The more options I have, the more paralyzed I feel. So anytime I can take the bull by the horns, I will. I hate vacillating from one decision to another, only to end up not doing anything.
Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.
So go ahead! Choose yourself!
IN A NUTSHELL
- Even though it feels like it’s going to last forever, depression (like everything else) comes and goes.
- DBT is a wonderful thing.
- I could choose to stay miserable, but who wants that?
- Sometimes, you can change your thoughts and feelings by changing your behaviors.
- I really need to get back into my morning routine. Structure is good for me.
- Removing your options can help you make decisions.
- Practice Makes Permanent!
As always, thanks for reading. And remember to Keep it Real!
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This post was previously published on www.depressionwarrior.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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