I was feeling substantially depressed yesterday.
Often, when I feel this way, I have no idea why. But this time, there were two culprits: One is that I started on a (very) small dose of Wellbutrin last week to try and curb the sexual side effects that seem to be inherent in anti-depressants, and the other is because I hurt my wife’s feelings late the night before.
I, on the other hand, felt like a louse. I had almost made her cry, and that broke my heart.
TRIGGERS, BIG AND SMALL
A “trigger” is something that, well, triggers a certain negative feeling inside you. The most annoying part? It can be anything. From small triggers (“I forgot to take the garbage out; what am I, a moron?”) to big triggers (such as a death or other major loss).
For instance, it is now 6:40 a.m. on Friday. I was going to go to the store for a few essentials, but our garage door won’t open all the way. That’s right, I can’t leave. I’m taking it in stride for now, but that has the potential to become a bigger trigger than it is right now, what with the cost of having it fixed and not being able to go anywhere for who knows how long.
Luckily, we park one of our cars outside the garage, so I figured I would just take that to the store. At least we had one vehicle we could access.
But it wouldn’t start.
That’s a bigger trigger, too; however, we have one of those jump-start packs we can use to get the battery going. Assuming it’s the battery…(it probably is; we haven’t used that car in about six weeks).
And the store is only about half a mile away, so it is walkable. We won’t starve, and I could use the exercise.
Death (anyone’s) is an example of a big trigger for me, as are stories of abuse and animal cruelty. Hell, even the news can trigger me these days.
Even though the world is not ending (or is it?), the sky is not falling, and there’s a solution to everything, it hasn’t been a great couple days for me. But I’m taking it in stride so far, except for yesterday. Yesterday was a total wash. I canceled two appointments and stayed in bed most of the day.
Often, there is no discernible trigger. Depression (or anxiety or whatever) just happens. I find myself out of balance and am overcome with negative emotions and thoughts. It happens this way more often than I’d like.
After all, how can you fix something if you don’t know what’s wrong with it?
You’re left with educated guesses (sometimes uneducated guesses, like with the garage door), theories you have no idea how to put into practice, and trial-and-error as to which of your tools might help, since you don’t know what the problem is.
And when you’re suffering through depression or anxiety or a flashback or whatever, every moment counts.
Inevitably, when I tell someone I feel depressed, they ask “Why? What’s going on?” And while I can appreciate their curiosity and their desire to help, the truth is that I often don’t know. That answer never makes anyone feel better, because they can’t help you (or “fix” you) if they don’t know what’s broken. It leaves them – and me – feeling helpless.
Yes, invisible triggers really suck. That’s when I have to remember and explain to others that the chemicals in my brain are out of whack, which is one reason I suffer from depression and anxiety in the first place.
There doesn’t have to be a reason for me to feel like shit. I used to think it was just my natural disposition, until I discovered TMS and DBT. Nowadays, my general disposition is pleasant, hopeful even, and the bad days come less often.
One thing I learned in DBT was that, even if you can’t identify the reason you feel like shit, it does help to be able to identify what you’re actually feeling – scared, nervous, depressed, etc. There are certain tools you can use based on how you feel, regardless of the cause.
That’s harder than you might think.
I get one very particular symptom when I’m depressed, and I also get it sometimes when I’m anxious. So sometimes, I don’t know which one I feel. I can usually figure it out, but sometimes it doesn’t matter. I just reach into my DBT toolbox and get to work feeling better.
GETTING THINGS DONE, REGARDLESS OF HOW YOU FEEL
One thing I learned from my previous therapist is that even if I feel like shit, I can still get something done. Let me repeat that:
Even if I feel like shit, I can still get things done.
In other words, it’s not necessarily an either/or situation. Now, yesterday, I felt like shit and got nothing done. I just couldn’t pull myself up to the level where I was able to function very well. I didn’t even leave the house.
BUT – sometimes, I remember what this therapist told me and can actually pull it off. I may feel like shit, but that doesn’t mean I have to be paralyzed by it. Sure, that will happen at times, but it doesn’t happen all the time anymore.
Life is not black and white. Mental health is not black and white. Depression is not black and white.
Just because I might feel like shit doesn’t mean I am incapable of doing something, anything. Depression and being productive are not mutually exclusive, although it sure does feel that way a lot of the time.
Actually, this is one of the most useful things I learned in a long time. I always thought that, when I’m depressed, I’m S.O.L.; the day (week, month, year) is useless to me. I’m depressed; therefore, I cannot function. Or so I thought.
Now, I lived throughout high school, college, grad school, and part of my social services career feeling like shit almost every day, but I still managed – barely – to get things done. I’m not saying it was easy, nor am I saying I was the most productive student or employee. But, unless I desperately needed a mental health day, I did what was needed.
It was possible to feel ultra-depressed or even suicidal and still write a paper or go to work (although the longer it went on, the sicker I got, and the harder it got).
For years, I wandered through my life alone. I mean, I was married at age 22 and had friends, but I was still alone. Depression makes it very, very hard to socialize. For me, anyway. That’s one reason I drank: It helped me loosen up and maybe enjoy myself for a couple hours.
But I digress.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to do much of anything when you’re stuck in depression. Believe me, I know how it can take you down.
I’m just saying that there are days when, even if you’re feeling really depressed, you can still get something done. It’s within the realm of possibility.
Set some easier goals for those days, like these: take a shower, eat, go wander around your favorite store, etc. Or, if you’re like me, you have to talk yourself through it: “Okay, I’m going to have my coffee first, then I’ll get dressed, then I’ll put my shoes on. I will drive to work and do just enough so that I don’t get fired.”
THE LAST WORD
Triggers can be mysterious, but even when you know what they are, it doesn’t answer all your questions. Knowing your triggers is very helpful, as sometimes you can avoid them; however, you will still be triggered every once in a while, regardless.
The human body is an amazing marvel of science. If even one thing is off, it can have devastating effects. (Damn nuerotransmitters!)
I actually have a section on my Safety Plan devoted to triggers. Some of mine are: Feeling rushed, too much stimulation (especially noise), being pulled in several directions at once, and certain TV shows. There are a few things I can do to minimize some of these, but life does have a tendency to just *happen*, whether you’re prepared or not.
Even when triggers attack, though, it can still be possible to get something done. Do what you can to minimize their effects, roll up your sleeves, and dig into your day as best you can. Constantly feeling defeated can make your depression so much worse. Try to roll with it.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Triggers can be gradual or sudden; they may be identifiable or not.
- Just about ANYTHING can be a trigger, depending on the day. It can be helpful to know what yours are.
- Invisible triggers are the worst, but you can still work through their effects if you have the right tools.
- There doesn’t have to be a “reason” to feel like shit. That’s the nature of the beast.
- Physiology plays a big part in depression and other mental illnesses, so try not to blame yourself for it (or anyone else).
- You can feel like shit and still get something done.
- Life is not black and white.
- Life will happen, no matter what kind of mood you’re in.
- Anybody know how to fix a garage door?? 😉
As always, thanks for reading. Have a great day, and remember to Keep it Real!
Please share the love! 🙂
A version of this post was previously published on Depression Warrior and is republished here with permission from the author.
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