So there’s this thing that’s making it harder to manage my grief over my dad, and my recovery from cancer surgery, and menopause landing on me all at once like a sixteen-ton-weight, and what can only be described as mild PTSD from having all of these things happening within less than a month of each other, and the depressive episode I’ve been having as a result.
When I’m in a depressive stretch of my life, I have to make managing my depression pretty close to my top priority. And among other things, this means that if I have any impulse at all to do something that alleviates the depression, I do it if I possibly can. If I have any impulse at all to go to the gym, to get outside, to socialize, to write, to masturbate, to get a manicure, to read for pleasure… I do it if I can.
This is actually one of the best pieces of advice I ever got about depression management. If I’m having a hard time getting motivated to leave the house and take a walk, and a window opens up where this amotivation lifts… in that moment, my friend told me, I should get the hell up and get out of the house. The self-perpetuating, vicious-circle nature of depression is one of the shittiest things about it: there are all these things you could to do to make the depression better, but the depression is sapping your ability to do them. (And the depression then makes you feel guilty and worthless and lazy for not having the minimal will power it takes to get off the sofa, put some clothes on, and take a walk.. which then makes you feel worse, which then makes it harder to get up.) So if your brain is giving you a reprieve and offering you a window in which you actually do feel motivated to do things that alleviate your depression, you take that window, and you fling yourself through it.
All of which means that my priorities aren’t what they normally would be when I’m not depressed.
For instance: I’m prioritizing going to the gym a lot more than I normally do. I’m prioritizing getting outside more, which means activities that give me an excuse to get outside are getting prioritized as well. (Take a forty-minute walk to go to the bakery and get a loaf of bread? Sure!) I’m prioritizing things that reliably give me pleasure a lot more than I normally do. And if I have the impulse to write anything at all, I write it… whether it’s on a topic that my normal, non-depressed self would consider a priority or not. (Translation: Yes, I’m writing about fashion even more than I normally do. Writing about fashion is fun, and it gets me writing.)
But I feel like this sometimes creates a problem with the people in my life. I worry that people in my life are thinking, “You have time to go to the gym, but you don’t have time to make a lunch date? You have time to get a manicure, but you don’t have time to give me feedback on my book/ video/ blog post? You have time to blog about fashion, but you don’t have time to blog about this important issue I’m letting you know about?”
I feel like I want to scream to the world, “No. I don’t think getting a manicure or blogging about fashion or going to the gym is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I think that managing my depression is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I think that keeping myself away from the rim of the event horizon, keeping the black cloud from descending over my head, is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I’m genuinely sorry that I can’t do as much as I normally can… but managing my depression is what’s going to get me back into a condition where I do have all that energy I used to have. Please bear with me.”
But complicating this is… well, a few things.
Complicating this is the fact that I don’t have a clear sense of whether anyone in my life is really thinking any of this, or whether this is just the usual critical voices in my head, telling me that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong. Voices which, inevitably, get amped up when I’m going through a depression. Even at the best of times, it’s hard for me to tell when the people in my life are actually disappointed in me, or whether I’m disappointing my own high expectations of myself and then projecting that disappointment onto other people. I suspect that sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other… but I have a hard time telling which is which. And I have a harder time making that distinction when I’m depressed.
Also complicating this is the fact that I think the whole question of personal responsibility and mental illness is incredibly complicated. This is a very large question that I plan to write about in another piece… but the tl;dr is that I don’t think my depression absolves me of all responsibility to other people. It absolves me of some of it, but not all of it. I think I get to cut myself some slack while I’m working on getting better — but I don’t think I get to cut myself infinite slack.
And complicating this is the fact that these are my own priorities we’re talking about here. It’s not just about what other people expect from me. It’s not even just about what I expect from myself. It’s about what I want from myself, and for myself. I don’t actually think that getting a manicure or taking a long walk is more important than blogging about atheism or having lunch with a friend. And while intellectually, and even emotionally, I get that managing my depression has to take pretty much top priority… on a day-to-day level, doing this often feels like I’m making the wrong choices, like I’m dicking around with trivialities, like I’m wasting the one life I have.
Then again: Part of being depressed is that, with a few exceptions, I’m uncomfortable with almost everything I do. When I’m feeling depressed, with a few exceptions, I pretty much always feel restless and twitchy and like I want to move on to the next thing these days. Even when I am doing things that resonate with me deeply and that I think are important. So that feeling that I’m doing the wrong thing and really should be doing something else… right now, it’s not a reliable barometer.
I don’t know. I think I’m going around in circles here. Thoughts?