Dammit to hell. I was doing so well. I’d been depression-free for several months. I’d dialed my meds dosage back down; I was even planning to leave therapy. And then the shit hit the fan. Orlando/Pulse happened. The latest accusations broke about sexual harassment in the atheist community, centering on someone who had once been a friend and colleague. Brexit happened. And my depression is back. It’s not as bad as it’s been in the past, but it’s bad enough.
And on top of the depression itself, I’m dealing with meta-depression. I am feeling irritated, pessimistic, and helpless, about the fact that I’m depressed again.
My depression tends to be set off by two or more traumas at once. So what does that say for my prognosis? The world is extra shitty right now. I don’t think that’s the depression talking: it seemed that way even when I was feeling better, and I’m far from the only person who thinks this. The world just seems to be on a hair trigger. There are some good things about that — I think a lot of the social upheaval is backlash and polarization about real progress that’s being made — but it doesn’t make the traumas less traumatic. Depression is sometimes defined as feeling hopeless, pessimistic, sad, or shut down, when there’s no external reason to be. But what if there is an external reason? How does a depressed person handle the fact that the world often is unpredictably shitty? The best wisdom I can find is that when depression tells me the world is terrible, that’s not a lie. The lie is that the world is only terrible. But as comfort goes, that’s kind of ambiguous. “Hey, someday you’ll feel better, and you’ll be able to deeply experience the unresolvable conflict of the joy of life being deeply interlaced with its pain and brutality!”
I’m also wondering if I’m more likely to get depressed than I used to be. My last round of depression — fall 2012 to spring 2016 — was bad, really bad, the worst it’s ever been, and the longest. I’m wondering if it just wore down some of my mental reserves, or carved the depression paths deeper into my synapses. With some physical illnesses or injuries, you get better, and once you’re better you’re totally fine. But with some, you never get completely better. You’re always weaker in that arm; you always have a harder time catching your breath. Is mental illness like that? Now that I’ve had a three-and-a-half-year stretch of serious, disabling depression, am I more likely to get depressed again? My therapist says that’s a real possibility, although I have no way of knowing yet how often this is going to happen, or how severe it’s going to be when it does. I used to get depressed every few years: am I now going to get depressed every few months? If that’s true, I don’t know what to do with that.
Hence, the meta-depression. I’m depressed — and I’m depressed about being depressed. I’m depressed about how easily I got depressed this time; how much it was triggered by external events I had no control over; what my depression may look like in the near future and for the rest of my life.
The plus side is that I now know what to look for, and I know what to do about it. I now know the difference between feeling sad, angry, frustrated, irritated — and feeling foggy, unmotivated, pessimistic, anhedonic. The day I started feeling low, I started dialing up my self-care routines. I started leaving the house every day, being social every day, meditating every day. I started drawing again. I started asking for help. I had a brief round of denial, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t depressed again, I was just sad. And tired. And headachy. And forgetful. And unable to focus. And amotivated. And… But I was also able to tell myself to play it safe. It’s not like there’d be any great harm in dialing up my self care. If I was wrong and this wasn’t depression, the worst that would happen is I’d meditate more than I needed to, and spend more time outside and with other people that was strictly necessary. Those are good things to do anyway, why not just do them?
As a result, I think I may be nipping this in the bud. Or at least, I’m making it less bad than it would have been, and hopefully it won’t last as long.
But it still sucks. And it meta-sucks.
Other people with chronic depression — how do you handle it, both the illness and the meta?
Comment policy: If you yourself have depression or other mental illness, I welcome suggestions and perspectives on managing it as a chronic lifelong illness — but please frame them as what works for you, not as prescriptions for me or anyone else. If you don’t have mental illness, please don’t give advice of any kind. Thanks.