Anatomy of a Brief Depressive Episode

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002It’s been a while since I’ve made a foray into “the pit” of depression. Looking back, I think it was May of last year – a good record for me. I am grateful for the months in between. I’m grateful every day for what I have learned about managing depression long term, and grateful to be able to share the techniques that have changed my life and the lives of my clients.

Depression no longer casts a big shadow over my life, but that doesn’t mean it never strikes. Yesterday when I awoke, I knew it was back. I felt tremendously sad. I couldn’t think clearly. My limbs felt heavy, and I was exhausted. I tried to read and distract myself, but I couldn’t concentrate. I fell into a deep sleep that lasted several hours.

Today we had a scheduled home repair, but I called to postpone it. I didn’t feel I could deal with strangers in my house. I suggested they come instead on Wednesday or Thursday. By that time, I expect I’ll be my usual happy self.

I’ve written before about how I climb out of the pit, and I’m doing all those things, of course. But I also think it’s useful to understand what triggers these episodes. This one took me by surprise, but looking back at the past few weeks, I can better see the evolution.

Two weeks ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends had a very frightening health scare. We thought we might lose him. He is recovering well, but I now see it hit me much harder than I realized.

Yesterday was the 5-month anniversary of my Achilles tendon repair surgery. Although the surgeon told us it takes a full year to return to normal functioning, I guess I wasn’t really emotionally prepared. I can walk fifteen or twenty minutes a day, but after that my limp gets worse, and I have to sit and rest. I am grieving every day I can’t get out and do my usual early morning hour-long walk. I miss my yoga class; right now just getting up and down is still a challenge.

I’m frustrated that I do not yet have the energy, and the mental bandwidth, I need to finish my book on Help for Depression, and the courses that will be available on my new website for the book. I have been allowing myself time to heal, but suddenly I am chafing against these limitations. I want to be creating, and being productive, and I see I can’t yet reach that far.

There is also a family situation I’ve alluded to before, that is still unresolved. It is taking some of my now limited energy. My husband and I are comfortable with the way we are responding, and we’re holding an intention that everything unfolds for the highest good of all concerned. But we’ve been through months of things being up in the air, and I think that finally got to me, too.

I got off my self-care regimen. I went to Houston to visit family and friends, and I over-extended myself physically. I didn’t sleep enough. I have been eating a lot of junk. The night before I crashed, I had a big bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. I love it, of course, but I know the dairy and sugar aren’t worth the consequences.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

I can be very strong for those I love, for a very long time. I can step up and be there. But I have a breaking point, and I need to anticipate that point and take care of myself before I reach it.

Anniversaries can be hard – even small anniversaries. I need to be prepared for that.

I have to cut myself more slack. I haven’t accomplished everything I want to in my life, and I’m getting older. Maybe I won’t accomplish every task I have set for myself.

Maybe I will. I’m healthy overall, and I expect to live a lot longer. But here’s the hard part: I’m not in conscious control of everything.

Sometimes in life things go unresolved much longer than we’d prefer, and I need to give myself plenty of emotional support while that is happening.

Finally, if I want to stay happy and sane, I must do the things I know work in my life. I must eat well, take my supplements, get the appropriate amount of exercise, sleep eight hours every night. I must be alert to the warning signs of impending depression.

I must be careful in the way I talk to myself. I need to be aware if I start to beat myself up for not accomplishing something, not making money, gaining weight – all triggers for me.

That part of my brain that drives depression is the same part that used to invite me to end my own life. Although I’ve managed over the years to turn off those suicidal messages, that little voice does still sometimes invite me to feel inadequate, and frightened.

Overcoming depression, for me, is a lifelong journey, and self-awareness is a necessary companion on my path.

(This painting is by Vincent Van Gogh, who knew from depression. Despite his mental illness, he generated a huge creative output, which inspires me.)

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