It's a new experience, being depressed. Now, to be honest I haven't actually gotten a depression diagnosis. But my wife, Laurel, is a retired psychotherapist. And she tells me, "Brian, you aren't just tired. You're depressed."
At first I didn't believe her. But Laurel gave me a Psychology Today article, "Depressed Without Knowing It," and that helped to change my mind.
I knew that several health problems had made me anxious, sad, worried, nervous about the future. I also was feeling a lack of energy, and was having trouble doing things that I used to enjoy. But since I'd never suffered from depression, being a pretty damn optimistic person, it took a while for me to realize that something different was happening to me.
Like, tonight I'd semi-happily watched an Oregon-Wyoming football game. Then I suddenly felt a wave of what felt like tiredness wash over me. I didn't feel like doing anything. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch.
I told Laurel, "Sometimes doing nothing feels like what I want to do."
She let me lay there for a while. Then -- and I'm really fortunate to have a live-in therapist -- Laurel knelt by the couch and started to talk to me.
Did I want to watch TV? No, I said. Did I want to read something? No, I said.
We kept talking. Eventually I told her the truth: "The only thing I really feel like doing is writing about what I'm learning from my depression. For me, blogging is like a diary that I can look back on when, hopefully, I'm feeling better."
Interestingly, as soon as I decided to be open with the world (or rather, the few people who will happen upon this post and decide to read it), I sensed some energy returning to my addled brain. I guess this is why writers write when they can't do anything else.
I don't have any fantasies that a waiting world really cares about how I'm feeling. This is one of the things I'm learning from my depression: I don't matter to other people as much as I thought I did.
Understand, I don't mean that I don't matter to my wife, daughter, dog, and other loved ones. Rather, what I'm realizing is that when I can't write blog posts as often as I usually do, or pursue the citizen activism activities I used to dive into with a lot more energy than I have now, life goes on.
This shouldn't be a shocker.
I'm just one person. There's billions of people in the world. Heck, there's over 160,000 people in just my home town of Salem, Oregon. Why would I think that what I'd been doing to help change the world, or Salem, was so crucial, so important, that my lassitude would make much of a difference to anyone but me?
So this strikes me as one benefit of depression. It leads me to a sort of Buddhist-like insight: my self isn't as central to reality as I thought it was.
Now, this insight is both sort of depressing (or disturbing), yet also a relief. It takes some of the pressure off me to get back to acting "normal," since I'm realizing that while my usual life is important to my near and dear ones (our dog would miss our evening walk, and even more, me preparing her evening meal, if I wasn't able to do those things), for most people I'm simply an occasional thought.
Here's another semi-Buddhist'y insight: I don't even matter as much to myself as I thought I did.
During the past few weeks I'd have occasional (OK, frequent) crying spells and near-panic attacks when I'd think, or tell Laurel, "I feel myself slipping away." Yet obviously there was still a Me able to say that. What I really meant is that the Brian I was used to being was feeling more and more foreign to me, like a person I used to know well, yet now was fading from memory.
In my saner moments I'd grasp that the cosmos doesn't give each of us a Lifetime Guarantee that the person we most enjoy being is going to stay that way. Change happens. Life happens. Illness happens. Suffering happens. Shit happens.
We've all got to deal with it.
The (likely) fact that I'm depressed shows that I'm not dealing with it as well as I could, since I know quite a few people who have more serious health problems than I do, and they sure seem to be handling life better than I am. But this isn't a competition, and I guess I need to stop comparing myself with others -- including my previous self.
"It is what it is, dude" probably is the wisest thing I tell myself these days.
Well, equally wise is a new mantra that I started repeating today: Feel more, emote less. By this I mean that letting myself get overwhelmed with emotion doesn't work out very well. Better is when I simply am aware of how I'm feeling at the moment -- tired, satisfied, worried, peaceful, anxious, whatever.
This is much more of a bodily feeling than a mental sensation. I can be tired, yet I don't have to worry about being tired. Yeah, I know: Mindfulness 101. Also Cognitive Therapy 101. It's just a new experiential insight for me, separating what is actually going on with me from the stories I tell myself about what is going on.
Heck, I love to tell stories to myself. And, others.
But I'm finding that when I'm in a depressed state of mind, it's best to let the storytelling fade away into a corner of my mind rather than taking center stage. When I talk to myself, these days often it isn't a conversation that I really want to have. So I'm doing my best to live as much as possible in the actual here and now rather than an imagined there and then.
Or, an interpretation of here and now that gets too far away from the physical facts of what I'm feeling at the moment.
Lastly, I've got to give a shout-out to one of my favorite authors, Jack Haas. He wrote one of my favorite books, "The Way of Wonder." It's a strangely wonderful book that I bought nine years ago and have re-read several times. I've written several blog posts about the book and Haas' other writings (you can search for them in the Google box in the right sidebar).
Today I thumbed through "The Way of Wonder" and came upon this passage. Perfect for my depressed mind!
We must forget the forgettable, become fools, have no purpose, and make the mind new at every moment. We must live without knowing what it is to live, and be without knowing what it is to be. That is how we plug into the mystery. That is how we... be.
(In case you're wondering, yes, I have some good doctors who are aware of my not-so-good state of mind, and I've got an appointment with a mental health nurse practitioner next week.)