This Depression

I don’t know how these things start. What happens? Is there some chemical tipping point? Or is it a slow unbalancing of the scales of contentment? I have experienced depressive episodes with varying frequency since I was eight or nine, so I feel as though I should know by now, where it comes from, but I don’t.

Maybe this particular depression is a thing that even non-depressives feel, normal people. The solstice is here, and the lack of light, of ambient Vitamin D, is taking its toll on everybody. I feel it, like the darkness is gnawing at me, showing up earlier and earlier in the day. The bed gets to be an attractive solution, but one that fails to solve anything really.

Nothing is wrong. I have no problems, and I think this is what separates depression from sadness. Sadness attaches to circumstances. Depression is sourceless, chemical, emotional. Or are those, in reality, the same thing?

Too be clear, I don’t feel too badly. Off my game. Under-motivated. A bit too easily frustrated. If I hadn’t sailed these waters nearly my whole life I might not even recognize where I am. And that also is a characteristic of depression for me. I become amnesiac, unable to orient myself within myself. I fail to recognize familiar experiences, miss the signposts. Can’t find my way home, although I know the way.

Here is the way:

  1. I tell someone how I’m feeling. Quite why this should work, I don’t know, but it has a clinical history of effectiveness, and I find that often, just by saying that I’m feeling depressed to another person, I feel instantly better, if not wholly well again.
  2. I move. My depression craves inertia. It wants the couch. It wants the bed. It wants a dark, quiet place to incubate.
  3. I take my meds. I know. I know. You always take your meds. Yes. And I do. But I think it’s worth saying that I do it. I have long since abandoned the idea that I can self-medicate, that I can decide when I need meds and when I don’t. My research in this field has always ended in desperate darkness. So I take my meds.
  4. I try hard not to get it on other people, like my kids. This is difficult. It requires “faking it” a lot, but it can also be effective. I can pretend to be more cheerful with people, and their reciprocal cheer can lift me. The paradox here is that much of the time my friends will have the impression that I’m feeling just fine. I seem fine to them. In reality, I’m working very hard to appear better than I am, and I think it’s a reasonable approach, as long as you hit number 1 above and you’re not only playing at being well.
  5. I go outside. This is sort of implicit in number 2, but not necessarily. Outside makes me feel better. Sunlight loans me Vitamin D. Trees absorb my ambient misery or blur it with their own chemical miasma, the good kind, the kind that is also reaching for the sun.
  6. I accept that I will feel depressed sometimes, that it doesn’t mean anything (i.e. it is not connected to actual facts or circumstances in my life). If I wait, it will pass. It’s like a cold, but with less nose-blowing.

This is now a how-to. This is not advice. These are the things I do, try to do, because I’ve been up and down with this thing, and I know better than to drawn too many conclusions from my urges for isolation, darkness and projection. When I don’t do the right things, I spiral downwards until the episode passes and/or I find it within myself to do these right things. I’ve written this to remind myself how it works, a list of instructions for my amnesiac mind.

Today is the winter solstice, and there is something magical about that, although I have a hard time saying what it is. Sadly, too often it casts this spell on me. Maybe if I do what I need to I will come out the other side sooner rather than later. The good news is, as long as I follow my own instructions, it gets a little lighter every day.