Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's Not Dark Yet

[Piper thinks I'm awesome. And she's just a dog, so it can't be that hard.]
When: January 26, 2011
Where: Home

"Every nerve in my body
is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was
I came here to get away from

I don't even hear
The murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet
but it's gettin' there."
--Bob Dylan, "Not Dark Yet"

Depression is so insidiously self-perpetuating. Not only does completing anything feel beyond possibility, it clouds your memory, causing you to forget anything positive about the day, so that it can continue to whisper the same story of failure over and over, unchallenged.

Depression, when you are paying enough attention, will communicate it's coming days in advance. For me, a fog creeps in and permeates my mind, clarity and focus become harder and harder. Painful memories pop up out of nowhere, making me wince and retreat, and certain phrases go on a loop. I lose interest in people and the ability to carry a conversation, and have no motivation to tackle projects, no matter how minor, and am drawn heavily into activities that involve mindless staring.

I had been having these symptoms to varying degrees for several days this week, and then Tuesday night I only got a few hours of sleep. This was the death knell on my mental health, and Wednesday was a disaster. By the end, I didn't feel sad so much as disabled, utterly incapable of completing the simplest of tasks. I couldn't even get myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

The worst part was how aware I was of the disability - I was watching myself, I saw what was happening, and I couldn't summon the motivation to access any of the ways out I've learned over the years. It feels like being paralyzed; staring at your leg, willing it to lift, and watching in disbelief and growing horror as it does a whole lot of nothing.

The next day, fearing a repeat performance in spite of getting a few extra hours of sleep, I decided I was going to try something new. I had noticed that as I sat staring, my thoughts went something like this:

"I should do the [insert chore or project]. Ugh. I don't want to do [chore or project]."

Now, on a normal mental health day, this internal dialogue would end with:

"Oh well. [go do chore or project]."

On depleted mental health days, the internal dialogue ends with:

"Huh. I'm still not doing [chore or project]. I am broken, and also I suck. [further decrease in mental health]."

So this time, I had a new plan. I was going to practice Extreme Positivity. This was influenced by my reading of the Happiness Project, in which the author decides to practice 'Extreme Nice':

"What was 'Extreme Nice'? It was an extreme sport, like bungee jumping or skydiving, that stretched me beyond my ordinary efforts, that showed me new depths within myself... For a week, I was extremely nice to Jamie [her husband]. No criticism! No snapping! No nagging!"

This was similar, but instead of being focused on others, it was going to be a conscious effort to shift my thoughts and opinions away from the negative, and instead to find joy and excitement in everything I could.

Here are some examples:
"I should do laundry."
- Old response: "Ugh, I don't want to do laundry."
- Extreme Positive Response: "This is great - I'll get exercise from going up and down the stairs while carrying all that laundry, when I'm done I'll have lots of clean clothes, and I won't have to do it again for a week! Awesome!"

"I should clean, this place is a wreck."
- Old Response: "Ugh, I don't want to clean - it's gotten so bad I don't even know where to start."
- Extreme Positive Response: "Fantastic - the apartment is SUCH a wreck that it's going to feel amazing when I've finished! Also, I'll get to enjoy watching it get better and better, and Dave and I won't have to do any housework all weekend!"

Finally, my default, worst case, I-can't-think-of-anything-good-about-this-situation thought became "I get to experience this!" Here's an example:
Guy In Car: [Leans on his car horn right when I'm walking by.]
- Old Response: [Massive adrenaline/stress hormone/jump reflex] "Dammit, die in a fire."
- Extreme Positive Response: "Isn't it great that I am capable of hearing that? I love having hearing, I get so much information about my world. Plus, I get to experience music!" [Total lack of adrenaline/stress hormone/jump reflex]

While this all started out feeling a little weird and a lot disingenuous, it ended up making my day fantastic. I just kept feeling happier and happier, and everything felt more and more fun to do. I was bouncing from project to project, and by the end I couldn't wait to tackle the next thing. Not only was I having a great time doing the chore, it was a surprising amount of fun just coming up with ridiculously positive things to say about scrubbing the kitchen counter, or waiting for the washing machine to stop spinning.

The other cool thing I noticed was that I started to spontaneously have positive thoughts about MYSELF. This is historically extremely difficult for me. My default, even in times of excellent mental health, is something along the lines of, "well, I did this one thing, but I didn't do any of these other things, so I still suck". Any moments of positive self-regard are generally accompanied by wincing, nervousness, and denial.

However, after a few hours of this, I suddenly started thinking - without effort or prompting - "I am so freaking amazing. Look at all this stuff I've done, and I've made it feel so FUN! I am so proud of myself." Even better than all that positive self-regard was the fact that the more love and compassion I felt for me, the more love and compassion I felt (end expressed) for others. It was like being in perpetual happy-motion.

So this is now my project for the week. Operation Extreme Happy. I'm excited to see how it turns out (obviously), and will report back later on.


ADRIAN January 30, 2011 at 2:57 AM  

I empathise and sympathise. It is a totally debilitating condition.
You are well on the way to recovery if you express yourself so eloquently. Get well soon.


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